5 yellow hand drawn stars with the woman's finger drawing them

So it finally happened.  You go to check the status of your Etsy shop and there it sits glaring at you.  A two star Etsy review.  Or maybe it’s even a one star, if they really wanted to be mean.  What the (insert desired curse word here)?

Your mood has changed.  You want to jump through the computer and have a piece of mind with that guy (sometimes I am glad that the only confrontations I have with customers are online based – dealing with customers face to face in a small shop would be even more difficult).

You do a mental review of the transaction and can’t figure out what you did wrong.  Was it the way the design printed?  Did it get scrunched by the mail delivery person?  Were the corners bent on the invitations when they arrived?

But the question that is most searing on your mind is… don’t they know how hard I work?

A hand stitched stuffed heart on top of a brown paper package with the text overlay "What to do when you get a bad review on Etsy - with samples"

A bad Etsy review is the worst.  I would rank it up there with getting a tooth pulled.  But, believe it or not, they are rarely personal.  Many times customers feel better when they share how they feel.  Even if those feelings aren’t connected with their purchase and what they say isn’t really accurate.

For the handful of times that I’ve received them, a bad Etsy review always make me want to quit.  Close the shop right there and never to return to the headaches called Etsy (really it’s not that bad, but when I get a bad review, I take it personally if I’m not careful).

The most important thing to remember, though, is that your actions for the next ten minutes will make or break your business.  How you react to the review, let it affect your mental health and move forward can make your small business stronger or sink your business into the oblivion of all those shops that could have been.

So what is a small business owner to do?  It’s not easy to stay calm and not overreact when a customer is making up stories.  The goal is to craft reactions that help grow your business.  You want future customers to read your response and think what a wonderful person to do business with.  They are understanding and fair.

Let’s be honest.  Sometimes things happen.  An order might be late, the post office is delayed for no apparent reason (this has been a big one lately) or something got squished in the mail.  Your customer might also be having a bad day and decide to unleash their fury out on you.

No matter what the situation, you need a plan to respond before it actually occurs. Here are some ideas on how to respond and move forward after a bad Etsy review that will also help grow your business.

Step away for awhile

Bad reviews singe the heart, especially in a handmade business where you put your soul into everything you make.  Before responding or even processing the review, step away from the computer and get some fresh air.  Take a walk, bike ride or run around with the kids for awhile.

Getting the blood moving to the brain will put the customer and review into a better light.  I sometimes wait 12 to 24 hours before tackling a bad review head on.  The space and change of scenery lets me clear my thoughts and craft a respectful response.

Read the words carefully

Many bad reviews are pretty punchy and most of the time not true.  I find angry customers like to twist the facts A LOT.

Read the review carefully the first time.  Then, read it again.  Take deep breaths and keep an open mind.  Even if what the customer wrote is not exactly accurate, it is their perspective.  The world is made up of many different viewpoints.  Many times they’re not factually based.  I’ve discovered when I read a bad review multiple times, I am able to pull out the important snippets.  This helps me figure out where the transaction and communication went wrong.

Review the facts

Now it’s time to figure out what really happened.  First, check if the customer’s response is based on something that you did or something that was out of your control.  Customers love to complain over the slightest things.  Bad communication, slow turn around time or squished by the postal service all come to mind.  Sometimes, they even think the item was too expensive.  I’ve seen it happen.

Although there are hundreds of things a customer could find wrong with your item, only a few of them are in your control.  If a customer is complaining about something that you could have done differently, review the history of the transaction including the conversations with the customer and timeframe of the order.  Knowing the complete story of the transaction will help you write your response.

Reach out to the customer

Sometimes, although not often, reaching out directly to the customer works.  This is even the method that Etsy recommends.  Success with working directly with the customer tends to be associated by how much time has passed since the problem began.  If more time has gone by, the customer is usually softened and calmer.  They are more willing to find a solution.

If you feel comfortable, one solution is to offer a partial or full refund.  This can encourage the customer to amend their review and will often work.   You also might be able to talk to them about something you could have done differently.  Disgruntled customers love giving opinions and this opportunity for direct feedback makes them feel important.

