Will Seippel | February 21, 2023

FTC seal
The Federal Trade Commission frowns on review hijacking.
Image: Public Domain

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently fined an Amazon seller $600,000 for “review hijacking.” The seller wasn’t hijacking other sellers’ reviews, though; they were hijacking reviews their customers left for their other products, falsely attributing them to newer offerings.

In the antiques and collectibles business, reputation is everything. We all suffer when markets are flooded with knockoffs and misrepresentations that pepper the marketplace. Buyers must trust us, our merchandise, and our business practices if we are to survive as dealers. When I see sellers blatantly abuse the buyer review system, I shake my head in disbelief.

For online buyers, reviews are vital. When customers cannot touch and inspect a product, their purchase decisions rely heavily on the experiences of other buyers, as told through reviews. For sellers of intangibles and data products, reviews are even more critical.

The FTC’s position on seller reviews is evident in their October 2022 press release titled “Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on the Use of Reviews and Endorsements.” The message to marketers is unmistakable: because reviews, ratings, and badges are critical to customers’ buying decisions, the FTC frowns on marketers’ attempts to game the system.

online review hijacking
Online reviews are critical to customer buying decisions.
Image: Shutterstock

Seven Disreputable Review Practices

As sellers, there’s not much we can do about competitors that lie and cheat. Since most of us buy online as well as sell, here are seven tricks we should be aware of.

  1. Fake reviews: Written by non-existent persons or natural persons who haven’t used the product or service or lie about their experience.
  2. Review repurposing (a.k.a. review hijacking) is explained above.
  3. Paid reviews: Buying positive reviews, either in cash, merchandise, or other consideration. It may also include buying bad reviews for competitors.
  4. Insider evaluations: Those published by a firm’s executives or requested from its employees that don’t disclose their ties to the company.
  5. Review suppression: Displaying good reviews but leaving off bad ones.
  6. Disinformation: Fraudulent reputation management through creating phony news items. A February Washington Post article titled “Leaked Files Reveal Reputation Management Firm’s Deceptive Tactics” investigates this devious practice.
  7. Buying followers: Entails purchasing or selling followers, subscribers, views, or other social media impact metrics.

How to Protect Our Reputations as Online Sellers

  1. Be honest: Don’t misrepresent yourself or your products. Don’t write fake reviews or repurpose reviews from other products.
  2. Respond to reviews: Respond to reviews promptly, both positive and negative. Be respectful and helpful in your response.
  3. Show appreciation: Acknowledge customers who take the time to leave a review.
  4. Monitor your online presence: Monitor your online presence and reputation by regularly reviewing your online reviews, social media profiles, and ratings.
  5. Offer incentives: Offer incentives to customers for providing honest reviews.
  6. Ask for reviews: Ask customers for reviews, as long as you clarify that reviews should be unbiased and honest.
  7. Address complaints: Address customer complaints promptly and professionally. Take ownership of the situation and do what you can to fix the problem.

By following these guidelines and being transparent with customers, we can maintain our reputations as sellers. Being straightforward with customers and vendors is as close as we can come to a “magic bullet” for improving our businesses.

Will Seippel is the CEO and founder of WorthPoint®, the world’s largest provider of information about art, antiques, and collectibles. An Inc. 500 Company, WorthPoint is used by individuals and organizations seeking credible valuations on everything from cameras to coins. WorthPoint counts the Salvation Army, Habitat for Humanity, and the IRS among its clients.