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August 20, 2012

The Straight Poop About Online Product Reviews

Filed under: Business,Internet — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:54 am

A friend is constantly annoyed by seeing help wanted postings on Craigslist where business people are looking for common folks to write and post favorable reviews about their products and services in return for compensation.

Since so many shoppers read and rely on product reviews written by actual purchasers when deciding whether to buy a particular product, no wonder sellers are eager to display positive reviews. The problem, of course, is that the reader cannot tell whether the review is genuine, fake, or possibly tainted because the reviewer has been paid for his or her comments.

Enter the Federal Trade Commission.

Under their revised testimonial guidelines, even bloggers are required to disclose in their reviews if they have been compensated for their review or received the product free that they are reviewing:

“When there exists a connection between the endorser and the seller of the advertised product that might materially affect the weight or credibility of the endorsement (i.e., the connection is not reasonably expected by the audience), such connection must be fully disclosed.” — 16 CFR 255.5

Now how often have you seen a blogger make such a disclosure?

Enter MrConsumer.

bidetLast week, I received an email from the company that sells the bidet that I recently purchased from Amazon. (This bidet is an attachment you install on an existing toilet to rinse your heinie with a narrow jet of water.) They asked if I would write an “honest review” of the product and post it on Amazon. (Seriously, I was NOT asked to write a positive review, but rather an honest one.) In return, they would send me a second bidet free.

Since I was intending to write a review anyway (I love the product), this was the prompt I needed to actually do it. And of course, who wouldn’t want another bidet for nothing?

I wrote the review “So Long Toilet Paper”, and included the following disclosure that I dare to say no other poster has ever included in their review:

*MOUSE PRINT:

“NOTE: As required by Federal Trade Commission guidelines, I am disclosing that I was promised compensation for posting an honest review. And the review is just that — my honest opinion — something I would have written exactly as you see it irrespective of any future compensation that I might receive.”

Upon hitting the submit button, Amazon flashed up a notice that it may be up to 48 hours before the review is posted because they have to examine it first. Well, I said to myself, they will never approve this. Funny thing, later that night, they did.

I then notified the bidet company of its posting. Well, I said to myself, they will never send me the free bidet. Funny thing, almost immediately, they thanked me for my “wonderful review.”

I guess no one reads anything thoroughly anymore. In any event, at least shoppers who read the review will be put on notice, as required, that I was promised compensation in return for the review.

• • •

8 Comments

  1. I would like to see how this situation plays out when the review is negative. Very interesting.

    Have you already received the compensation?

    Edgar replies: Not yet.

    Comment by Wayne R — August 20, 2012 @ 10:04 am
  2. I’m not sure why you posted this on mouseprint this week. Blogger does exactly what the FTC requires, Amazon posts article, and appears company will make due on promise of free bidet.

    All you try to do is spin it to say that both Amazon and the company probably didn’t read what the blogger wrote.

    I’d rather have seen a shrink wrap article this week, or an article about something that was in the “mouse print” that companies get you on.

    Edgar replies: Natalie… Mouse Print* is about disclosures in advertising, and this was a real life example of the requirement to make a disclosure, which went unread.

    Comment by Natalie — August 20, 2012 @ 12:13 pm
  3. After reading many on-line reviews, I purchased a (major brand) mini computer with wireless and gps capabilities. the wireless antenna is poor and the gps signal does not pickup inside my car. I wrote a unpleasant review on their website – and to no surprise – the post was rejected. i was emailed that i should call tech support with any difficulties. i was not reimbursed for my opinion or faulty product

    Comment by tom gauvin — August 20, 2012 @ 2:04 pm
  4. I agree with Natalie. You posted a review that included the FTC message.

    How do you assume that nobody at Amazon or the manufacturer read the review? They asked for an “honest” review and they got it. To me, no problem

    It is widely known that there are bogus reviews on Amazon for fictitious products. I wouldn’t expect Amazon to not post the review, pending a review for libel, slander, obscenities, etc.

    Comment by Bob — August 20, 2012 @ 3:18 pm
  5. I’ve seen a number of blogger reviews that included a note that they received a product/service for free.

    Comment by Alan — August 20, 2012 @ 4:20 pm
  6. My older son goes to school and makes a little extra money doing transcription work for a site called Odesk.com. He has found several companies that pay people to write favorable reviews and even open up bogus twitter accts and tweet about a product!

    Comment by Jennifer — August 20, 2012 @ 6:22 pm
  7. I’m with the others that don’t understand how you can assume your review went unread.

    Also interesting that you note Amazon reviews comments before posting when you do the same thing.

    Edgar replies: Amazon, like most sellers, is likely to be sensitive to the issue of reviews that are fake (put there by a competitor, for example) or possibly tainted (because the reviewer was paid by the company to write the review). Being put on notice that a particular reviewer was paid to post a review, and that a particular company was paying people to write reviews, should set off alarm bells at Amazon, one would think. Since the review was rather quickly approved, I can only assume they didn’t read it in its entirety and see the “compensation” disclosure. Same thing for the company. They would seemingly be shivering in their boots if their likely biggest seller, Amazon, was made aware of their pay for play tactic.

    Comment by Jimbo — August 23, 2012 @ 1:14 pm
  8. Re. “Since the review was rather quickly approved, I can only assume they didn’t read it in its entirety,” I think an Amazon bot read your review in its entirety while an Amazon human may or may not have. The bot would have scrubbed swear words, urls, etc., from your review and flagged a human if your review exceeded certain metrics.
    I think Amazon can’t detect shill reviews so they don’t even try. A shill can create an Amazon account, buy a bidet, write a glowing review as an actual purchaser and no one’s the wiser. How can Amazon tell this bidet shill review apart from others who really liked the bidet? It can’t. Amazon can’t do anything to keep shills out. Glowing reviews regardless of origin also help sales so where’s the incentive to stop shills?

    Comment by anonymous — August 27, 2012 @ 4:17 pm

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