E-comm

Why brands should consider embracing negative reviews

Fashion Nova’s $4.2 million settlement has a hidden lesson.
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Francis Scialabba

· 3 min read

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Fashion Nova is accused of another fashion no-no. (Sorry, can we start over?) The Federal Trade Commission this week said that the fast-fashion clothing site will pay $4.2 million to settle allegations that it “blocked” unfavorable customer reviews from its website.

According to the FTC’s complaint, Fashion Nova used a third-party product review system that automatically posted four- and five-star reviews to its website and held ones with anything less for the company’s approval.

  • The e-tailer didn’t give the 👍 or publish hundreds of thousands of negative reviews from late 2015 until late 2019, according to the FTC.

In a statement to Retail Brew, Fashion Nova spokesperson Terry Fahn denied the company suppressed negative website reviews and said it “immediately and voluntarily addressed the website review issues when it became aware of them,” in 2019. “The issue in this case was caused by Fashion Nova’s reliance on a reputable third-party enterprise software vendor, which offered an option to ‘autopublish’ various star ratings in a drop-down menu.”

Star light, star bright: Negative reviews can actually bring about some good for brands and consumers alike. Erin Schmidt, a senior analyst at Coresight Research, posited that companies could use them to their advantage.

  • Brands need to embrace the feedback to improve their products, she said—and understand how much customers rely on these reviews to inform their decisions.

“For researching and buying products, the review process is hugely important, because it represents the consumers’ authentic opinions about the size, the fit, and the style,” Schmidt told us. “[Negative reviews] can actually be a positive for the retailer because they can help reduce returns…What a brand could perceive as a negative review is actually helping other consumers determine which item to buy.”

It’s also about maintaining a relationship with consumers built on “truth,” she explained. When shoppers learn that the maker of their favorite bodycon dress might be blocking negative reviews, they might  “lose trust” in that brand.

“We’re moving toward full transparency. And consumers want to know that they can trust a brand, and that they’re telling them the truth,” Schmidt added.

+1: The FTC said this case is its first challenging a company about concealing negative reviews. But it’s not Fashion Nova’s first run-in with the FTC. In 2020, the company agreed to pay $9.3 million to settle allegations that it failed to ship orders in a “timely manner” and “illegally” used gift cards in place of issuing refunds.

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