What’s a retailer to do when they’re not getting enough online love? Just offer customers a kickback in the form of a refund for a positive review. Some businesses have been pumping themselves up in this dastardly way, which could mean all those glowing reviews of the latest blanket-and-sweatsuit-all-in-onesie might not be the real deal.
The New York Times points to the example of VIP Deals, which saw its leather Kindle Fire case shoot up in popularity due to hundreds of reviews drooling over its perfection. They say 310 out of 335 reviews last week of the product were five stars, and almost all the rest were four. One man actually wrote: “I would have done 4 stars instead of 5 without the deal.”
The NYT interviewed three customers who said after searching on Amazon for a protective case, they found the VIP page selling a cover for under $10 plus shipping (the official list price was $59.99). Upon arrival, the package included a note, inviting the customer to “write a product review for the Amazon community. In return for writing the review, we will refund your order so you will have received the product for free.”
VIP Deals denies any wrongdoing, writing to the NYT in an email saying, “You are totally off base.”
But regulators are paying attention these days, and cracking down on fake hype.
“Advertising disguised as editorial is an old problem, but it’s now presenting itself in different ways,” said Mary K. Engle, the Federal Trade Commission’s associate director for advertising practices. “We’re very concerned.”
If customers can’t even trust each other to write an honest review, why read the product reviews at all?
For $2 a Star, an Online Retailer Gets 5-Star Product Reviews [New York Times]