Woman in sweater holding handmade metal star with the text overlay "What to do when you get a bad review on Etsy"

You are what you say

Now for the most important part… your response.  If you receive a one, two or three star review on Etsy, they allow the shop owner to write a public response.  This is basically your side of the story.  Your chance to tell the world how awful this customer is and what really happened.

Not exactly.  To be honest, the rest of the world doesn’t really care what happened between you and that customer.  They only care about what will occur between you and them.  (That being said, I have been known on occasion to troll reviews and responses just for the juicy drama.  Shop owners express their anger in interesting ways when the customer is wrong.  Reading these can be considered a form of entertainment after you decide to cut your cable).

In all seriousness, though, the comments that you leave in response to the customer reflect your business.  Choose your words carefully.  You don’t want to come across as defensive, stubborn or irritable.  This is why I recommend a cooling off period before writing your response.  I can’t believe some of the things that I’ve written when I was still angry.  Luckily, I was smart enough not to publish them.

When writing your response, craft it in a positive way.  Write about how you would have solved the customer’s issue if given a chance.  If you have changed anything in your business practices since receiving the feedback, mention those things too.

Most importantly, add in the fundamental things your business stands for – such as caring about your customers.  If the problem was out of your control – such as a mail delivery issue – you can also refer to the things that you are unable to affect in the business process.

When you write a positive response to a complaint and a future customer reads it, they’ll feel confident purchasing from your shop.  Customers do read reviews before buying, especially when Etsy flashes them underneath the product description.  They’re kind of hard to miss these days.  Your positive word choice will make them feel like whatever happened between you and that customer has been resolved.

Let’s take a look at this recent scenario here:

Example of rude Etsy customer review

This review came after I did a customer a favor and agreed to rush her order within a two hour window.  Our rush deliveries are usually a 24 hour turn around time.  I actually picked my kids up from camp early so I could come home and complete her order.  I’m not sure to this day why I ever accepted her order and crazy terms in the first place.  But I did and I delivered on it.  I even bent our costs on our rush policies to fit within her budget.

Then, this review came about a month later.  I was so upset.  I had been kind in all of our communication and even had offered a refund since we couldn’t make her deadline.

The reality was that she didn’t trust our shop.  I have no idea why she doubted we would deliver in time and not sure how I could have communicated with her that we were in the process of completing her order.

My conclusion was that she didn’t trust that my shop would send her order within the terms given.  She expected a lot of hand holding, which is not something I have time to do.

If she had trusted our shop to complete her order, she wouldn’t have had anything to worry about.  The worst part of the review was the last four words – “Would not recommend seller”.  Those hurt the most.

Please note that she left TWO one star reviews since her order had two pieces.  And both reviews included “Would not recommend seller”.  The other review was just as damaging and she even called me a number of names.  Even though I complained to Etsy about that one, they said it was customer’s opinion and refused to manage it further.  I chose not to respond to that review.

Here is my response to her first review, though.

Sample response to a one star Etsy review

In my response, I point out the things that I did do to accommodate her last minute requests.  I wanted future customers to know that I tried to work with her and delivered as promised.  I also wanted to remind customers to read our shop’s policies page before purchasing if they have any questions.  If you have a strong policy page, you can clarify the communication process before they even purchase.

I always end my review response on a positive note.  I thank customers for their feedback and how I will consider it for the future.  No matter how nasty the review, I also thank them for shopping with us.  Not that they will be back, but being grateful makes your review end on an upbeat note.

These reviews I took a bit personally and it took some time to recover.  I also made it a new shop policy that we don’t take same day orders any longer.

Keep personal matters out of it

Life happens and most of us run one person small businesses.  We have families and things happen to us and them.  Sometimes life events prevent us from completing orders on time or fulfilling expectations.

No matter the situation, keep personal crisis out of your review response.  Future customers don’t want to read about your personal matters when they are looking over your shop’s reviews.  It causes worry that a similar event could happen when they order.  Although this is highly unlikely, by making it public, you put the idea in their minds.

