I'm sorry, I can't recommend your product.
April 20, 2012 12:09 PM   Subscribe

How do I politely tell a company that I didn't like their product and don't want to review it?

I author a blog where I sometimes review skin care and cosmetic products. A small company that I used to purchase non-skincare items from sent out an email to its customers announcing the launch of a new skincare item made by them. They asked if there were any bloggers who would like to test out the item. I replied that I'd be happy to try it out and they sent me a full size, 1oz, bottle of it.

One of the things that they ask for is a review of the product within 3 weeks. I'm fine with that, so I started trying out the product the day I received it.

However, the product is not that great at all. In fact, I'd rather NOT use it. It doesn't do what it claims to, smells a bit strange (it took quite some time to adjust too, but it still isn't a pleasant, or even herbal/medicinal, smell), and just isn't a good product overall. Even the packaging is not good -- the label has a typo, the bottle is unattractive, and the dispensing mechanism isn't fine enough for this type of product.

The product itself isn't terrible -- I mean, it didn't break me out, cause a reaction or allergy or anything adverse, even when I tried it out like 9 or 10 times. But it's not something I could see any reason to include in my daily skincare routine, mostly because it doesn't do anything. It's the type of product where once you apply it, you should see a difference. But I don't see any.

They are a very small company, probably run by only two or three people, that makes handmade skincare products, like people do on Etsy. I don't want to post a negative review about their product, because I'd feel bad about "ruining" their business. I'd rather just not post a review at all.

How can I politely tell the company that I wasn't impressed with the product and don't want to review it anymore? I feel like it's difficult for me, because I'm not thinking about them as a COMPANY, but just a small group of people trying to make it. I don't want to hurt their feelings! I also feel bad, because even though my blog is pretty small and they wouldn't be getting *that* much return, they still sent me the item to review.

Also, I was thinking about including in my email some of the reasons why I didn't like the product, so that maybe they could improve it and come up with a better one in the future. But I'm wondering if that would just be adding more salt to the wound. :(
posted by joyeuxamelie to Work & Money (34 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I'd thank them for the review sample and tell them that any honest review I'd write wouldn't be favorable to them, so I'm doing them the courtesy of declining to write one.
posted by Oktober at 12:13 PM on April 20, 2012 [18 favorites]

Send them the review you have written us, above, along with a note saying "I would understand if you would like me to postpone this review until you have a chance to refine your product and packaging." They will either take your feedback or never send you anything again.
posted by mikepop at 12:13 PM on April 20, 2012 [7 favorites]

I would send them some variation of:

"Hello, thank you for sending me your product. After using it for 2 weeks, I'm unfortunately unable to give you a positive review. Please let me know in the future if you have new a new formulation, as I would be more than happy to try it out. Please let me know if you have any questions. Regards, joyeuxamelie"
posted by brainmouse at 12:14 PM on April 20, 2012 [15 favorites]

I think you're being very nice by not posting a bad review. One of the risks of asking for a review is getting a negative one. That's how it works.

If you really don't want to post something negative, send them a quick email and say what you did here: that there was nothing wrong with the product, but it isn't something you can endorse. Ask them if they would prefer an honest, negative review or none at all and leave it up to them.
posted by looli at 12:14 PM on April 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Technically, you're reneging on your deal. I'd offer to pay them for the product.
posted by roger ackroyd at 12:14 PM on April 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

You seem like a nice person but what you are essentially doing is robbing them of crucial feedback. It doesn't matter if there are one or twenty people involved in this product: it is a business and they simply cannot afford producing subpar product.

So write down your review - including your change recommendations - and send it to them. If you are not comfortable going public with your review, tell that that you would like to re-review their product in x months|years and then publish your review.

Finally, please accept the fact that you don't owe them or any other manufacturer anything at all. They sent you the sample to get publicity and customers - not because they like you or want to give you free stuff.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 12:17 PM on April 20, 2012 [28 favorites]

I'd also like to say you don't owe them anything for the product you tested. You aren't reneging on the deal at all; the deal was that you would test the product. You did. You don't like it. The review you give will be valuable to them internally and they don't have to publish it. They got what they asked for.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 12:20 PM on April 20, 2012 [3 favorites]

I review products from independent shops like the one you describe, and I always feel at least a little badly about hurting their feelings. My approach is to be warm and say things I like, if I can, but be honest. This is, at the end, just business.

"Thank you for sending me [the sample]. While I found the presentation lovely, I am afraid I won't be able to give it a favorable review at this time. I found the fragrance unpleasant and I did not notice any improvements to my skin. I know you have put a lot of time and effort into your product, and I wish I could be more positive. If you'd like more details, please let me know."

I only do positive reviews -- if I don't love it, I don't write about it.

