For all of its ease and convenience, online shopping comes with one major drawback: uncertainty. The inability for a consumer to try on a pair of shoes or sit on a couch can mean the difference between a completed transaction and an abandoned shopping chart.

That is why online reviews are so important.

The benefits of online reviews to a customer are obvious. Learning from others’ mistakes prevents consumers from making their own and allows them to feel confident in their purchasing decisions. What is less obvious, but no less important, is the extent to which those benefits apply to marketers and their businesses, too.

Many businesses fear the all-too-terrifying negative review, and that’s understandable. But, in truth, consumer feedback, negative or positive, can only help businesses. Encouraging customers to leave reviews helps improve a brand’s reputation for excellent customer support, which results in real benefits, such as increased return on investment (ROI), more conversions, higher click-through rates, and lower levels of shopping cart abandonment.

Here are four ways online reviews can help businesses succeed.

1. Build trust: Selling quality products and services is part of increasing brand loyalty, but customer service is also incredibly important. It can be hard to build a strong reputation for good customer service online, where there is less personal interaction than in stores, but reviews can help. A large majority of customers–72 percent–trust online reviews, which means companies that use them appear more legitimate and credible, as well as more open to customer thoughts and feedback. Plus, reviews make brands seem human, giving them a way to reach out to customers directly, respond to criticism, and build relationships. That, in turn, leads to better customer retention and conversion rates, as well as all-around happier customers.

2. Use criticism to improve operations: No business owner likes to see a customer complaint pop up in a review section, but even bad feedback can help you improve your customer service, product offerings, operations, and so on. Despite the initial sting of a negative review, customer complaints are in some ways more valuable than praise because they give companies an honest appraisal of how they’re doing. When a business knows exactly what it’s doing wrong, straight from the mouth of the consumer, it can course correct, address the feedback, and come out stronger, all while appearing open to suggestion.

Further, research has shown that 68 percent of customers trust online reviews more when they see a mix of negative and positive sentiments. Brands even have the opportunity to turn a complainer into a repeat customer: Research shows that 95 percent of customers return if an issue is resolved quickly and efficiently.

3. Prioritize word-of-mouth marketing: Though they seem hard to measure, the benefits of word-of-mouth marketing are very real.A/B split testing shows that businesses that implement review systems can see sales grow by as much as 58 percent. Customers are more likely to follow through on a transaction if they can see other feedback and, thus, know what they’re getting into. That, in turn, drives revenue up and shopping cart abandonment down. Customers are also more likely to view a company as trustworthy–thus encouraging repeat purchases–if it has a large number of customer reviews, so encouraging feedback builds a brand’s profile almost immediately.

4. Improve click-through rates: For companies relying on search to bring in Web site traffic, online reviews can be immensely helpful. Google estimates that companies with review-based ratings experience a 17 percent rise in click-through rates, meaning more people are looking at these companies’ sites and products. That applies to third-party review Web sites, through which Google determines its vendor ratings, but also to social media reviews. In fact, social media is arguably more important than review sites in this area; Sociable Labs found that 75 percent of people have clicked through a retailer’s Web site after seeing commentary on a social media site.

What this all means is it’s time for brands to stop fearing online reviews and start understanding the power of honest customer feedback. Online reviews make customers feel appreciated and heard, and businesses see tangible, noticeable differences in ROI, revenue, customer retention, and click-through rates. If your business hasn’t done so yet, the time is now.