The Federal Trade Commission has levied its first fine against a company for “review hijacking” on Amazon, or the act of repurposing reviews from another product in order to deceive users. The Bountiful Company, which makes Nature’s Bounty vitamins and other supplements, is accused of artificially inflating the number of reviews and ratings its products received on Amazon.
The agency claims Bountiful abused Amazon’s variations feature, which lets sellers merge products into a single listing when offering different colors, sizes, or quantities of the same item. Since these product variations share the same listing, this also means they share the same reviews and labels applied by Amazon, such as the “#1 Best Seller” or “Amazon’s Choice” badges.
Bountiful allegedly took advantage of this setup by lumping its new products into the same listing as its established ones, all while under the guise that they were simply product “variations” when they were actually completely different from one another. According to the FTC, this was to help “boost” the sales of Bountiful’s newer and less successful supplements, tricking users into thinking that the ratings of its more popular items applied to its newer ones as well.
In one (of many) examples cited by the FTC, Bountiful added two new products to its Amazon store in March 2021: Nature’s Bounty Brain Superfood capsules and Nature’s Bounty Brain Focus chewable tablets. The company then allegedly added these products as a variation to its more established Nature’s Bounty Ginkgo Biloba 120mg capsule listing, all three of which the FTC says had different ingredient makeups. Another example saw Bountiful combining its Immune 24 Hour + softgels with its highly rated Nature’s Bounty Vitamin C 500mg tablets, which, again, have different formulas.
Bountiful allegedly continued to abuse Amazon’s variations system with several of its products throughout 2020 and 2021, with the FTC’s initial complaint quoting a former Bountiful employee as saying this method helped “ramp” newer products up faster since “they were NOT selling and we wanted to give them a little boost in R[atings]&R[eviews] to gain visibility and allow them to also borrow the ‘amazon choice’ badge and best seller badge which worked.”
Along with fining Bountiful $600,000, the FTC has also ordered the company to stop making similar representations in the future and using “deceptive review tactics” to trick customers. Amazon has long had an issue with fake reviews flooding the platform, which is something the e-commerce giant has attempted to crack down on over the years. However, “review hijacking” seems like yet another issue Amazon will have to contend with to keep the products on its site in check.
“There’s no place for fraud in Amazon’s store,” Amazon spokesperson Christy Distefano says in an emailed statement to The Verge. “We have proactive measures in place to prevent listing abuse and we continuously monitor our store. Our policies prohibit reviews abuse including offering incentives like gift cards to write positive reviews. We suspend, ban, and take legal action against those who violate these policies and remove inauthentic reviews.”