You don't owe them anything, and in fact, being honest about products is your currency.
posted by Ink-stained wretch at 12:21 PM on April 20, 2012 [7 favorites]

"Technically, you're reneging on your deal. I'd offer to pay them for the product."

There was never any mention of money or reimbursement in this arrangement, though.
posted by joyeuxamelie at 12:24 PM on April 20, 2012

Review it, like you did for us here but with more details, and send it to the company - a sort of private review. Dittoing that they do need and should want this feedback; they should also appreciate you not publicly reviewing it, considering your take on it.
With this, you've held up your end by writing up a review, you don't have to feel like you're ruining them, and they get what they need (and hopefully want - if they don't want constructive feedback, that's their issue).
posted by attercoppe at 12:24 PM on April 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think sending them an email with exactly what you wrote above (perhaps a little more specific detail) and add a bit like:

"Thank you so much for sending me [product] for review. Unfortunately, I didn't care for it [for the following reasons]. I would hate to post a negative review on my blog for this product since I am otherwise very fond of your company [and its non-skincare products]. Please let me know if you change [the formula/design/whatever], and I'd be happy to give it another go."

Don't offer to reimburse them. That's ridiculous.
posted by phunniemee at 12:42 PM on April 20, 2012 [23 favorites]

But I'm wondering if that would just be adding more salt to the wound.

Well, a review isn't just an sort of advertisement, it's feedback for the company (and, most times, it's whether they like it or not.) If they wanted you to review the product, they consider you an authority on their product, or at the very least a voice their customers consider an authority on the product. So, in this case, instead of reviewing in exchange for free stuff, you're consulting for in exchange for free stuff. Rather than the advertising a review would provide, they get feedback from a knowledgeable consumer with sway over other consumers.

...if they balk at any of this (i.e. are pissed you won't just give them a good review in exchange for free stuff) then rest assured they're doing a considerably more thorough job of putting them out of business than you ever could.
posted by griphus at 12:43 PM on April 20, 2012 [3 favorites]

Good lord, reimburse them? Whatever for?

I think you should let them know what you think is wrong with the product. They may thank you for it.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:47 PM on April 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Please give them constructive criticism in a non-public way. Any small business would appreciate this! I would! Think about it this way, they want to make money. They don't care if their feelings are hurt. One would hope that someone with enough initiative to take a business risk would be able to stand a little criticism. Not everyone is as fragile as you might think.

The reason they gave you a sample is because they want you to tell them what they are doing wrong just as much as what they are doing right .
posted by eq21 at 12:51 PM on April 20, 2012

Your second-to-last sentence is a tremendous dose of reality and business advice in exchange of an ounce of skin stuff. If you are a "reviewer" you owe it to the folks who sent you the product to tell them (and not the masses) your honest opinion. If they are good business people and you keep your feedback true and kind, they will thank you.
posted by thinkpiece at 12:55 PM on April 20, 2012

Thank you for all of the answers! They were all very good and I got lots of great advice!
posted by joyeuxamelie at 1:01 PM on April 20, 2012

Technically, you're reneging on your deal.

Not at all. When companies send people products for review, the cost of those products is an investment they hope will result in positive publicity. Honestly, telling the company you had a negative experience with this particular product and would prefer not to post a review is being incredibly generous to the company, not "reneging on a deal" in any way.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:01 PM on April 20, 2012 [8 favorites]

I'd write them and say you cannot give the product a positive review, outlining the things you've told us here, and ask them whether they would still like you to write a review, knowing it will be a negative one.

Be aware that they may answer that they still want the review. For many products, especially those from small, little-known companies, a bad review may be better than no review at all. (Cf., "Whereas a negative review in the New York Times hurt sales of books by wellknown authors, for example, it increased sales of books that had lower prior awareness." Granted, books are not skin care products, but at least the precedent is there.)

So, either they say no, they don't want the review after all, and you're off the hook for writing one, with their permission; or they say yes, they want a review even if it's negative, and you write it, content in the knowledge that you've kept your agreement, with the company preferring a negative review to no review at all. Win-win for you.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 1:01 PM on April 20, 2012 [3 favorites]

Because I would think pretty much every company would prefer private feedback on things that don't work for a given reviewer to a negative public review.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:02 PM on April 20, 2012

It's a company. It doesn't have feelings. Stop worrying about hurting them.

Send them an email outlining what you've said here in the same straight forward way. Give them the choice between an honest review or declining a review at this time. If you don't want to publish a negative review, that's how it's done.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:02 PM on April 20, 2012 [3 favorites]

What everyone else said. If I were in the company's shoes, I would absolutely want to know if my product needed improvement, and I would appreciate that the reviewer opted to give me the feedback privately.

