What to Do When You Hate the Product You Agreed to Review

What to Do When You Hate the Product You Agreed to Review jimmielanley.com

It has happened to most bloggers at some point. You agree to review a product maybe in exchange for compensation or in hopes of earning affiliate commissions. But after you use the item for a few days, you realize that this product stinks. You just don’t like it. But you said you would review it. What should you do?

Bad Options

It might seen obvious that these are not good choices, but I have seen bloggers react these ways in response to a lackluster product.

  1. lie and write a glowing review
  2. write a negative review
  3. ignore the entire project

You cannot sacrifice the trust your readers have placed in you by writing a deceptive review. It’s simply not an option if you want to blog long-term and create true community on your blog. But you also cannot violate the trust the business placed in you by writing a negative review.

Some bloggers are so overwhelmed by those two extremes that they choose a third alternative — they stop answering emails and they never follow up. How unprofessional! When you shirk your responsibility, you are not only ruining your own reputation, you are also tarnishing that of the entire blogging community.

Many businesses have been burned by irresponsible bloggers who never followed up or followed through. It’s no wonder brands don’t want to invest marketing dollars in cooperating with bloggers. A few bad apples have ruined it for the entire group. Don’t be that bad apple.

Better Options

  1. write an honest but positive review
  2. contact the company and communicate your struggle

The best option is to follow through by writing a review by the agreed upon time. After all, that is what you said you would do.

If a product is not a good fit for you but still has value, you can carefully write your review to be honest but positive. Just because I don’t like feature XYZ doesn’t mean that everyone else doesn’t like it. I can honestly talk about the features and benefits of a product even if they are not features I particularly value.

You might be able to delicately address some of the negatives about the product in an overall positive review.

If the product is just too terrible for you to even affirm with a blog post, then you have only one option: get in touch with the company.

I’ve seen bloggers worry about hurting the client’s feelings especially when they have dealt with a small business owner one on one. It’s great to be kind. But this is business. Maintaining your own reputation (and that of the entire blogging community) takes precedence over the potential risk of insulting the client. A savvy business person can divorce herself from the pain of criticism and see the value in honest critique.

Here is an outline for your email response.

1. Thank the client for giving you the opportunity to use and review the product.

2. Apologize for backing out of the agreement. But state clearly that you will not be writing a review.

3. Explain your problem with the product very specifically.

4. Reassure the client that you will not write a negative review or disparage the company on social media in any way.

4. Offer to return the product, refund any compensation, or otherwise make right any part of your agreement.

Make sure you send this email well prior to the agreed upon posting date. Nine times out of ten, the company will not ask for the product back and will appreciate your honesty. If they are offended and angry, that is not your fault (assuming you composed your email in a professional way). Your specific feedback can actually be more beneficial to them than a product review because your critique arms them with information for honing their product or for revamping their sales pages to better demonstrate what they are selling.

Learn From Your Mistake

To prevent this situation in the future, be sure to research before agreeing to write a review. Often bloggers are flattered by an invitation to join an affiliate program or allured by a compensation check, so they don’t read the product information carefully. Many times their criticisms are features that are clearly spelled out on the company website which the blogger didn’t take the time to read. Reading carefully will often make it clear to you that a product is not a good fit before you agree to the review.

Never be afraid to say no to a project that is not a good fit.

Ask questions and allow for an escape plan. If you aren’t sure about a product, ask! And be upfront with the client about how you will respond in the case that you strongly dislike the product. This doesn’t make you look mean; it makes you look professional. The only way to truly know if you love a product is to use it. Tell the client in your initial emails that you are unsure but that you will not write a negative review. Being choosy is actually very attractive to a potential advertiser. It demonstrates that you cherish your relationship with your audience.

In the negotiation process, ask the company if they want negative feedback. Smart businesses do. Sometimes you can write that carefully crafted, honest but positive review and offer your criticisms privately to the client via email. This way you have been faithful to both audience and the brand.

  • Thank you, Jimmie. You just saved me. I was recently given a downloadable product free to review and it was FULL of spelling and grammatical errors in English and Spanish. I didn’t know what to do. After reading this post, I have decided that I will send an email to the author describing what I found and telling her that I will consider doing a review if the errors are fixed. I know that someone found a typo on one of my products recently and I was glad that she pointed it out so that I could fix it and re-upload the product. Thanks again.

