Negative reviews aren't always written by dissatisfied users or crafty competitors, but instead by dedicated fans who love a company's products. According to a new study, the review box has apparently been commandeered by loyal customers disenfranchised by a company's new products. These users see it as a way to provide company feedback by playing the role of brand manager and even attack items that haven't yet been sold.

Researchers Eric Anderson from Northwestern University and Duncan Simester from MIT studied the sales and reviews data from an unnamed private label apparel retailer. The data was controlled, since the company uses no third-party vendors, and online reviews were analyzed directly against registered user's sales numbers.

Many reviewers have never even tried the product

The study found an inverse relationship between a customer's loyalty and the average rating of the product reviews. Customers with a higher number of purchases tended to leave more negative reviews, expressing brand devotion by loudly sharing negative thoughts and opinions about new products. Additionally, a fraction of these reviewers left comments on items they had never purchased, and even products with zero sales, in an attempt to express dissatisfaction.

Frequent customers are often the most hesitant to accept change, as has happened with the upcoming Xbox One. Microsoft's new gaming console was initially set to regularly connect to the Internet and have limited support for used games, but the company reversed these policies after a large public outcry.

Microsoft listened to user feedback

Users who love a company are much more invested in the outcome of future products, and thus much more likely to voice strong opinions. Unfortunately, these negative reviews, which can be based on unused products, tend to hinder a product's sales while having little to no basis in reality.

Companies have a few different ways to manage this damage, including requiring a purchase in order to leave a review. While this may work for private label retailers, the change could hinder companies that sell products that are available through numerous different venues. Amazon, for example, does not require users to purchase an item to leave a review, and is thus more susceptible to fabricated reviews.