Since you've been their customer before, if you've had good experiences with them in the past, you might want to mention your appreciation for that in your email (or review, if they want you to post it publicly). I often read blogs/customer reviews when shopping for beauty products, and feedback about a company in general sticks with me even if they release a dud product or two.
posted by Metroid Baby at 1:15 PM on April 20, 2012

In addition to all the great advice about how to deliver feedback, an option for going above and beyond the call of bloggership in the interest of helping them out, you can find another minor reason to mention/link to their company
posted by itesser at 1:18 PM on April 20, 2012

It's a company. It doesn't have feelings. Stop worrying about hurting them.

I agree with the consensus here, but I'm not sure if I'd take that particular attitude in this situation.

I've reviewed computer hardware for print publications, and the basic rule was 'use it, write the review warts and all, send it back.'* There'd be a tech feedback channel for anything that might come up during the review period (mainly so that the product wouldn't suffer on account of third-party problems) and an optional survey/debrief with the people in marketing once it had gone to press.

That's a different situation from a special interest blog interacting with small and presumably responsive companies, where it's entirely appropriate to have a private exchange about your misgivings and suggestions for improvement in lieu of a public review.

* A couple of times, it was impossible to send the kit back, even when I wanted rid of it; a wireless router got sent back to me marked 'undeliverable', even though I used the prepaid return label -- to Hong Kong! -- that came with the review model.
posted by holgate at 1:25 PM on April 20, 2012

Yeah, it's really uncomfortable when someone is appealing to you personally, small business to you, for a review. And you know they're definitely going to read it and awkwardness is going to ensue. (This is why I'm glad nobody's sending me free books to review any more, I really hated it when one of them turned out to be bad and then I had this problem. I just didn't write a review at all in those cases.) It also won't be great for their business if their product immediately comes up with a bad review on Google. I don't think that would be a great case of "bad publicity is better than none" with so little data.

I concur that saying you can't give them a favorable review and this is why, and that you won't be publicly reviewing it, would be the least troublesome option for both you and the company.
posted by jenfullmoon at 1:40 PM on April 20, 2012

If you accept PR samples from companies, you need to have a disclosure policy stated on your blog. In my opinion, the best policy is to accept PR samples "for consideration only" - meaning that you will accept them, but write reviews at your discretion. I realize that this won't solve the current dilemma, but it will avoid this kind of problem in the future.

(Also, be aware that FTC regulations state that you need to disclose if a product was sent to you for free - you probably already knew this, but I'm including it because it sounds like you may not have a disclosure policy listed yet).
posted by insectosaurus at 2:01 PM on April 20, 2012

I work for a company that sends products (not products we manufacture, but products we sell) to bloggers for review as a key part of our publicity. Our products are sex toys, which, like skin care products, are highly personal in nature. One of the things that we stress when we share these reviews with our customers (and we share all of them, even the negative ones) is that since there's such a personal nature to the products, just because something worked or didn't work for a particular person doesn't mean it will work or not work for everyone. And most of our bloggers write negative reviews with this in mind, talking about why a certain product didn't work for them. Of course it's hard to do this with all negative aspects of a product--it's hard to put a subjective spin on a typo, something that doesn't work as advertised, or something manufactured without an understanding of human anatomy--but if you decided to write the review, you could discuss most of your negative experiences as just that: your negative experiences.
posted by rhiannonstone at 2:23 PM on April 20, 2012

You don't owe them anything; people send free samples of things to print and Web publications all the time, the vast majority of which (at least at my publication) aren't ultimately reviewed. Sometimes we even have technically requested an item—by responding "Yeah, sure" to an initial query re: whether we wanted to see a company's product for review—and still not reviewed it.

I got a sample a few months ago of one such product, made of rubber, that I simply couldn't stand being around long enough to review. I tried letting it sit around for a couple months, with the hope that the smell might dissipate, but no such luck. Stuff like that gets put out on our break-room table for anyone to take if they want it; in our case, at least, we get so many queries and unsolicited things like this that just responding to all of the companies and individuals who send them would take more time than we have. If you have time, sure, I'd send them some of your criticisms—they could probably use the feedback. But if you don't have time, don't sweat it. Unless these are products that cost hundreds of dollars a bottle to make or something, sending them out should be factored into their marketing budget.
posted by limeonaire at 2:51 PM on April 20, 2012

If you want people to view your blog as legitimate and honest, I hope you're thinking through your ethical obligations to your audience. You've decided that protecting the maker of a crappy product is more important than providing accurate and honest information to people who might buy that product.

Please, please, please make sure that you do one these two things:
1 - Post an honest review on your site (and of course disclose that you received the product for free).
2 - Clearly and explicitly disclose your product review policies on an "about" page or elsewhere on your blog. Make sure that you state that you receive products for free, and also that you only review those that you endorse and you do NOT post negative reviews.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 3:06 PM on April 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

One of the requirements of the small cosmetics company that I worked for was that samples went out to everybody we knew - family, friends and dogs - and that honest straight-forward criticism was appreciated. Labels were made that asked for a check mark rating from poor to excellent on consistency, fragrance, color, results, and practical usefulness and requested only age and sex.

