The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has slapped the maker of Nature’s Bounty vitamins with a $600,000 fine for “review hijacking” its products on Amazon.
The Bountiful Company, says the FTC in a press release, deceived consumers “into thinking that its newly-introduced supplements had more product ratings and reviews, higher average ratings, and ‘#1 Best Seller’ and ‘Amazon’s Choice’ badges.”
Beyond the fine, Bountiful is also prohibited from making similar types of misrepresentations and deceptive review tactics.
This was the first time the FTC has gone after a company for alleged review jacking. The practice takes advantage of a feature on Amazon that lets vendors create “variation” relationships between products that are similar, but differ in specific ways, such as color, size or flavor. Those appear as alternative choices on the product detail page.
The FTC says Bountiful created variations with new products to boost their sales, citing internal emails that detailed a strategy of variating new products with top selling ones “to essentially ‘borrow’ the best-selling flags, ratings, and reviews, and first page placement” of the top sellers. One company official said they were “using this strategy with all of our launches.”
“Boosting your products by hijacking another product’s ratings or reviews is a relatively new tactic, but is still plain old false advertising,” Samuel Levine, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said in February when the charges were first announced.
A spokesperson for Bountiful, a division of Nestlé Health Science, downplayed the penalty in a statement to Fortune.
“The Bountiful Company has settled with the FTC on this matter to avoid a lengthy and costly legal challenge,” the spokesperson said. “We stand behind our products and business practices and are convinced that consumers were neither deceived nor harmed by the variation practices implemented to assist consumers in finding similar products. Bountiful is already complying with the terms of the order and will continue to do so.”