Ethics of taking money to remove a negative review

in December I bought a pair of phone chargers from a third-party Amazon marketplace seller. Neither one actually charged the phone. I returned them, got a refund, and wrote a review:

I plugged this into a Galaxy S10 and after an hour, the battery charge only increased by 1%. They mark this with the “adaptive fast charging” lightning bolt logo that Samsung uses but this is not a Samsung OEM product. On its way back.

I was contacted by the merchant with this:

We are really sorry that you are not satisfied with Wall Charger Adaptive Fast Charger Kit for Samsung Galaxy Note from our store on Amazon.
We have already changed to another manufacturer to ensure the better qualityand service according to your review.
We are a very small business that depends on reviews from our dear customers, like you, we will not survive without your help.
We are so sorry that the quality of the product has brought you unpleasantness.
If you don’t mind, can you help me delete the comment? We will be very grateful for your help.
In order to thank you for your help and understanding, we will refund(10) to you. I hope you can accept my sincerity.
Could you help me update?

Here is link for review:
Here is how to remove:

Thank you!
We would be appreciated if you would give us a chance to address your concerns.
Wish you and your family have a good day.
Waiting for your reply and will tell the payment way.

I ignored it. They have sent three subsequent emails, upping the ante. Late last night they sent an email offering $45.

On the one hand, my review was accurate and factual, so any harm done to the merchant is by their own incompetence. I do not want to be a sellout.

On the other hand, $45 is $45 and my one little review doesn’t really matter out of the 274 they received (17% were 1 star). I am not a public figure, so it’s not like people are looking to me for my opinion.

What would you do?

I had that happen once(I think Amazon no longer allows such things). I was offered a full refund in exchange for a 5 star review. I obtained the refund by returning the thing and then wrote a review stating the manufacturer had so little faith in the quality of their product that they needed to offer full refunds to get high ratings.

I’d take the money and remove the review, but that’s just me.

Since you asked about ethics, I find it OK to offer you a full or partial refund, as they are offering a (usually unwritten) satisfaction guarantee by doing so, and they want the buyers experience to (usually) rate 4 or 5 stars. This is also because it is not just the product you are rating but usually the product bought from that particular seller.

This buying model has been available long before the internet, LL Bean is one such example, also REI. Even if the product was faulty, part of the deal is the seller would back it, and many people did spread the word to friends of such additional service (so the pre-internet equivalent of ratings).

But going beyond that at I see it is offering you hush money, exchanging your freedom to speak out, so you are giving up something in the exchange (in some forms of spirituality it is a form of bondage, or another link in the chains one carries).

Won’t work if the seller has any brains. Normally, you write the review and send them the link before you get the refund. There’s generally a long delay before the refund is actually given to allow time for the review to be seen just in case the reviewer is planning to remove it.

I’ve been in the situation where amazon promised something that didn’t deliver. In the OP’s case, if those chargers don’t work, maybe you don’t have a way to communicate. That can be a huge hassle, pain, suffering, inconvenience, etc.

I wouldn’t remove it completely because if a seller is promising something that doesn’t deliver, that’s not cool. So how about updating the review to temper the criticism, give credit where due? Like, “The seller took steps to make it right, reimbursing me for the inconvenience etc.” I wouldn’t skewer them totally when they are trying to make it right but I’d also find verbage I could live with.

I’ve been contacted by the Amazon seller a couple of times when I gave a 3-star review. They weren’t terrible reviews, but I noted an issue with each product (noise cancelling headphones and a water flosser) that I wasn’t happy with. Both vendors emailed me offering a replacement/upgrade for free or a full refund if I removed the review. Both times I asked for a refund and also asked for a shipping label so I could return the items. They told me I could keep them.

I didn’t have any qualms about taking down the reviews. As it turned out there were other reviews that complained about the same issues I had…I guess those customers declined the vendor’s offer.

I would insist that I get the money first, then remove the review.

The way I look at it, it’s customer service. If a seller is truly willing to compensate with a refund or even more for taking down a review, I view that as making sure the customer’s satisfied. It’s a win-win.

Sure, your one review doesn’t matter much. But you are not the only person who receives such an offer, and others can use the exact same logic. This produces a cumulative effect that results in inaccurately positive reviews. So, if you accept, you are participating in a system that misleads people and helps them swindle others.

