Fashion Nova, an online fashion retailer, agreed to pay $4.2 million as part of a consent decree with the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) in which it will be prohibited from suppressing customer reviews of its products. The FTC alleged in a complaint that Fashion Nova misrepresented that the product reviews on its website reflected the views of all purchasers who submitted reviews, when in fact it suppressed reviews with ratings lower than four stars out of five.
This is the FTC’s first case involving a company’s efforts to conceal negative customer reviews. Samuel Levine, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, stressed:
Deceptive review practices cheat consumers, undercut honest businesses, and pollute online commerce. Fashion Nova is being held accountable for these practices, and other firms should take note.Fashion Nova will Pay $4.2 Million as part of Settlement of FTC Allegations it Blocked Negative Reviews of Products
Fashion Nova used a third-party online product review management interface to automatically post four- and five-star reviews to its website and hold lower-starred reviews for the company’s approval. As a result, the FTC sent letters to review management services, placing them on notice that avoiding the collection or publication of negative reviews violates the FTC Act.
One of our concerns is when companies take improper steps to avoid collecting or publishing negative reviews. Examples may include asking for reviews only from those likely to leave positive ones, preventing or discouraging submission of negative reviews, subjecting negative reviews to greater scrutiny, refusing to publish negative reviews, or otherwise not treating positive and negative reviews equally. . . . The provision or use of this functionality would violate the FTC Act if it results in a misleading impression about what consumers think about a product or service.Sample Letter from Division of Advertising Practices
The FTC also released new guidance for online retailers and review platforms to educate them on the agency’s key principles for collecting and publishing customer reviews in ways that do not mislead consumers.
Retailers are reminded not to only seek reviews from customers they think will leave positive reviews. Platforms are reminded:
- Don’t prevent or discourage people from submitting negative reviews.
- Treat positive and negative reviews equally. Don’t subject negative reviews to greater scrutiny.
- Publish all genuine reviews and don’t exclude negative ones.
- Don’t display reviews in a misleading way. For example, it could be deceptive to feature the positive ones more prominently.