Cracking down on review hijacking

Supplement-maker The Bountiful Company will pay a US$600,000 fine to the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in a first-of-its-kind ruling against “review hijacking” on Amazon. 

What happened: Unlike plain ol’ fashioned hijacking, review hijacking doesn’t involve weapons and international criminal cartels. Instead, it’s when an Amazon seller merges reviews for highly-rated products onto pages of lower-rated items to give them a boost. 

  • Amazon allows sellers to list products that are basically the same but with slight differences (like size or colour) on the same page. A very reasonable feature!
  • Buuut some sellers abuse this feature and use it to tack on unrelated products, which is what The Bountiful Company did, merging supplements with different formulations.
  • In one case, a product with 26 reviews and a 3.2-star rating appeared to have 1,000 reviews and a 4.5-star rating after merging with entirely different products. 

Why it matters: Reviews are essential to the modern-day shopping ecosystem. A 2020 survey from Trustpilot found that 89% of consumers check reviews as part of their online buying journey. As demonstrated in this case, though, reviews can’t always be trusted. 

  • It’s an especially pervasive problem for Amazon—where a low star rating can be a death sentence—and the company is spending big to crack down on fake reviews.
  • Review sites Yelp and Tripadvisor have also stepped up their fights against fraudsters, removing 700,000 and 1 million false reviews in 2022, respectively.  

Zoom out: There are many ways to manipulate reviews, from buying fake ones, filtering out negative ones, or even paying people to spam competitors with bad ones. Scientifically speaking, you’re probably not great at spotting these fakes, but still, keep your eyes peeled.—QH