By the same logic you offer, you could argue that your one vote doesn’t actually accomplish much, so why not simply not vote, or vote stupidly? Yet I’m pretty sure most of us reflexively reject that. Each vote counts. Similarly, each review counts–heck, they arguably count more. Sure, the situation is smaller, but the number of reviews is orders of magnitude smaller.

So I say it’s unethical. I could see someone who really needed the money taking it, but that it would still be unethical, just understandable. But, if you don’t need the money, it is neither ethical or understandable.

The small things matter when they are part of perpetuating a larger thing.

This. I post reviews as a kind of public service. Taking payment to hide the truth is self-serving and deprives others (whether it’s the merchant or other customers) of the benefit of your experience.

A few years ago I bought an oven on Amazon and used their system to hire a local installer. The installer was incompetent with the actual installation, didn’t return phone calls, and later missed several appointments to haul away the old dead oven. Amazon was great: they refunded a big chunk of the install cost to me, and then they dealt directly with the installer after that so I didn’t have to. After the dust had settled, I posted a one-star review, a completely factual account of what had transpired between me and the installer. The installer quickly contacted me to see if there was anything they could do to get me to remove the review. I didn’t respond.

They’re not making sure you’re satisfied, they’re making sure you don’t tell potential customers about your crummy experience. A good merchant, one worthy of a positive review, works to satisfy you before waiting to see whether you’ve posted a negative review. If I’m posting a negative review for public consumption, it’s because I consider the transaction complete and feel that the merchant has already been given adequate opportunity to assure my satisfaction.

If it was simply about making you satisfied, then a merchant dangling cash in front of you should be fine with you attaching the following to your otherwise-unchanged negative review:

“UPDATE: after reading my lengthy negative review (see above), the merchant offered me $XX to change it. I accepted the payment, and am now amending my review to say that overall I am satisfied.”

I’d be fine with this. My opinion is not for sale but if I accepted the money then my first review would no longer be the complete representation of my opinion, so I’d be obligated to update it.

I agree with Machine Elf.

What the merchant is asking you to do is engage in an act of deception, which is usually unethical.

Thanks for the replies so far, all very thoughtful.

To be clear:

  1. They are not offering to pay for a good review, they are offering to pay to completely remove a bad review.

  2. They used the word “refund” but I already returned the product and got a refund, so it is more of a “bribe.”

The only reason I am considering this at all is giving them the benefit of the the doubt on their claim that they had a bad supplier, had fixed the problem, and don’t want to be haunted by reviews from six months ago.

If the people who ordered between the time that you ordered then wrote that review all get great service and product, they’ll leave appropriate reviews that will drown out your one poor experience.

Let the system work as it’s intended.

I had almost the same experience a month ago in an order through Amazon. I got a product that didn’t work, returned it, and got my money back. I left a 1-star review in which I said that the product was poorly designed and didn’t work. About a week later I got an email from the company which said that they would double my money back if I would delete my review.

Since I had gotten my money back, and the product sucked, I declined their offer.

It’s not your job to help them hide their incompetence at choosing a supplier (assuming even that they actually did change their supplier, or that the new one is any better). What does a vendor have to offer the public other than the care and expertise they have in selecting good products that are worth the price? If they’re bad at that, why should you hide it for them?

If this happened to me (it has not) I would refuse the money and amend the review: “This seller claims to have changed suppliers (unverified by me) and offered me $XX to remove my negative review. I stand by my review of what I purchased X months ago.”

I think a useful way to think about these ethical questions (sometimes) is considering two worlds: one in which everyone acts in the way you are considering and one in which nobody does.

In World A, all products would have very high reviews with an unknown chance that the actual buyer experience is “crappy product but with a refund and possible compensation for removing a bad review”.

In World B, all products would generally have reviews that mirror the likely buyer experience.

I think in this case it’s pretty clear which is preferable, and that should drive your decision (outside possible mitigations like “I really need the money to feed my newborn infant” or something).

One would think that the customer sites could easily prevent such shenanigans by prohibiting the editing of comments after they are left, similar to this board. Maybe allow additions, but no changes. For example:

The product was a pile of dogshit. Did not work as promised.

And an addition could be made:

UPDATE! The company made everything better by refunding my purchase price plus an additional $40. Maybe I just got a bad one.

Heh, I bought a product (snake tongs), left an excellent review for the truly great product, including pictures. The company later contacted me offering to send me their slightly upgraded model for free, in exchange for me reviewing it.

The thing is, I’m perfectly happy with the product I have and don’t want or need another. The company sent three emails trying to cajole me into accepting free merchandise.