In Brief: Using a different product’s favorable reviews on Amazon can lead to substantial FTC fines.
Here’s What Happened:
The Bountiful Company manufactures and sells vitamins and other supplements. Its brands include Nature’s Bounty and Sundown. Bountiful sells its products on Amazon.com.
Amazon’s product pages contain useful information about products such as the total number of ratings, the average star rating, and product reviews. Amazon allows vendors to create or request the creation of “variation” relationships between some products that are similar but differ only in narrow, specific ways. Products with a variation relationship share the same product detail page on Amazon.com and appear as alternative choices. The variations get the benefit of pooled ratings and reviews and any “#1 Best Seller” or “Amazon’s Choice” badges.
In 2020 and 2021, Bountiful began selling two new products that were supposed to help with stress and mood. The public didn’t exactly love the new products. The sales of the new products were disappointing. So Bountiful requested that Amazon treat its low selling products as variations of better selling products. According to the FTC, Bountiful’s low selling products were not actually variations of other well-reviewed Bountiful products. So the FTC brought a complaint against Bountiful for false advertising. “Boosting your products by hijacking another product’s ratings or reviews is a relatively new tactic, but is still plain old false advertising,” said Samuel Levine, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection.
In a consent decree, Bountiful agreed to pay a $600,000.00 fine. Additionally, Bountiful cannot make similar types of misrepresentations and is barred from creating a variation relationship – or using other deceptive review tactics – that distort what consumers think about its products or services.
Why You Should Know This: Hijacking is hijacking. Even when a company hijacks reviews of its own products.
Case Information: In Matter of The Bountiful Company, 222-3019