Open Letter to Woolworths CEO regarding your appalling recalls record

Dear Mr Grant O’Brien (MD and CEO, Woolworths Limited),

Your company’s recent history of product recalls was brought up on this website four weeks ago. At the time, we “humbly suggested” that Woolworths investigate what was going on with its Abode brand of electrical appliances, which had just experienced its fourth recall in the space of just six months.

Today, Woolworths recalled a fifth product from the Abode line, an electric blanket sold through Big W that can “pose a fire hazard” due to “overheating”, according to the ACCC’s dedicated Product Recalls website.

In light of this recall, we are upgrading this humble suggestion to a demand: you must fix Woolworths’ sourcing and testing of its home brands.

Whenever there is a product recall, it affects not only the brand or supplier in question, but the whole category and the whole industry. When an electric blanket is recalled, the consumers’ collective faith in the product category is shaken.

Leading name brand suppliers spend millions of dollars on product testing — it’s one of the reasons a name brand product costs more than a home brand. And the results are borne out in the number of recalls, or lack thereof, those companies are forced to implement.

Since Abode’s run of recalls began in January 2012, none of the iconic small appliance brands in Australia — Breville, Sunbeam, Kambrook, Morphy Richards, Russell Hobbs — have instituted a recall. In fact, most of those brands haven’t had a recall since 2010. (To verify this, use the search function on the Product Recalls website)

Yet Woolworths has been forced to issue a recall, on average, every 38 days, on products including a deep fryer (“serious burn injuries”), a heater (“a fire hazard”) and a blender (“an ingestion hazard”). That is an appalling record.

Much of the price erosion and falling profits in the electrical appliance industry is caused by consumers choosing to purchase products sourced by retailers directly from China for sale at ridiculously low prices. Not only is Woolworths damaging average sales prices with its Abode brand, it is also risking the safety of its customers.

These are clearly not isolated incidents – this is a trend of malfeasance and apathy towards quality control. Nearly every retailer has a house brand, or a brand that is sold in exclusively as a trade brand, yet only the company you run has created such a dangerous product range out of its Abode brand.

Without a full overhaul of your sourcing, quality control and testing processes, the Abode brand will never be a safe choice for consumers. There is nothing to suggest that these recalls will now cease. On the contrary, it seems to be a given that within six weeks there will be another Abode recall.

Until such time as Woolworths is matching the standards of name brand suppliers in ensuring the safety of its products, we recommend you immediately instruct the heads of your retail brands (Big W, Woolworths, Dick Smith, Safeway and Masters) to take all Abode stock off the shelves. Only by doing this can you protect your consumers from the hazards they present.

Yours Sincerely,

Patrick Avenell
Appliance Retailer

The opinion expressed above is that of the author. Woolworths is welcome to respond.

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