By DAVID STREITFELD
In the brutal world of online commerce, where a competing product is just a click away, retailers need all the juice they can get to close a sale.
Some exalt themselves by anonymously posting their own laudatory reviews. Now there is an even simpler approach: offering a refund to customers in exchange for a write-up.
By the time VIP Deals ended its rebate on Amazon.com late last month, its leather case for the Kindle Fire was receiving the sort of acclaim once reserved for the likes of Kim Jong-il. Hundreds of reviewers proclaimed the case a marvel, a delight, exactly what they needed to achieve bliss. And definitely worth five stars.
As the collective wisdom of the crowd displaces traditional advertising, the roaring engines of e-commerce are being stoked by favorable reviews. The VIP deal reflects the importance merchants place on these evaluations — and the lengths to which they go to game the system.
Fake reviews are drawing the attention of regulators. They have cracked down on a few firms for deceitful hyping and suspect these are far from isolated instances. “Advertising disguised as editorial is an old problem, but it’s now presenting itself in different ways,” said Mary K. Engle, the Federal Trade Commission’s associate director for advertising practices. “We’re very concerned.”
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