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Strategies, research, industry trends — your pulse on the marketplace
The   Bazaar   Voice
Strategies, research, industry trends — your pulse on the marketplace
review hijacking

This article on review hijacking stemmed from recent proposed FTC regulations aimed at cracking down on fake reviews. You can opt to watch Gracie Renbarger, Senior Vice President, General Counsel, and myself, Director, Content Management Service at Bazaarvoice as we talk through the proposal(s) in our on-demand masterclass: Navigating the proposed FTC regulations – Episode One: Reusing reviews.

Given that 88% of shoppers consult ratings and reviews before making a purchase, brands should never launch a product without first collecting user-generated content (UGC). And smart brands also want to keep their products fresh and appealing to their consumers so periodically they may reformulate an existing product (“new and improved!”).

But that raises a serious question — can existing reviews be used for reformulated products? 

According to a recent FTC crackdown on fake reviews, this practice can be considered as “review hijacking.”

What is review hijacking and when does it occur?

Review hijacking is a type of fake review that occurs when a brand or retailer repurposes a review from one product and applies it to a substantially different product. Sometimes it’s done intentionally, such as knowingly using a review for a liquid dish detergent on the product page for a detergent pod designed for an electric dishwasher. 

But it can also happen unintentionally, like when a brand reformulates an existing product but displays reviews that already existed for the earlier version of the product.

Let’s say you’re a home appliance seller and you’ve been selling (and collecting reviews for) a specific washing machine. You launch an updated version: washing machine 2.0. The new product, however, has many different features. If you’re displaying reviews for the older model under the new one, you’re review hijacking. 

Or you reformulate several ingredients in your flagship facial cleanser. If those changes make the product substantially different — as perceived by your consumers — you shouldn’t re-use the reviews from the earlier version of the cleanser. 

Other examples of review hijacking include repurposing a listing page for a product that has positive reviews for another completely unrelated product. By repurposing the listing page, the review hijacker tries to make the second product look like it has more ratings and reviews than it actually does. These actions are, “unquestionably deceptive and of no redeeming value to legitimate marketers,” said the FTC

Potential outcomes of review hijacking

Whether intentional or not, review hijacking can mislead shoppers by giving the impression the reviewer’s comments apply to a specific product when the reviewer hasn’t actually had experience with that product. And it can have serious potential consequences.

Secondly, the FTC has signaled that review hijacking will continue to be one of its enforcement priorities. In February 2023, a supplement brand had to pay $600,000 to settle the FTC’s charges that they’d engaged in review hijacking, when they displayed reviews for one product on the product page of a similar product. 

And more recently, the FTC proposed new regulations identifying seven types of deceptive practices, including review hijacking, that could be subject to fines of up to $50,120 per review each time it is viewed by a consumer. 

How to avoid review hijacking when reformulating a product

With the preceding guidance in mind, we recommend all brands and retailers take a close look at their UGC program to ensure you’re not inadvertently misleading your customers.

1. Audit your current review program for hijacked reviews

The first step you should take is to look at your existing bank of reviews. Is there any chance a review for one product could end up on another, unrelated item? Are your current reviews in compliance with the FTC proposal? Would your customer(s) feel misled or tricked?

56% of shoppers say dishonest product information makes them lose trust in a brand. Even if you do it unintentionally, if they feel tricked or misled, they’ll likely take their business elsewhere,

2. Collect reviews for reformulation of SKUs and product launches

When launching an updated version of a popular product, talk to a pro (like one of our customer success managers) before you copy and paste over your current reviews. They can help ensure you leverage your existing UGC in the most authentic and compliant way

The same advice applies to any product launch. Don’t risk the fine or the loss of your brand reputation. According to our recent research on consumer attitudes toward fake reviews, 97% of shoppers say fake reviews make them lose trust in a brand. What’s more, 81% of respondents said they’d avoid using a brand again after losing trust in it. Not only do you risk a fine from the FTC, but also the loss of business from your loyal customers.

The good news is, if your audit reveals that your UGC may be misleading, there’s a number of ways you can collect more relevant, authentic reviews for your individual products, including:

  • Running a sampling campaign, where you trade samples of products for honest authentic review, ensures you’ll have a bank of fresh reviews for reformulating current SKUs and new product launches
  • Tapping into existing communities of everyday influencers like the Influenster App, which contain a trove of UGC about your brand
  • Asking customers for feedback directly with a review request email
  • Scanning your social pages for positive reviews left under product pictures

How do I know if I’m review hijacking?

Now this is where we fall into “gray area” territory. The line between legitimate review sharing and review hijacking can be a little fuzzy. It all comes down to transparency and the perception of consumers. You might be technically correct in sharing reviews across various products, but if customers feel misled, you could still face damaging backlash.

Don’t stress. Here’s a few examples of what’s acceptable — and what could land your business in the crosshairs of the FTC.

  • You typically can apply the same reviews to items that are the same formula or product, but different quantities or sizes. For example, a t-shirt that’s a size small can share the same UGC as its medium counterpart. The trial and regular sizes of a shampoo can also share reviews
  • You should be careful when items are different, but not substantially different. For example, if you tweak the scent or recipe of a product. We always recommend a conservative approach in these instances. When in doubt, discard the review. (That said, our customer success managers are here to help if you have any questions!)
  • You cannot apply reviews from an unrelated or completely different product to another item. As discussed above, that includes transferring the reviews of an older item to a newer model with a substantially different formula or makeup — especially if it can affect a customer’s health (think skincare, food products, supplements etc)

Generally, your best bet should follow “better safe than sorry” because transparency and authenticity are essential to consumer trust. Put yourself in your consumer’s shoes. If you think they might feel misled by a re-used review, simply don’t post it.

It’s much safer to be one review down and protect your brand reputation (and bottom line!) for the sake of a review, given that 72% of shoppers choose products based on a brand’s reputation.

Review your reviews with Bazaarvoice

The proposed FTC rule shows that the agency is championing the importance of authentic, transparent shopping experiences for consumers — something Bazaarvoice supports our customers in doing every day.  

We’ve always touted the importance of content transparency as a core value and worked hard to develop protocols for keeping the businesses we serve safe and compliant.

Reach out to your Bazaarvoice client success manager for an audit to ensure your current UGC programs are in compliance with the proposed FTC reviews guidelines and prevent your review count reverting to zero. 

And don’t worry. If you find that your current reviews can’t be used or you want a fresh batch of reviews for your product reformulation, we can help you supercharge your UGC collection to get powerful reviews and ratings that will boost customer trust. Get in touch below.

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