Monthly Archives: March 2016

E-Commerce Law: Is It Legal To Pay For Online Reviews?

graphic of search bar juxtaposed against a line of e-commerce entrepreneurs to accompany a blog post answering the question is it legal to pay for online reviews

Is It Legal To Pay For Online Reviews?

You can make money with e-commerce startups. Amazon, eBay, Etsy – even Walmart – maintain incredible platforms for outside sellers. Plus, holiday sales figures prove that Internet shopping anxiety has gone the way of the dinosaur.

Bottom line: there is e-commerce cash-money to be made.

But (there’s always a “but”), as more folks dive into the product marketing pond, competition is stiffer than the Queen’s Guard.

So, how are some sellers standing out from the pack? They’re buying reviews! Which raises the question: Is it legal to buy online reviews?

Online Review Truth #1: Fake Reviews Can Get You Sued

Reviews are a vital cog in the e-commerce machine. Every platform — and entrepreneur — leverages user reviews to sell, sell, sell! Think about it: when you see a product without feedback, do you buy…or hop to a similar product with reviews?

So, what’s a newbie to do? Is it legal to buy online reviews?

E-commerce platforms are serious about review integrity, and they actively work to expunge phony feedback. Not only are algorithms used to scrub “bad” posts, but some platforms, like Amazon, sue paid review services and reviewers.

Are you thinking, “No problem, I’ll just use a paid review service overseas?” Well, foreign governments are also cracking down.

The risk of permanent account expulsion increases, exponentially, if you use fake review services. The danger is real; you may get burned.

Online Review Truth #2: Disclose Material Relationships

What’s the easiest way to avoid review-related suspension hassles? Disclose, disclose, disclose!

If Aunt Bessie buys your organic sea-kale lollipops, genuinely loves them, and wants to shout it from a mountaintop, she can certainly spread the sea-kale gospel via online reviews. BUT,  don’t PAY Aunt Bessie to write a review. (Update: Offering consumers free products is exchange for an online review is now also frowned upon by Amazon. You can read about the rule change here.)

Will you be tossed in the clink if friends and family don’t divulge their relationship, to you, in an online review? Of course not. Let’s be real: how will Amazon — or another platform — know if “Liv4Cats54” is your relative? But be aware that disclosing material relationships is, technically, part of FTC guidelines.

Online Review Truth #3: Don’t Ghost Write Tons of Reviews for Your Products

Is it legal to pay for online reviews? Not really. Is it legal to write your own reviews under aliases? Again, not really.

For e-commerce platforms, reviews are both a blessing and a curse; a blessing because they engage audiences in a meaningful, profitable way; a curse because an outbreak of corrupt reviews has the power to crush a site’s credibility – and ultimately tarnish the brand.

So,  what’s the lesson? Don’t write a ton of fake reviews for your products. Websites use algorithms that sniff and snuff out faux-feedback. Best to avoid them altogether.

Online Review Truth #4: Don’t Sabotage Competitors’ Listings

One night, you’re sitting at home, stewing in a cauldron of frustration. Your e-commerce gamble is not working out as planned! Where are the customers!?

You ask yourself, “Is it legal to pay for online reviews or post fake ones?” And then, in a moment of weakness, frustration takes your wheel and you screed-type some nasty feedback on a competitor’s listing. Your (misguided) rationale? Well, if I trash competing products, more people are likely to find me!

This type of thinking is wrong thinking. Being a rogue, fake-review-dispensing troll will bring you 99 problems, and a possible FTC sanction IS one.

Fake reviews fall clearly into the “unfair and deceptive marketing” strike zone. Plus, depending on the circumstances, you could be sued for trade libel — and lose.

Befriend An E-Commerce Lawyer

You’ve vested a lot in your e-commerce business. Protect your efforts; team up with an experienced attorney with a nuanced understanding of:

Our focus areas (FTC compliance, review defamation, online intellectual property, et cetera) line up perfectly with what Internet businesses need to grow and earn.

