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FTC Targets Amazon Seller for Review Hijacking

Federal Trade Commission
FTC Targets Amazon Seller for Review Hijacking

An Amazon seller was accused of “review hijacking” and will pay the government $600,000 in fines, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). But the seller wasn’t hijacking another seller’s reviews – it was allegedly hijacking reviews left by its own customers of its other products.

According to the FTC, the merchant took advantage of an Amazon feature that allows vendors to create or request the creation of “variation” relationships between some products that are similar but differ only in narrow, specific ways – such as color, size, quantity, or flavor.

Products with a variation relationship share the same product detail page on Amazon.com and appear as alternative choices, the FTC explained. “The product detail page of products that are in a variation relationship displays the total number of ratings, the average star rating, and the reviews for all of the products in the variation relationship, the FTC said in its complaint. They also share any “#1 Best Seller” or “Amazon’s Choice” badges.”

Some sellers said there were worse instances of review hijacking and deceptive practices that the FTC could have targeted. One seller wondered if the FTC would be as vigilant about going after sellers based in other countries that commit more egregious deceptive practices on Amazon.

An FTC blog post about the case quotes from emails where the merchant’s employees discussed the practice: “Another email from a company employee explained that by creating variation relationships between new products and established products, new products could “. . . essentially ‘borrow’ the best-selling flags, ratings, and reviews, and first page placement” of the top sellers.” According to the email, the employee was “using this strategy with all of our launches,” and the strategy had proven “extremely successful.””

In summing up, the FTC wrote, “The message for marketers should be clear. Because reviews, ratings, and badges are highly material to consumers, the FTC looks with disfavor on advertisers’ attempts to manipulate the system.”

What kind of deceptive behavior do you see sellers engage in on online marketplaces, and are the marketplaces themselves doing enough to crack down on misbehaving merchants?

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Ina Steiner
Ina Steiner
Ina Steiner is co-founder and Editor of EcommerceBytes and has been reporting on ecommerce since 1999. She's a widely cited authority on marketplace selling and is author of "Turn eBay Data Into Dollars" (McGraw-Hill 2006). Her blog was featured in the book, "Blogging Heroes" (Wiley 2008). She is a member of the Online News Association (Sep 2005 - present) and Investigative Reporters and Editors (Mar 2006 - present). Follow her on Twitter at @ecommercebytes and send news tips to ina@ecommercebytes.com. See disclosure at EcommerceBytes.com/disclosure/.

One thought on “FTC Targets Amazon Seller for Review Hijacking”

  1. Wow. All I can say is “Finally!” And $600k is not even a slap, nor will it prevent Amazon or their sellers from continuing this practice.

    If you’re not familiar with this issue–next time you are reading reviews of a product, especially something tech, you’ll be surprised to read reviews on items that have NOTHING to do with the item you’re researching on that page.

    This has been going on for quite some time. I don’t see it being a practice that will be discontinued as long as we have so many products flooding in from places like China.

    $600k? Oh, please.

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