  • What if I am charged with reviewing a product that may do what it claims to do, but has some health repercussions which means I would discourage my followers from using for that reason?
    I’m a beauty/acne blogger and I’m reviewing a product that may work, but that damages the skin’s healthy cells in the process. This is purely fact-based, not opinion-based. Should I still not write a review, then? It feels dishonest not to report on stuff like this, it feels like I am not keeping my followers in the loop and I am not keeping myself honest.

  • Such great advice (in the comments, too), and I’ll be adding this post to my arsenal of tools for better blogging.

    And retweeting. 🙂

  • Personally as a reader and consumer, I would prefer an honest review (or none at all I guess). When I see bloggers who never have a drop of constructive criticism about any product (it’s impossible to LOVE everything about every product), I take them off my reading list and disregard the product review. The opposite effect of what’s intended, I’m sure. That’s not real, it’s just an advertisement.

  • Great points Jimmie.

    “So true! Even after you research, you can’t actually put your hands on it of course until after you get it. Then you find out, it is not a good fit or other things like value for the price may not be right in your opinion.

    I pretend its my product and ask myself how would I want it stated if someone didn’t like it. Also very hard to do for some business owners, but take the emotions out of it. Separate it as being business and not a personal affront.

    Too, when writing the review, you don’t have to say you endorse it because you do have to maintain the trust of your followers and your own credibility.

    Just state the good or benefits and sometimes not stating things is fine too if you can’t find something middle of the line or helpful.

    One time, I had no choice, it was awful. I couldn’t contact the publisher. I emailed the review company and asked because there were so many grammatical errors and misspellings that I thought I had gotten a “draft” instead of the final. No, I am not talking one, two, or even four or so that I would try to overlook, but ALL throughout the whole book. That type of book doesn’t build trust in the homeschool community with those just starting to homeschool.

    Get this? I was told no, I couldn’t contact them. AWFUL business practice!! I had no choice but to post a bad review. That will never happen again, because I left that company AND I deleted the review later too.

    • Oh wow. That’s crazy. The company needed that feedback. (And how in the world did they not know about all those errors? Their review campaign was a waste of money that would be better invested in a professional editor. So sad.)

  • I love that you wrote an article about this. I personally am never worried about hurting someone’s feelings about reviews as I know that this is their bread and butter – so I’d rather be honest (of course constructively) than lie – as that would only hurt their investment. I do like the idea above about pro’s and con’s as that is a viable option in some (not all) cases.

    I have only run into this once and the product was just so horrible (in my opinion and that of my daughter) that I could not even justify attempting to write up anything. Of course I contacted the publisher privately and let them know my concern. In the end we both agreed it was best left undone. They valued my feedback and in the end (about 6 months after our correspondence) they confirmed they actually made a huge change, one of them due to the detailed feedback I had given. The end result? Increased sales for a homeschool company and a good reputation between them and me.

    • You handled that beautifully! And what a great success story came from your professional behavior. The truth is that a lot of bloggers don’t have a professional mindset. Those are the ones companies should avoid.

  • Great ideas! I have run into this a few times. There are way to write a review even when you hate the product. I have done Pros and Cons posts before, because as you said, just because I don’t like the product doesn’t mean EVERYONE will dislike it. I try to stay as unbiased as I can and give as many positives as possible, being specific in “If your family enjoys such and such, this may be a great option for you”, etc. as well as giving the contrary point of view. It works, and it gets it done. That being said, so does a private email to the company. I’ve actually done that twice with companies that are trying to market to homeschoolers, where I have turned the review down and given constructive criticism of their site or marketing methods. When I’ve done this, I have received thank-yous back from them. Being polite and respectful goes a long way.

    • So true, Dawn! I love that you’ve offered constructive criticism to the companies when you’ve turned down their review offers. That is really generous of you. It’s basically free consulting!

  • As a small business owner who works with bloggers to have my products reviewed, I’d like to stress the importance of not holding back on constructive criticism. Giving your vendor clients private feedback on problems with the product is far more kind than “being nice” and letting them stay in the dark. I value the homeschool bloggers who give me clear and specific feedback – either positive or negative – more than those who don’t, because that’s one way I learn what direction my products need to take.

    • Thanks for your perspective, Lily. The key is private feedback. You wouldn’t critique it publicly in a compensated post. I agree with you totally. A well reasoned critique is invaluable for a small business, especially when you are trying to reach a new market.

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