Today’s post is a slight diversion from all the product reviews of this month, but it’s something that I really wanted to put up for discussion here. If you’re not aware, public opinion on the once-beloved skincare brand Sunday Riley has taken quite a nasty turn as of late. Why, you may ask. Well just this past week the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) investigation into the brand’s shady business practices came to a close after a year. In short it was proven that Sunday Riley left fake positive reviews on their products on Sephora.com for two whole years. Yikes.
So if you’re in the dark about the situation, below is a little breakdown of what transpired, what the implications could be in regards to the FTC settlement, and why customers are angry about it.
I just want to specify here – I’m not bringing any particular bias to this post. I’ve never been a customer of Sunday Riley before, nor have I tried any of their products. I didn’t buy anything based on these fake reviews (thankfully). If I had I would feel very differently!
HOW IT STARTED
In 2018, a former staffer at Sunday Riley posted a slew of internal company documents on Reddit that showed that employees were directed to set up fake accounts on Sephora.com with the purpose of leaving “positive reviews.” Turns out this directive came directly from the top, from Sunday Riley herself during the time period of November 2015 and August 2017. She apparently gave staffers detailed instructions on how to craft the reviews and how to mask the company’s IP address so nothing could be traced back to them. Employees were also told to dislike negative reviews so they would eventually disappear from Sephora’s site. Shady, shady!
Thus, the FTC investigation began.
The brand acknowledged the scandal on social media pretty quickly but specifically didn’t apologize for the deceptiveness. Below is their October 2018 statement as reposted on Estee Laundry.
THE FTC SETTLEMENT AND WHAT IT COULD MEAN
Last week the news broke that Sunday Riley had settled with the FTC after a year, but sadly the terms were less than satisfactory for all their customers. They didn’t have to pay a fine, issue any refunds, or even admit any wrongdoing. They just agreed to not write fake reviews in the future. Wow, how shitty is that?!
So if you step back and look at the big picture, what message does this extremely lenient settlement send? To me it’s this: that even if you are proven to have actively duped your customers, you can just continue business as usual without even a formal apology. Any other brands who are currently writing fake reviews (if there’s one there has to be more, right?) may not stop now. And customers could have a heightened sense of mistrust now towards other brands that may or may not deserve it.
And then there’s the question of the role of retailers in all this. If you think about it, there’s a big conflict of interest when it comes to fake positive reviews. If a product is highly rated on Sephora.com, erroneously or not, consumers are more likely to buy from them. So, what’s their incentive to root out fakery exactly? This is all quite cynical I realize, but it’s certainly worth thinking about.
They’re pissed. But wouldn’t you be if you gave your hard-earned cash over to a brand that was working hard to dupe people? Sunday Riley prices ain’t exactly cheap either. Here are just a few comments left on their Instagram page since the news of the settlement broke. I’ve blocked out the account names.
What’s worse is that they still haven’t publicly apologized for the scandal to this day. At the time of writing this post they’ve continued to post on social media as if nothing has occurred, nor have they responded to any negative comments (as far as I’ve seen). Perhaps something is coming from them in the way of a statement or video, but their lack of accountability thus far is completely tone-deaf, especially in this age of “cancel culture.”
While Sunday Riley may have skated by in a legal and financial sense, it seems they’re going to lose in the court of public opinion.
What do you think of the situation? Why do you think Sunday Riley left fake reviews online? Would you ever buy from them (again)? I’d love to know!
Missed my last post? Catch up here!
NOTE: cover image courtesy of Sunday Riley Instagram.