If you’ve given in to the luxurious, elegant advertising ploys of a ‘cult’ beauty brand there’s a good chance you’re going to check the reviews before dropping your hard-earned cash on a face oil or magic anti-ageing serum. But what if those reviews were fake?
This week, American skincare brand Sunday Riley settled with the Federal Trade Commission after being found guilty of posting fake reviews of their products on Sephora’s website for two years.
CNN reports that Sunday Riley employees were ordered to not only write fake reviews but dislike negative ones “in order to boost sales.” The brand’s dodgy behaviour was discovered when a Reddit user leaked an email asking employees to create fake Sephora accounts and post positive reviews of products.
“The Commission’s investigation confirmed the whistleblower’s claim and found that the scheme to generate fake reviews of Sunday Riley products involved Ms. Riley herself,” the FTC wrote in a letter. “Rather than relying on satisfied customers to generate real buzz about her products, she directed her employees to write glowing reviews and bury negative ones, while offering detailed instructions on how to avoid detection.”
In an email to her employees, Riley said, “if you see a negative review — DISLIKE it…after enough dislikes, it is removed. This directly translates to sales!!” She also encouraged employees to use a VPN before writing fake reviews so they couldn’t be traced back to the company.
In response to the backlash, Sunday Riley commented, “The simple and official answer to this Reddit post is that yes, this email was sent by a former employee to several members of our company.”
“At one point, we did encourage people to post positive reviews at the launch of this product, consistent with their experiences.” The brand’s excuse for pushing employees to post positive reviews was to combat “competitors who often post negative reviews.”
Sadly, it’s not the first time the skincare brand which describes itself as “powered by science, balanced by botanicals” has found itself at the centre of a controversy. Founder Sunday Riley frequently refers to herself as a “formulator” and “cosmetic chemist” and various news outlets have consistently made reference to Riley as having a “biochemistry degree from the University of Texas.” However, a 2018 report from Insider states that a representative for the University of Texas confirmed she doesn’t have a degree, despite attending the school from 1994 to 1996.
Sounds like the fake reviews are just the tip of a much bigger iceberg for Sunday Riley, and perhaps a lot cult beauty brands. Kudos to the Internet sleuths and whistleblowers that sniff out the fakes and keep us from spending big bucks on faux beauty products.