Usually a thousand samples were made and distributed, and we tended to get about half back with a rating. 500 is a pretty strong sample, and a lot of good business decisions were made based on that sampling response. At least half were never produced. One in ten might make it to the front line.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 5:25 PM on April 20, 2012

What you might do is what I call a "more in sorrow than in anger" review: you lead off saying that Acmecorp is a familiar brand to you since you used to use their brake pads, which you found satisfactory and reasonably priced. As such, you looked forward to sampling a new product line they've now branched out into, a facial clarification and de-freckling salve. Unfortunately, this first effort is something of a disappointment.

And then you talk about the stuff you don't like, and if you can honestly find one positive comment to make, I would include that because I think it helps in establishing to your readers that you're not an insane crank.

From what I gather about your personality as a writer, it doesn't sound like you're the type to go off on a rant about how this stuff should be classified as chemical weapon or whatever, so you should probably just speak your mind, remembering that the message you're trying to get across is disappointment with the failure of what you assume is an honest effort.

It is entirely reasonable for you to say, "I prefer not to write this negative review," though you might keep in mind that a variety of reactions, positive and negative, over time does tend to make a reviewer more trusted by readers.
posted by La Cieca at 11:10 PM on April 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you want people to view your blog as legitimate and honest, I hope you're thinking through your ethical obligations to your audience. You've decided that protecting the maker of a crappy product is more important than providing accurate and honest information to people who might buy that product.

I think this would be more relevant if I had said I was considering writing a positive review that wasn't deserved. The product isn't harmful, so my decision not to write and post a public negative review isn't hurting anymore. It's not like the product caused a horrible rash and I'm keeping quiet about it. The product simply doesn't do anything for me-- it was like it was just water in a bottle. Of course, it would be unfortunate if I paid for it, believing that it was supposed to do something, but in that situation I could always return it, just as I would many other ineffective skincare products from many stores.

I care about my audience and my blog's reputation quite a bit, so I wouldn't ever consider doing anything less than honest. This is why I posted the question here in the first place -- because I was searching for a polite way to tell a company that I didn't care for their product and don't wish to review it on my blog.

Also, I am always careful to state where and how I received products I've reviewed in my blog. Most reviews on my blog are done on products I purchased myself. This is the first product I've been sent for free and I'm aware that FTC disclaimers are necessary.
posted by joyeuxamelie at 11:53 PM on April 20, 2012

I applaud your desire to be honest. I used to work for a gaming website and got sent a game to review... it turned out to be a really horrible, boring game with a lot of bugs. I emailed the company first and told them that it was going to be a negative review, and they wrote back and said they understood and they sent it with the knowledge that my review wouldn't necessarily be positive, so to go ahead.
posted by IndigoRain at 12:50 AM on April 21, 2012

In the course of my job, I'm sent many things for free (unsolicited, mostly), and am frequently invited to attend events that are explicitly designed to turn my attention to a product in the hopes of me writing about it. My company does not have any restrictions on me accepting swag like this (unlike, say, the New York Times, where it's verboten to accept anything), but I do have a personal ethical boundary: I will never promise coverage. That kind of pay-for-play (which is essentially what it is) is the sort of sketchy tit-for-tatness that makes blog reviews, etc. sort of skin-crawly to a lot of people, and blurs the line between an ad and editorial.

I don't know what kind of agreement you made with the company when you accepted this review product, but I would advise you to start saying something like this in the course of every future conversation about free stuff:

This is just a formality — I send this to everyone — but I want to be clear about my policy with reviews: I'm thrilled to check out your product, I'll give it a fair shake, and if I love it, I will try my very best to write about it. But there is a chance that I won't write about it, whether because I don't have time or space to cover it, or because I dislike the product. If I dislike it, I'll send you a private note with my concerns, if you want it; however, please be assured that I have no interest in running negative reviews on my website. But love or hate the product, I cannot guarantee coverage.

Companies pay a lot of money for bloggers to write about their products on their websites — if they want a guaranteed placement, that's a sponsored post, and you should be compensated accordingly.
posted by firstbest at 3:46 PM on April 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Seconding croutonsupafreak, I think you should post an honest, constructive criticism on your blog as you have a duty to your readers too. While it's not the same as endorsing a harmful product, failing to tell your readers that a product is a waste of money is not being open with them. If you blog currently only has positive reviews of this company's products, and they've made a dud now which you pass over in silence, then your blog is making them look better than they are, which is going to be misleading for readers.
If people can see some negative reviews, then they are more likely to trust the positive ones, which benefits everyone in the long run. If you want to be nice, mention how good their other products are, while this is the first one that disappointed, that might get them some compensatory sales.
posted by Gomoryhu at 8:07 AM on April 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

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