Big W has the worst product recall record of any supplier in any industry in Australia. Eight Abode small appliances have been recalled since May 2011. In every case the defect could lead to a user suffering physical harm.
Woolworths Limited, owner of Big W, has thus far refused to comment on its unenviable record, which encompasses recalls for electrocuting toasters, fire-hazard ovens and a choking-risk blender.
For the first time, last month, Woolworths agreed to answer our questions, though only through an unnamed spokesperson. We asked Woolworths if it cared about Abode’s recall record.
“The safety of the products our customers use is of paramount importance to use which is why we ensure all our products go through multiple quality assessments,” said the spokesperson. “Where a fault is found…we take steps to investigate and rectify those issues.”
Big W said Abode and other house brand appliances were sourced through both local distributors and directly from the manufacturers, most of which are based in China. The recalls it has enacted, the spokesperson said, were a result of Big W’s “internal end-to-end quality management program”.
According to this process, when a recall occurs, Big W will “thoroughly investigate” the circumstances involved to develop what the spokesperson called “an action plan” to reduce “customer inconvenience”.
That phrase — “customer inconvenience” — is a convenient euphemism. The inconveniences caused by faulty Abode products are far from mild.
“The handles may detach if the product is lifted while containing oil, possibly causing serious burn injuries if hot oil splashes on the user or bystanders,” is how an ACCC website described an Abode deep fryer in July 2012.
Here is another, this time for an Abode fan heater:
“Incorrect internal crimping may result in the wiring and crimp connector overheating, causing a fire hazard.”
Considering the incredible harm these products have the potential to cause, we asked what Big W was doing at the sourcing stage, before a product was imported and released, to reduce the number of dangerous appliances on its shelves and subsequent recalls.
“The safety of our customers is Big W’s number one priority,” was the reply. “Before any Big W product makes it to the shelf, it has to meet relevant Australian regulatory requirements and independent third party checking, to ensure they meet specification before they arrive in store.”
Considering customers are Big W’s number one priority, we asked if Big W was concerned that it is releasing products that have the potential to harm customers? The response we got, reprinted in full here, appears to dodge the question:
“All of our Big W products have had to meet relevant Australian regulatory requirements and independent third party checking before they even get to the shelf. Any recalls have been voluntary as part of our internal quality management program. Of course, if any issues come to light, it’s only responsible that we take action and investigate, which is what we have done.”
There is an argument that these continued Big W recalls are not that important. We couldn’t find any consumers who had been injured by these faulty products, so why dedicate so much newsprint to the issue?
The Abode brand represents the worst in the electrical appliance industry. The definition of cheap and cheerful, Abode is the physical manifestation of a retailer trying to make a quick buck off an empirically inferior product while in competition with the name brand suppliers investing hundreds of thousands of dollars into research and development.
It is telling that Australia’s two most iconic small appliances have both spoken out against this practice.
Here is how GUD Holdings, owner of Sunbeam, described this emerging landscape in its annual report:
“Most individual product categories in small appliances…have seen an increasing incidence of retailer own-brands and of category specialists. When combined, these trends have worked to place extraordinary pressures on broadly-based brands such as Sunbeam.”
Jack Lord, Breville Group CEO, agrees with this assessment, blaming house brands for soft sales in the company’s most recent annual report.
“In Australia, the business was impacted in the first half by competitive changes in the retail landscape and an increasing house brand presence.”
The Big W & Abode Hall of Shame
25 May 2011: Abode 2000W Oscillating Fan Heater (NFE20O) is recalled because “the affected units could potentially cause smoke, fumes and fire”.
10 October 2011: Abode Multi-Functional Blender (HY-6068A-1) is recalled because “if damaged, the rubber seal may possibly mix with food and pose an ingestion hazard”.
12 March 2012: Abode 2000W Oscillating Fan Heater (NFE20O) is recalled again because “incorrect internal crimping may result in the wiring and crimp connector overheating, causing a fire hazard”.
10 July 2012: Abode 3L Stainless Steel Deep Fryer (DF30BW) is recalled because “the handles may detach if the product is lifted while containing oil, possibly causing serious burn injuries if hot oil splashes on the user or bystanders”.
9 August 2012: Abode Electric Blanket (BA111/211/212) is recalled because “the control cord may fatigue and cause an internal short circuit or overheating”.
13 December 2012: Abode Convection Oven (HG-A11) is recalled because “the internal wire connectors may come into contact with the plastic enclosure, creating a potential fire hazard”.
21 February 2013: Abode 2 Slice Toaster (KT-3023A) and a 4 Slice Toaster (KT-3083A) are recalled because “the product may pose an electric shock hazard to consumers”.
Direct quotations sourced from recalls.gov.au.