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 an e-commerce startup. Amazon, eBay, Etsy – even Walmart – have incredible platforms for outside sellers. Even better? The latest holiday spending figures proved anxiety about Internet shopping 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?

Let’s discuss.

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

Reviews are a vital cog in the e-commerce model. 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?

Brass tacks: e-commerce platforms are serious about review integrity, and they actively work to stomp out phony reviews. Not only are feedback algorithms used to scrub “bad” posts, but some platforms, like Amazon, actually sue paid review services and reviewers.

Are you thinking, “No problem, I’ll just use a paid review service overseas?” Well, you may want to reevaluate, because 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 weight-loss 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.)

Now, 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 anyone know if user “Liv4Cats54” on, say, Amazon, is your relative? But know that disclosing the relationship is, technically, part of FTC guidelines. So, if the commission catches you in its web — or you become entangled in a marketing-related lawsuit — the issue of non-disclosure COULD arise and work against you.

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 certain faux-views. 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 ecommerce gamble is not working out nearly as well as you planned! You need to attract more customers!

You forget to ask yourself, “Is it legal to pay for online reviews or post fake ones?” And then, in a moment of weakness, you screed-type some nasty feedback on a competitor’s listing. Your 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. And 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 by teaming up with an experienced attorney with a nuanced understanding of:

  • E-commerce account appeals;
  • The online private label market niche;
  • Online marketing regulations;
  • FTC and FDA guidelines; in addition to
  • General e-commerce law.

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

We’ve answered the question “Is it legal to pay for online reviews?” Interesting in learning more about Internet business law? Yes? Then 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 there are ways to fight back.

E-commerce entrepreneurs have to compete with counterfeiters. But sellers can protect their brands’ integrity by investing in intellectual property protections and customizing products. If you’re entangled with a sophisticated scammer, consider working with experienced e-commerce attorneys.

Product counterfeiters and listing hijackers are an e-commerce plague. These scammers:

  • First scour online marketplaces for easy-to-copy products;
  • Then occupy product listings;
  • And ultimately 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 yet exist, but you can do a few simple things to make your listings unattractive to product pickpockets.

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

Here’s the issue: overseas manufacturers may not care about you, your business, or U.S. laws. Their top priority is making money — and they’re often not beholden to stateside statutes.

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. Why? Because mitigating counterfeiters makes financial sense for the industry, as a whole.

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

Hijackers leech off industrious elbow grease. So, use their tendencies to your advantage.

How?

Simple: the more unique a product, the more difficult it is to counterfeit. Add a special feature or sub rosa engraving. Differentiating your brand can act as effective counterfeit repellent.

Amazon Hijacking Prevention Tip #3: Spruce Up Your Packaging

What is another great way to ward off hijackers? Add something special to your packaging. The gesture doesn’t have to be elaborate or expensive – it can be as simple as a note. The point is that it’s an unadvertised surprise.

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 the duplication diverges.

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

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

Brand Registry As An Amazon Hijacker Repellent?

The more control you have over product listings, the more details you can add – and details are kryptonite to hijackers. Instead of trying to emulate a highly detailed product, with an accompanying detailed product page, counterfeiters and hijackers typically move on to easier targets.

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