FTC Settles Enforcement Action Against Retailer for Failing to Post Negative Online Reviews

FTC Settles Enforcement Action Against Retailer for Failing to Post Negative Online Reviews

For online retailers, it is important to take the bad with the good when it comes to online reviews...

For online retailers, it is important to take the bad with the good when it comes to online reviews. If not, you could face enforcement by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

The FTC recently announced that online fashion retailer Fashion Nova, LLC will pay $4.2 million to settle allegations that the company blocked negative reviews of its products from being posted to its website. “Deceptive review practices cheat consumers, undercut honest businesses, and pollute online commerce,” Samuel Levine, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said in a press statement. “Fashion Nova is being held accountable for these practices, and other firms should take note.”

What Did the FTC Allege?

According to the FTC’s complaint, Fashion Nova is a “fast fashion” apparel company based in California. Each product page on the Fashion Nova website provides consumers with the opportunity to review the product and rate it on a five-star scale. At the bottom of each product page is a button labeled “Write a Review.” Consumers who click on the button are encouraged to give the product a star rating from one to five, write a review, and “Post” it. If there are no customer reviews for a particular product, consumers are encouraged to “Be the First to Write a Review.” Fashion Nova also sent its customers emails soliciting product reviews of the customers’ recent purchases. Each product page with existing reviews displayed the product’s average star rating and a summary graph of the number of reviews with each star rating, followed by individual consumers’ reviews and ratings.

According to the FTC, Fashion Nova installed a third-party online product review management interface, which allows users to choose to have certain reviews automatically post based upon their star ratings and hold lower-starred reviews for client approval prior to posting. From as early as late 2015 through mid-November 2019, Fashion Nova chose to have four- and five-star reviews automatically post to the website, but did not approve or publish hundreds of thousands lower-starred, more negative reviews.

The FTC’s complaint alleged that the product reviews on the Fashion Nova website did not accurately reflect the views of all purchasers who submitted reviews of the products because in numerous instances the company suppressed product reviews with ratings lower than four stars. These practices constitute unfair or deceptive acts or practices in or affecting commerce in violation of Section 5(a) of the Federal Trade Commission Act, according to the FTC. Section 5(a) authorizes the FTC to investigate and challenge “unfair methods of competition in or affecting commerce.” 

What Are the Consequences for the Online Retailer?

Under the proposed settlement, Fashion Nova will pay $4.2 million. The retailer will also be prohibited from making misrepresentations about any customer reviews or other endorsements. In addition, it must post on its website all customer reviews of products currently being sold—with the exception of reviews that contain obscene, sexually explicit, racist, or unlawful content and reviews that are unrelated to the product or customer services like shipping or returns.

Is Additional Enforcement on the Horizon?

The FTC also announced that it is sending letters to 10 companies offering review management services, placing them on notice that avoiding the collection or publication of negative reviews violates the FTC Act. As discussed in prior articles, the FTC also has enforcement authority over online reviews under the Consumer Review Fairness Act (CRFA). The statute prohibits companies from employing a contract provision that bars or restricts review of a company’s products, services, or conduct; imposes a penalty or fee against someone who provides a review; or mandates surrender of intellectual property rights in the content of reviews.

If you have questions, please contact us

If you have any questions or if you would like to discuss the matter further, please contact me, Michael Sheppeard, or the Scarinci Hollenbeck attorney with whom you work, at 201-896-4100.


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FTC Settles Enforcement Action Against Retailer for Failing to Post Negative Online Reviews

FTC Settles Enforcement Action Against Retailer for Failing to Post Negative Online Reviews
Author: Michael J. Sheppeard

For online retailers, it is important to take the bad with the good when it comes to online reviews. If not, you could face enforcement by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

The FTC recently announced that online fashion retailer Fashion Nova, LLC will pay $4.2 million to settle allegations that the company blocked negative reviews of its products from being posted to its website. “Deceptive review practices cheat consumers, undercut honest businesses, and pollute online commerce,” Samuel Levine, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said in a press statement. “Fashion Nova is being held accountable for these practices, and other firms should take note.”

What Did the FTC Allege?

According to the FTC’s complaint, Fashion Nova is a “fast fashion” apparel company based in California. Each product page on the Fashion Nova website provides consumers with the opportunity to review the product and rate it on a five-star scale. At the bottom of each product page is a button labeled “Write a Review.” Consumers who click on the button are encouraged to give the product a star rating from one to five, write a review, and “Post” it. If there are no customer reviews for a particular product, consumers are encouraged to “Be the First to Write a Review.” Fashion Nova also sent its customers emails soliciting product reviews of the customers’ recent purchases. Each product page with existing reviews displayed the product’s average star rating and a summary graph of the number of reviews with each star rating, followed by individual consumers’ reviews and ratings.

According to the FTC, Fashion Nova installed a third-party online product review management interface, which allows users to choose to have certain reviews automatically post based upon their star ratings and hold lower-starred reviews for client approval prior to posting. From as early as late 2015 through mid-November 2019, Fashion Nova chose to have four- and five-star reviews automatically post to the website, but did not approve or publish hundreds of thousands lower-starred, more negative reviews.

The FTC’s complaint alleged that the product reviews on the Fashion Nova website did not accurately reflect the views of all purchasers who submitted reviews of the products because in numerous instances the company suppressed product reviews with ratings lower than four stars. These practices constitute unfair or deceptive acts or practices in or affecting commerce in violation of Section 5(a) of the Federal Trade Commission Act, according to the FTC. Section 5(a) authorizes the FTC to investigate and challenge “unfair methods of competition in or affecting commerce.” 

What Are the Consequences for the Online Retailer?

Under the proposed settlement, Fashion Nova will pay $4.2 million. The retailer will also be prohibited from making misrepresentations about any customer reviews or other endorsements. In addition, it must post on its website all customer reviews of products currently being sold—with the exception of reviews that contain obscene, sexually explicit, racist, or unlawful content and reviews that are unrelated to the product or customer services like shipping or returns.

Is Additional Enforcement on the Horizon?

The FTC also announced that it is sending letters to 10 companies offering review management services, placing them on notice that avoiding the collection or publication of negative reviews violates the FTC Act. As discussed in prior articles, the FTC also has enforcement authority over online reviews under the Consumer Review Fairness Act (CRFA). The statute prohibits companies from employing a contract provision that bars or restricts review of a company’s products, services, or conduct; imposes a penalty or fee against someone who provides a review; or mandates surrender of intellectual property rights in the content of reviews.

If you have questions, please contact us

If you have any questions or if you would like to discuss the matter further, please contact me, Michael Sheppeard, or the Scarinci Hollenbeck attorney with whom you work, at 201-896-4100.