Kmart champions “low prices for life” – just don’t expect some of its products to last longer than a few years, let alone a lifetime, Consumer New Zealand warns.
Product test manager for the consumer advocacy group, Dr Paul Smith, said he decided to take the $29 Kmart blender for a spin after reading a warning in the instruction manual that its maximum operating time was one minute “to prevent damage to the electric motor”.
He used it to make his daily smoothie. Within seven days, the blade worked loose from its housing and green-black liquid dripped from the base of the jug.
“The green came from the spinach but the black came out of the blade unit, which wasn’t good. It was still working, but already showing signs it was on its way out.”
Dr Smith said what he found more disturbing was the fact Kmart offered an exchange or refund – but there did not seem to be any option to have it repaired.
Consumer NZ previously contacted Kmart to see if it could get spare parts for an Anko kettle.
“It responded: ‘We do not offer spare parts or warranty repair service [for any kettles sold] at Kmart. It is not possible to do so, within our everyday low pricing model’.
“That’s reasonable from their point of view; it’s easier to exchange the whole unit than try and find parts.
“But it’s not good for anyone else.
“We think manufacturers and stores that sell cheap, unsupported, built-to-fail appliances have a responsibility to clean up their act.”
Last year, the government announced electrical and electronic products as one of the six priority product classes that will get a mandatory product stewardship scheme.
This means companies making, selling and using appliances will have to take some responsibility for dealing with them when they break down and become waste.
A working group is exploring options to present to the government later this year, and it is envisaged the scheme could be operational next year.
Dr Smith said mandatory stewardship could be simply a small charge on anyone bringing an electronic device or appliance into the country.
“But if it’s well-designed, it will have the capability of recognising some things are more repairable and, therefore, more durable than others and so the levies and fees should get weighted towards things that are ‘built to fail’.
“I hope it will, because that will encourage suppliers to supply better stuff because then they will have less financial penalty for it.”
Consumers also had a responsibility to “vote with their wallets”, he said.
“How do you make a $29 blender that’s going to be durable? Perhaps the answer is: you can’t.
“So I should avoid that product and I should be pushing as a consumer companies like Kmart to do a bit better and I can help that by not buying this stuff that’s going to fail.
“If it’s too good to be true, then maybe it is.”
Consumer’s “Built to Last” campaign is challenging manufacturers to make more durable, repairable appliances and to provide spare parts at a reasonable cost.
Consumer is also changing the way it does product testing to introduce “reliability scoring”, which will help consumers to be informed about durability when they buy a product.
Kmart has been approached for comment.