It also makes your business look like its a one person shop without a contingency plan.  A well run shop will have emergency plans if the shop owner can’t complete the tasks.  Even if you don’t have this plan in place, you want to give the impression that you do.  Mentioning a family crisis or personal health issue in your response doesn’t give a professional look to your shop.

If you are going through a personal crisis and you can’t complete an order on time, you can contact the buyer personally to explain the situation.  Always offer a refund, though, to provide them with an out.  Most customers are pretty understanding.

Submit and move on

When submitting your response, be confident in what you wrote and move on.  Don’t let a negative attitude from a bad review pull down the rest of your shop.  It’s important to also remember your other customers.  They can sense through communication that something isn’t right.  Try to move past any customer service issues quickly.  Easier said than done, I know.  Try to focus on your other orders to help guarantee better reviews in the future.

Prevent another one

A bad review here or there is okay, but it is not good for your shop if you receive too many.  Your 5 star rating starts to fade into 4.  Most customers that I’ve met tend to avoid shops that do not have 4 or 5 star ratings. And they’re kind of right to do so. Typically when a shop has 3 stars something is not working with their order fulfillment.  I’d hate to purchase something and never receive it.

It is good customer service policy to strive for 5 star reviews all the time.  It might not happen, but make it a goal.

Do the things necessary – such as staying within turn around times, creating amazing products and having positive communication – to maintain awesome relationships with your customers.  These are the things that will earn you great reviews down the road.

Another note about Etsy reviews…  It used to be in the good old days of Etsy that you could hide a bad review pretty easily.  The reviews were organized in sequential order where the newest review was at the top.  Customers would really have to dig to find the bad review if you just had a couple.

Although the reviews page is organized in a similar way now, you’ll notice that reviews for individual products pop up on the listing page.  When a customer views a listing, they see all reviews for that item no matter how old the review is.

Since you can no longer hide them, your response to the review is even more important than ever.  You never know when a new customer will read how you handled a late package or broken item.

What happens when the trolls leave you reviews

Sometimes, actually on Etsy a lot, you will encounter a troll.  No, I’m not talking about the little wart covered thing that hides under the bridge waiting for the goats to cross.  Although this might be close.

A troll is a person who hates for no reason at all.  Some people will find a reason to get mad at you no matter what you do.  They don’t care if you have an amazing product, stellar customer service or free overnight shipping.  They will be hateful.

These people will go out of their way to leave you a bad review even though there isn’t anything really wrong with your order.

Have you had something like this happen to you yet…

An Etsy review about communication issues

We were really happy that she liked the product.  When I went back through the communication with her, I could detect no problems.  The file was completed and sent on time.  She had no unusual questions and we only exchanged two responses.  I had assumed that the design was received positively until I received the review.

Now, some might think that a 3 star review isn’t that bad.  And you’re right.  But when someone writes that there’s a problem with communication and there wasn’t one, they are bringing attention to future customers about something that isn’t an issue.

She probably is a customer that likes to find fault in anything.  Since the product turned out fine, she went for the second big one – communication.  She might even write that response to everyone.

The key is to craft a response that addresses her concern.  The only thing I could think of here was that she approved her design on July 4th and we didn’t send it until the next day.  Here was my response:

Response to review about communication

I wrote my response positively and tried to address where I thought the communication error was.  I truly believe, though, that this customer has communication concerns with everyone since I couldn’t find an actual issue in our correspondence.

Final Thoughts…

Bad reviews are a part of running a business.  Everyone gets them at some point.  They aren’t something to take personally and many times contain constructive criticism that can help you run your shop better.

The review isn’t the concern, though. The important part is how you respond to it.  It’s key to craft a positive response that highlights all of the good things you do.  The way you respond reflects how your business communicates with customers.  Future buyers will read your responses and get an idea if they want to do business with your shop.

Interestingly, a couple of bad reviews isn’t really a bad thing.  Customers have shared that they like shops with a mix of reviews.  It makes the shop seem more real and authentic to them.  Use your reviews as a tool to show future customers how you manage your shop.  By doing so, your shop is sure to grow in the future.