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 Sues Reviewers: An E-Commerce Case Study

Amazon sues reviewers
Amazon sued an alleged fake review facilitator.

From The E-Commerce Law Desk: Amazon Sues Reviewers.

Amazon has declared war on fake feedback — and the retailer’s litigators are hunting down pay-for-post services.

Amazon Sues Reviewers: The Feedback Industry In A Nutshell

A philosophical fence separates the online review industry: Feedback facilitators are either on the “light side” or the “dark side.”

The Light Side’s M.O.

Reputable e-commerce marketing companies DO exist. They help Internet retailers market products, find audiences, and garner great reviews using above board tactics.

The Dark Side’s M.O.

Questionable companies pay people to write phony – often glowing – missives on Amazon, Yelp, and other consumer platforms without ever trying the product or reading the book. These folks typically use underhanded tactics (like shipping empty boxes) to give posts an air of credibility.

The deceptive practice has gone viral quicker than a conga line of cats, but it’s slowly poisoning the digital economy.

Amazon Sues Reviewers: Fake Feedback Brokers

Amazon’s first fake review lawsuit targeted the operator of buyazonreviews.com, in addition to the John Doe(s) facilitating buyamazonreviews.com, bayreviews.net, and buyreviewsnow.com. Lawyers for the plaintiff argue trademark violations (some of the sites use unauthorized Amazon logos), unfair competition, and a smattering of other business-related torts.

From the “Amazon sues reviewers” lawsuit:

“While small in number, these reviews threaten to undermine the trust that customers, and the vast majority of sellers and manufacturers, place in Amazon, thereby tarnishing Amazon’s brand. Amazon strictly prohibits any attempt to manipulate customer reviews and actively polices its website to remove false, misleading, and inauthentic reviews.“Despite substantial efforts to stamp out the practice, an unhealthy ecosystem is developing outside of Amazon to supply inauthentic reviews. Defendants’ businesses consist entirely of selling such reviews.”

Amazon purports to have damning evidence against the defendant (whether it’s true or not is yet to be determined).

Speak With An E-Commerce Attorney

Kelly / Warner focuses on Internet law issues, including online reviews. To learn more about our work with Amazon sellers, head here. Read about our online reputation practice, by jumping here. To speak with one of our experienced attorneys, get in touch today.

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Kelly / Warner is an Internet law firm that handles online business matters, including e-commerce issues related to paid online reviews.