Hope we’ve answered the question “Is it legal to pay for online reviews?” for you. Interested in learning more about Internet business law? Yes? Head here.

Amazon Hijacking: 5 Legal Tips To Shake Counterfeiters

graphic of apple cut open to reveal watermelon accompanying a blog post about Amazon hijacking

Amazon hijacking is a problem. But you can fight back!

Ecommerce entrepreneurs compete with counterfeiters. Unfortunately, it just comes with the territory. But sellers can protect brand integrity by protecting intellectual property and customizing products.

Product counterfeiters and listing hijackers are an ecommerce scourge. Their MO?

  • First, scour online marketplaces for easy-to-copy products;
  • Then, occupy product listings;
  • And lastly, undercut the original price by selling inferior copycats. (Sometimes they sell exact product replicas acquired through supply chain leaks).

So, how do you shake a listing tick? Unfortunately, a silver bullet solution doesn’t exist, but you can deter product pickpockets.

Amazon Hijacking Prevention Tip #1: Vet Your Supply Chain Like Your Financial Security Depends On It (Because It Does)

Blunt talk: Overseas manufacturers may not care about you or your business (#NotAllOverseasManufacturers). Understandably, their top priority is making money — and they’re often not beholden to U.S. laws.

So, how can you avoid a disastrous partnership? Again, no bullet proof method exists. But what you can do is vet, vet — and then vet some more. Scour the Internet for information about potential factories and manufacturers; read industry message boards; hire a translator if you must!

Also, adopt a Prime Directive attitude; share the names of quality supply chain vendors with other sellers. Mitigating counterfeiters makes financial sense for the industry, as a whole.

Amazon Hijacking Prevention Tip #2: Add A Little *Something* To Your Product

Hijackers leech off elbow grease. Use their tendencies to your advantage.

How?

The more unique a product, the more difficult to copy. Add a special feature or sub rosa engraving. Differentiating your brand is effective counterfeit repellent.

Amazon Hijacking Prevention Tip #3: Spruce Up Your Packaging

Add something special to your packaging. The gesture doesn’t have to be elaborate or expensive – it can be as simple as a note. So long as it’s an unadvertised surprise, it’ll work.

Why?

Because packaging differences work as A-to-Z claim evidence. Also, if you have to track down a supply chain leak, you may be able to pinpoint the culprit if you can pinpoint the exact stage duplication diverges.

Amazon Hijacking Prevention Tip #4: Brand Register & Maybe More

Take advantage of Amazon’s Brand Registry program. It’s not the same as getting the USPTO’s stamp of approval, but Amazon brand registry has its advantages. Importantly, it gives you more control over listing pages – which can be helpful when fighting hijackers.

The more control you wield over product listings, the more details you can add – and details are kryptonite to hijackers.

Like citronella candles to mosquitoes, brand registry is not a cure-all; but it does repel a bunch of unwelcome pests.

Product Counterfeit Repellent Tip #5: Talk It Out, First

If you’re hit by a hijacker, keep calm; keep cool; keep collected. After all, maybe it’s a genuine, newbie mistake. So, before blowing a gasket, send a private message to the would-be hijacker. Try not to come across as litigious or hyper aggressive. No need for bad blood over an unintentional blunder.

Now, if reasoning doesn’t work, and it’s clear you’re dealing with a seasoned scam artist, it may be time for reinforcements. That’s where we come in.

A Private Label Law Attorney May Be the Answer to Your Hijacking Headache

Unfortunately, hijackers are part of the ecommerce environment. They’ll never go extinct. Like cockroaches, hijackers and counterfeiters will adapt, survive, and multiply! But if you’re vigilant and play a few smart cards, the likelihood of being hit diminishes.

Deal with hijacking issues head-on, before they demolish profits!

Need experienced advice about an e-commerce legal challenge? Contact Kelly Warner.