Nutrition-supplements marketer Bountiful Co. has agreed to pay $600,000 to settle a Federal Trade Commission enforcement action that alleged it engaged in “hijacking” its own ratings and reviews on Amazon.
In the first such action by the FTC, the agency said Bountiful manipulated product pages by misusing an Amazon feature that allows sellers to create “variation” relationships among their own products.
The products must be similar and can differ only in “narrow, specific ways” such as color, size, quantity or flavor.
Products with a variation relationship share the same product detail page on Amazon and appear as alternative choices so that shoppers can compare and choose among similar products.
According to the FTC, Bountiful executed “this deceptive tactic by merging its new products on Amazon with different, well-established products” that had more ratings, reviews and Amazon’s Choice badges.
“Boosting your products by hijacking another product’s ratings or reviews is a relatively new tactic but is still plain old false advertising,” Samuel Levine, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said last week in announcing the settlement.
Bountiful manufactures vitamin, mineral and other nutritional supplements under such brands as Nature’s Bounty and Sundown and sells them to Amazon, which resells them to consumers.
The FTC alleged that when Bountiful began selling Nature’s Bounty Stress Comfort Mood Booster and Nature’s Bounty Stress Comfort Peace of Mind Stress Relief Gummies in 2020, the company asked Amazon to combine the new products in a variation relationship with three of its established products.
The new and existing products had different formulations.
An internal Bountiful email cited by the FTC said that while consumers did not “love” the Stress Comfort products, sales “spiked the second we variated pages and they continue to grow.”
The settlement is open for public comment before the FTC decides whether to make it final.
As reported by The Wall Street Journal, Bountiful says it settled the enforcement action to avoid “a lengthy and costly legal challenge.”