“It helps to make yourself seem relatable – like you know how hard acne is and you’ve tried everything, and this one actually works” – Sunday Riley leadership
Last week, news broke that the cult skincare brand, Sunday Riley, has been having their employees leave fake reviews of their products on Sephora’s website. I was surprised when I first read about it, but at the same time, I wasn’t shocked. I guess I’ve always known that brands post fake reviews to bump up their ratings, and that there are also a lot of fake reviews coming from other companies who are trying to decrease their competitors ratings. But to have it confirmed, and see behind the scenes of what beauty brands do to get us to buy their products, is where the surprise comes in.
My surprise also came from the fact that a hugely popular brand would do it. Reviews move product, there’s no doubt about that. I’m someone who stands in the middle of the aisle, reading review after review of each product that catches my eye before ever buying anything. So, as someone who heavily relies on reviews to make purchase decisions, this whole scandal really irks me. I felt like I’d become pretty good at weeding out reviews that were obviously fake or biased. However, this news just brings to light that you never really know if the reviews are even legit.
If you haven’t seen it yet, in 2018 an ex-Sunday Riley employee put an internal email on Reddit that lays out steps for employees to take in order to write believable reviews, including how to use a VPN to hide their IP address. This email launched an FTC investigation into the company. What really upsets me about this scandal, is not only the deceitfulness behind their actions, but how they very obviously use the consumer’s pain points against us in order to manipulate us. In the email, after sharing what specific things to mention in the reviews, they literally say, “it helps to make yourself seem relatable – like you know how hard acne is and you’ve tried everything, and this one actually works”.
So what reasoning did Sunday Riley give for why they had this review policy? They say it’s to counteract other brands’ fake negative reviews for their products, which I don’t doubt happens, and I’m sure it’s frustrating for them. However, they crossed the line when they intentionally targeted the skin issues many of their consumers go to their products for in their fake reviews to make them seem more “legit”.
I’ve only used two Sunday Riley products in the past – Good Genes and C.E.O Glow – which I liked, but personally they didn’t work for me, but Sunday Riley is an extremely popular brand and does work well for a lot of people. Which is what makes this so confusing. They probably had thousands of legit reviews, so I don’t understand why they would risk the consumer’s trust in them for a couple hundred more. Now, no one will know if any of the reviews they read for Sunday Riley are legit.
While it’s great that the FTC actually took this initial claim seriously, I do find it a little frustrating that Sunday Riley doesn’t have to suffer any formal consequences. The FTC essentially slapped them on the hand and said just promise not to do it again. Like really? It sets a dangerous precedent because other companies will know that even if they get caught, they won’t have to suffer formal consequences.
I work in marketing, and one of the most important aspects of creating a brand strategy is knowing your consumer’s pain points and then creating your strategy around ways you can help to solve those. When you can do that successfully and transparently, consumers will be in your corner. They’ll buy your product or service and believe in what you’re putting out there. What Sunday Riley has done is take advantage of their consumer’s trust in them and their products.
If nothing else, this whole ordeal has shined a light on the act of brands leaving false reviews. We see them all the time, but many times it’s almost impossible to discern what’s written by a consumer who has actually tried the product. Especially in the age of the Influencer, people are more suspicious of the authenticity of a recommendation from someone they follow on Instagram, and now we don’t know if we can even trust sites like Amazon or Sephora.
At the end of the day, people are still going to buy Sunday Riley, but I’m sure they’ve also lost a lot of customers and a lot of potential customers with this scandal, which is unfortunate because they’re a very strong brand. This should be a lesson to other brands that above all else, consumer trust is the most important thing they have – and that trust should never be taken advantage of.
What do you think about this scandal? Will you still buy Sunday Riley products in the future?
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