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February 03, 2022

Are retailers paying for positive online reviews?

As someone who writes online, supplying text that hangs ever so precariously above a comments box, I get the perils of web reviews.

1280072_keyboardCertainly, I’m not the most popular man on the Internet (“Jason Buckland is an idiot,” I believe, read one succinct reply to a post here), but I’m not selling anything. Positive reviews are not a requisite of my job.

So it’s under that premise, then, that I feel for online retailers. In the anonymous realm of the Internet, where anyone with an IP address can rip anything or anyone freely without consequence, how you could ever hope for positive feedback is beyond me.

Unless you’re truly curing cancer with a product, or you’ve earned carte blanche like Apple, who could release an “Eff You, Customers” special edition iPad and still have people camp out, people are going to rip it, and they’re going to rip it hard.

But have some sellers actually resorted to paying customers for positive reviews?

That’s the accusation lobbed at one online retailer by the New York Times recently, the paper unearthing what it appears is a “pay for review” scandal that flies in the face of federal trade laws.

*Bing: How to spot a fake online review

According to the NYT, a seller named VIP Deals, which offers cases for Amazon’s Kindle Fire e-reader, has been running a rebate program whereby customers are refunded their order price in exchange for a five-star review on Amazon’s forums.

After shoppers bought the tablet case, an invitation was packed away in its box, inviting buyers “to write a product review for the Amazon community.”

“In return for writing the review,” the note continued, “we will refund your order so you will have received the product for free.”

Fair game, you say, but this doesn’t appear to be merely a case of paying for feedback – whatever feedback it may be. In the directive, shoppers are goaded to give the best review possible, saying not-so-discrete things like “we strive to earn 100 percent ‘FIVE-STAR’ scores from you!”

“I was like, ‘Is this for real?’” one woman who took up the offer told the New York Times. “But they credited my account. You think it’s unethical?”

VIP Deals denied that it was paying for positive reviews, and it may be right. Though under trade laws enforced by the FTC in the U.S., retailers must disclose any affiliation they have between someone promoting its product should it affect the endorsement’s credibility.

At press time, VIP Deals’ Kindle case had 335 reviews on Amazon, 310 of them giving five stars (most of the rest were four stars).

Hey, maybe it’s just a damn fine case.

By Jason Buckland, MSN Money



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Gordon PowersGordon Powers

A long-time fund company executive, Gordon Powers now heads up the Affinity Group, a financial services consulting firm. Gordon was a personal finance columnist for the Globe & Mail for many years, has taught retirement planning...

Jason BucklandJason Buckland

The modern-day MC Hammer of money, Jason can often be seen spending cash that isn’t his with the efficiency of a Wilt Chamberlain first date. After cutting his teeth as a reporter for the Toronto Sun, he joined the MSN Money team with...