FTC charges The Bountiful Company with review hijacking

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The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has charged The Bountiful Company, maker of Nature’s Bounty dietary supplements, with “review hijacking.”

Photo © AdobeStock.com/LIGHTFIELD STUDIOS

Photo © AdobeStock.com/LIGHTFIELD STUDIOS

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has charged The Bountiful Company, maker of Nature’s Bounty dietary supplements, with “review hijacking.” This is the practice of stealing or repurposing reviews of another product. In Bountiful’s case, FTC is accusing the company of merging its products on Amazon with different well-established products that had more ratings, reviews, and badges. This, FTC alleges, deceived consumers into believing that a newly introduced supplement had more product ratings and review, higher average ratings, and “#1 Best Seller” and “Amazon’s Choice” badges, when it did not.

“Boosting your products by hijacking another product’s ratings or reviews is a relatively new tactic, but is still plain old false advertising,” said Samuel Levine, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, in a press release. “The Bountiful Company is paying back $600,000 for manipulating product pages and deceiving consumers.”

FTC says that Bountiful accomplished this by taking advantage of an Amazon feature that allows vendors to create or request the creation of “variation” relationship between products that are similar but differ only in narrow ways such as color, size, quantity, or flavor. Product pages for products in a variation relationship display the total number of ratings, the average star rating, and the reviews for all of the products in the variation relationship, FTC explains.

FTC says in its complaint that during 2020 and 2021, Bountiful requested Amazon to create numerous variation relationships for supplements with different formulations. The rationale was to “to try and ramp them faster as they were NOT selling and we wanted to give them a little boost in R[atings]&R[eviews] to gain visibility and allow them to also borrow the ‘amazon choice’ badge and best seller badge which worked,” according to internal Bountiful communication quoted by FTC in its complaint.

One example FTC provides is a variation relationship created between two new products – Nature’s Bounty Stress Comfort Mood Booster and Nature’s Bounty Stress Comfort Peace of Mind Stress Relief Gummies – and three of its established products. Internal communications cited by FTC indicate that Bountiful saw success in this strategy, with growing sales following the establishment of the variation relationship.

FTC’s position is that Bountiful misrepresented the reviews, the number of Amazon reviews, the average star ratings of some products, and manipulated consumers into believing that some of the products were number one best sellers or had earned an Amazon Choice badge.

FTC voted 4-0 to accept a proposed consent agreement that would require Bountiful to pay $600,000 in monetary relief for consumer and would prohibit the company from making similar misrepresentations and bars Bountiful from creating variation relationships or other deceptive review tactics to distort consumer perception of its products. The agreement will be subject to a 30-day public comment period after which FTC will decide whether to make the proposed consent order final.

In response to FTC's complaint, a company spokesperson told Nutritional Outlook: "The Bountiful Company has settled with the FTC on this matter to avoid a lengthy and costly legal challenge. 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.”

Updated Friday, February 17, 2023 at 1:27PM Eastern.

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