Amazon Seller Fined $600k for Review Manipulation

John Lister's picture

A company that manipulated Amazon listings to deceive customers has been fined $600,000. It's the first time the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has punished a business for "review hijacking."

The Bountiful Company sells a range of nutritional supplements. According to the FTC it listed more than 1,000 products on Amazon. (Source:

One of the tactics it used took advantage of the way Amazon groups "variation" products. This is meant to cover situations such as an identical t-shirt that's available in multiple colors, or a medicine that's available in different size bottles.

The idea of the grouping is that key information for the different variations can be combined. For example, each page for a different color of the t-shirt could show the combined number of customer ratings and average ratings for all versions.

Bogus Connections

According to the FTC, The Bountiful Company abused this feature by falsely linking unconnected products as variations. It took poorly reviewed products and linked them to more successful and higher rated products. Done in the right combination, this meant both products would now appear to be popular and well rated.

Although the FTC used the phrase "review hijacking," the seller was actually piggybacking off its own products rather than taking credit for other rival products. It wasn't just the number of reviews and star ratings that were effectively manipulated by these tactics. In some cases, the less popular products were made to look as if they had been available for longer when they were actually new on the market.

"Best Seller" Baloney

The manipulation also meant some products were incorrectly labeled as "number one best sellers" or carried an "Amazon's Choice" badge. (Source:

The Bountiful Company has now agreed to an FTC order under which it will no longer mislead customers in this way or falsely link products as "variations". It will also pay a financial penalty of $600,000.

What's Your Opinion?

Are you surprised by such tactics? Should Amazon find a better way to vet whether "variant" products really are the same thing? How much attention do you pay to reviews, ratings and bestseller claims when buying online?

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Dennis Faas's picture

Am I the only one thinking that this is more of an Amazon problem than it is for the FTC? Don't get me wrong - I'm glad they did something about it - but why doesn't Amazon have something programmed to stop this from happening? I'm also wondering if the company was forewarned to stop the review hijacking prior to receiving a 600k fine?

aki's picture

This is more than just an Amazon problem and I'm glad the FTC stepped in. If I were the head of the FTC, I'll also order that Amazon be closely monitored as well.

A prevalent problem both on Amazon as well as Marketplace on Facebook is that there are fake reviews that inflate the quality of the product. I don't think either of them do enough (especially FB), in going after these crooks. For example, it's pretty easy to look at the FB page for a reviewer and see that they joined that day or just a couple of days before.

LouisianaJoe's picture

Last night I looked at an item that was in a list on the page. Also you will see multiple boxes of different variations of the same product. The reviews are frequently limited to one of the options. This can be confusing when trying to find the best product for me.

I do not consider this a crime, just poor marketing.

As they say: Caveat Emptor

doulosg's picture

The fraud is certainly no surprise.

What does surprise is that the FTC actually took action. I do agree with other comments that the FTC should censure Amazon for allowing this.

matt_2058's picture

I agree with Dennis on this, that should be more of an Amazon problem. As in the FTC should hold Amazon responsible with the seller. Even though the seller manipulated the system, it's not the seller collecting and publishing the reviews/standing of the products.

With today's tech, Amazon could easily filter through the reviews and chuck most of them. Same goes for other high-volume retailers/websites like Walmart. It would do them good to do their own policing, but they won't. Those good reviews, even though fake or manipulated, are VERY good for business.

THAT'S where the FTC ought to step in. Make the entity presenting it to the consumer responsible for false information.