JC Penny’s Offers $500 Sweepstake Entry for a Review – Is it legal?

My wife is redoing our living room and recently ordered replacement curtains from JC Penny.  As you know I also helped create GetFiveStars (although I am not helping with the living room) but anything in regards to reviews gets my attention. So I was surprised last week when JC Penny asked me to write a review about the curtains.:

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Several other things about it surprised me as well. One was that the call to action to write the review link was tiny, effectively buried in the bold red graphics. And secondly it surprised me that there was a sweepstakes contest at all. Aren’t contests for reviews illegal?

I dutifully clicked the link to be brought to a review and survey page that could only have been written by a committee with more requests for more types of feedback, reviews & ratings than any one human is likely to ever complete. Although now the stakes seem to have been raised to $1000 from the original $500.

Submit a new review-without-highlight
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Ever curious, I continued to scroll down the page trying to figure the whole thing out when I saw, far down the page, that I needed to opt in to the sweepstakes via a check the box to be eligible:

Submit a new review copy-check-box

Never one to be slowed by a long form and what turned into an even longer set of rules, I clicked the See Details link and started reading the rules required for me to enter into the contest. As I read through the 2051 words that made up the guidelines I came upon the one nugget detailed about one fourth of the way in that lead to the epiphany:


Effectively that buried requirement would mean that 1)the contest was in fact legal 2)that very few souls would actually enter the contest by checking the check box and that 3)even if they did, they still wouldn’t know they needed to have the “secret code words” in their reviews to enter the contest. Those users that did check the box and dutifully wrote the review would not realize that they were not in the contest. The way its arranged JC Penny might not even be out the $500 (or is it $1000?).

The legality: Why did this make the review incentive legal? Incentives per se are not against the FTC rules. What is against the rules is not noting the incentives in the reviews so that readers would know that the reviews may have been influenced by money. These reviews would clearly indicate that.

The unlikely outcome: Given the length of the form, the almost hidden requirement for the opt in and the arcane requirements for entry mean that most reviews will not in fact be eligible to win the contest. But, because those users that did write reviews but didn’t make the Sweepstakes Entry comment weren’t actually entered into the contest, they were likely legal.

This “crafty” program will mean JC Pennys will get lots of reviews with promise of reward without the users actually entering the contest or being eligible for the reward.

Illegal? No or probably not. Totally disingenuous and deceptive yes. A plan that was likely concocted by a Reputation management expert and a lawyer. What a combo.

But I persisted. And I am now one of the (likely) few entrants in the contest. I will let you know if I win (and how much).

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JC Penny's Offers $500 Sweepstake Entry for a Review - Is it legal? by

18 thoughts on “JC Penny’s Offers $500 Sweepstake Entry for a Review – Is it legal?”

  1. More craftiness from Penney’s! No doubt the brainchild of the same marketing whizzes who brought the bite of Panda 1.0 onto Penney’s 5 years ago.

    I hope an FTC higher-up buys some defective curtains from them.

    Also, given that you’re the one soul who waded that far into the legalese, I think you’ve got solid chances of winning the Penney Powerball.

  2. I guess you have to hand it to them for their ingenuity (craftiness).

    Well done you for wading through all those rules and guidelines. Nico is right if you do win I think you deserve it.

  3. It’s sad that both a large chain store and a marketing agency have concocted this review gathering scheme. We can only hope some publication like the WSJ or Forbes will pick up on it and publicly embarrass them both.

  4. Glad you ‘outed’ them on what is a very crafty (and somewhat unethical) program. You’d think the February 2011 New York Times ‘outing’ would have kept them on their ethical toes… guess not.

  5. Nordstrom does the same thing when you buy something. They send you an email asking for a review for a chance to win a prize. I need to see if their disclosure says the same about #SweepstakesEntry. Another company who does this all the time is Ulta. On their receipt, it says, “Fill out a survey for a chance to win a $500 prize”. I will see if they have a disclosure as well! Thanks for info.

  6. Wow. At least you’ll probably end up with $500 or $1000, no way anyone else read that. I would never think of doing this for clients, not even local mom and pops. How could they think it’s cool with a national brand?

  7. @Phil
    My odds are way better than Powerball which is something like 1 in 263 million.

    There might be something to this IF it weren’t so deceptive for the consumer who, after checking the box for the sweepstakes was disqualified for not adding the verbiage…. there has to be a better way.

  8. @Todd
    They just wanted reviews but apparently 1) had to keep a lot of folks happy and 2) did not really work through the final product.

    Too funny


    I am hoping I do win so I can argue with them over the extra $500!

    I would love to know. Pls ping me with what you find.

    @mary totally sad.

    @andy maybe they are just clueless

    There appears to be a desire by the big boys to comply with the law. It’s sad that legal compliance means customer deception.

  9. I just entered to win as I can’t stand to have you getting easy money. Did the rules state I have to buy something? That seems like too tight of a rule. 🙂

  10. Mike I searched on curtains JC Penney and found quite a few products with reviews. In some there is an italic reference to the sweepstakes. In others there isn’t. Then I searched on your title: “Attractive but Average Quality Sweepstakes Entry” and found your review associated with that line and product. At the bottom was the light colored italic stating that it was entered in the Sweepstakes.

    But many others were also entered in the Sweepstakes, per the italic, even without using the words. My guess is that clicking was sufficient…at least sufficient to include the italic reference that the review was a part of the sweepstakes/contest etc.

    Good luck on winning. …..I guess this is a weasly way to work around specific laws, generate reviews, etc.

    Ultimately, of the ones I saw entered into the contest, all the references were on the bottom of the review and in a light, not that distinguishable italic. Clearly done to make it harder to see that the review was part of a possible paid contest.

    The elements of so many businesses are essentially somewhat or significantly deceptive as with this effort to gain reviews and showcase them in a way wherein the contest is not that obvious.

    I could go on and pontificate…but why bother? 😀 Good luck on the contest. It appears that JC Penney is a little more lax on this thing than your reading suggests. Per all those light italic references….there are a fair number of entries….and there are current reviews without the reference…so your odds are better if not as great as you might have imagined.

    If you win stock up on bialy’s.

  11. I think you have a good sense of humour and an excellent tenacity for these things Mike. (From the guy who sent you the T-shirt from London).

    I have to say I bet this goes on all the time though.

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