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.

Connect With An E-commerce Consultant »