A restaurant you've never heard of with a perfect 5-star Yelp rating, an unreleased movie with a 93% Rotten Tomatoes audience score, any approval rating that Trump tweets from his personal account. You don't need us to tell you that you can't always trust online reviews — and the latest beauty scandal is proof.
Earlier this week, a supposed former Sunday Riley employee leaked an email to Reddit's highly popular subreddit r/SkincareAddiction that showed how employees had been encouraged by the company to register as Sephora users, and write positive reviews for two of its new acne products, Saturn and Space Race. It even went so far as to offer instructions on how to change VPNs so the reviews wouldn't get linked back to their actual IP addresses.
"Credibility is the key to the reviews!" the email read. "We need to make sure the reviews for clients stay positive and help generate and confidence in the products [sic]... When reviewing Saturn please address things like how cooling it felt, the green color, the non-drying mask effect, radiance boosting, got rid of your acne after a couple uses."
The alleged employee also noted that this wasn't a one-time thing, but that employees had been encouraged to write positive Sephora reviews on an "ongoing basis."
Given how influential positive reviews on Sephora are, with scientific studies proving how customers are more likely to trust products that have a lot of reviews, many fans of this popular skin-care brand were outraged.
Privatizing my videos mentioning @sundayriley until this is cleared up. This is beyond deceitful. Acne can impact mental health, confidence, your ability to get a job, etc. I cannot continue to recommend products from a brand who is willing to prey on that, if true. https://t.co/ifAKzdvDqY— Samantha Ravndahl (@SsssamanthaaMUA) October 16, 2018
@sundayriley Was a loyal user of your ceramic slip face wash because it's vegan and works well, but I just learned Sunday Riley has all the employees write fake reviews. Can't support a company that tries to mislead its potential customers. So shady, I'm disgusted! pic.twitter.com/x2IuaVpRpF— Jenni (@cupcakespumpkin) October 16, 2018
While the email shocked some, it's important to note that this is not an uncommon practice — and this is just one of the few times a brand has been caught giving explicit posting instructions. Amazon has been called out many a time for merchants that allegedly pay or incentivize people to write reviews; it's so rampant, there are even tips for recognizing a fake Amazon review. As Vox reported, beauty retailers also allegedly pressure brands for positive reviews, which directly increase sales. And the practice extends beyond retailers as well, with influencers not reporting paid partnerships with brands or even allegedly being compensated to post negative reviews of competing products.
"Yes, this email was sent by a former employee to several members of our company," the comment read. "At one point, we did encourage people to post positive reviews at the launch of this product, consistent with their experiences."
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So @SundayRiley has admitted to posting #FakeReviews on @Sephora. #Laundrites, what do you think of this response? Do you think this is an ethical way to address potential negative reviews from competitors? We don’t think so. ??♀️ Do you? ?#SundayRiley #FakeSephoraReviews #Sephora #CanWeTrustSundayRiley
It also mentioned that they encouraged this behavior because of negative reviews left be "competitors." "There are a lot of reasons for doing that," the comment continued. "including the fact that competitors will often post negative reviews of products to swing opinion. ... In the end, our products and their results stand for themselves."
Since that email began circulating, Redditors have already found at least one alleged fake Sephora account that left a positive review on a Sunday Riley product. Refinery29 has reached out to Sunday Riley and Sephora for comment, and will update this post when we hear back.