Retailers often use product reviews to supplement advertising and drive sales. Such use has become more prevalent as sales shift from brick and mortar stores to internet sales, where splattering a webpage with purported product reviews is easy, cheap, and grabs eyeballs.
Many major online retailers offer product reviews submitted by consumers. Many online retailers will provide product reviews on their website that the company has solicited or otherwise selected for favorability. Such reviews are supposed to be authentic and accurate. While the retailer can select which reviews are displayed, the reviews should be real and the consumer can decide how much weight to give a review. However, purported third party website reviews exist for the specific reason that they are supposed to be independent and will give the good and the bad. Several companies and individuals recently discovered that faking a third party review website will result in action from the FTC.
The website of Trampoline Safety of America purported to use experts to give safety ratings to different trampoline brands, rating those made by Infinity and Olympus Pro the highest. However, what was not disclosed to consumers according to the FTC was that Trampoline Safety of America was operated by Infinity and Olympus Pro and the company owners. According to the FTC the comments and videos on the website were also not authentic customer reviews, but were created by the owners of Infinity and Olympus Pro. Following FTC action, the parties are heading toward settlement.
While such conduct is obviously improper, it is important always to disclose conflicts regarding product reviews and to only use consumer reviews or testimonials that are actually given by customers. All factual claims, especially medical related claims, must be supported by actual data or testing. Not only has the FTC shown a willingness to crack down on companies that violate such requirements, consumer protection lawyers and competitor companies can also be expected to bring claims and seek damages.