/ Home & Energy

Gardening tools using confusing branding

Pruning a tree

If you buy a branded item you expect it to be made by that brand, right? Not necessarily, as we found out when we scratched the surface of some top gardening tools and discovered that all’s not what it may seem…

American investor Warren Buffet said it can take 20 years to build a reputation and only five minutes to ruin it.

So I was surprised to learn that a couple of famous British brands have decided to risk their reputation by allowing products they haven’t made to be sold bearing their name.

What’s in a name?

Two big names in gardening tools – Spear & Jackson and Qualcast – have both sold licences to the Home Retail Group (Argos and Homebase).

This means that Argos and Homebase can use these prestigious brand names on their own-brand products. Not only that, but the companies that own the two brands continue to make and sell their own products through Argos and Homebase.

In other words, if you buy, for example, a Qualcast mower at Argos or Homebase, it may not be made by Qualcast. In fact Qualcast may not have had anything to do with the product – but it will bear its name.

Branding could mislead buyers

We only discovered this practice when we were testing a new Qualcast Lawn Rake for the November issue of Which? Gardening.

We discovered that the machine isn’t manufactured by Qualcast but is sourced and supplied by the Home Retail Group for Argos and Homebase. But to all intents and purposes it looks like a Qualcast product – it says Qualcast on the box, and when you ring the customer helpline you’re welcomed to Qualcast Technical Support. It’s not clear at any point that you’re buying a Home Retail Group product.

We also bought two Qualcast-branded mowers from Homebase, one manufactured by Bosch and one made by the Home Retail Group. We thought both products looked very similar – to the untrained eye it would be impossible to tell which one is genuinely made by Bosch.

Think before you buy

While others may be concerned about the risk to the Qualcast and Spear & Jackson brands, here at Which? we’re more concerned with how this could mislead consumers.

We know that many people buy products based on the strength of the brand in the media or their own experience of buying and using a branded product previously.

Do you feel that this practice could mislead you into buying one of these ‘branded’ products? Do you care? Maybe you’ve bought one of these products, only to discover later it’s not what you thought it was.

Comments
bt991 says:
30 October 2018

Being in the industry I find these branded mowers a total con and very misleading to the customer. The majority of the Qualcast, Mcgregor, Spear and Jackson mowers are built by the chinese company Sumec. There are also other manufactures online doing the same thing such as Hyundai and BMC. The intresting thing I found out with the Argos/ Homebase equipment (and the other own brand DIY store garden machinery providers) is that they only have one service and spares provider in the UK. Most other lawn and garden manufacturers such as Honda, Mountfield and Hayter etc. have a nationwide dealer network with access to spare parts to the vast range of machinery they sell so they can be repaired in and out of warranty and keep the consumer happy. I also noticed that these machines are featured and tested in the lawnmower tests and seem to be given good reviews only because of price. I would factor in to the lawnmower tests a dealer network spares and service back up across the country for any product like this because when they break consumers want to get their purchase they spent a lot of money on in the shop fixed.

James McCartney says:
21 May 2019

I bought a Qualcast extendable hedge trimmer from Argos in June 2016 as I had owned a Qualcast lawnraker for many years and considered Qualcast a reliable firm. When I went to use the trimmer last week the battery was flat. The charging light turned green after a couple of minutes indicating fully charged but after 5 secs use the battery was flat again. Unsure whether the battery or charger was defective I contacted Qualcast. They said it was likely to be the battery but they did not supply replacement batteries or chargers and I should contact Argos as it was one of their items. Argos said they no longer sell this trimmer and do not supply batteries or chargers for it. Since it is outside the warranty period, Argos said that I should get a signed statement on headed paper from someone who makes or repairs such items stating the cause was a manufacturing fault and send it to them. Surely if you sell a battery powered item you are responsible for making replacement batteries available for a few years. For me this falls under the “not of satisfactory quality” part of the 2015 Consumer’s Rights Act.
Moral is steer clear of Argos when buying anything but basic items.

Lack of “durability” is perhaps the appropriate contract term to pursue under the Consumer Rights Act 2015. Given its price and use, a product should have reasonable durability – one of the terms in the legal contract you make with the retailer. Argos are responsible for dealing with this. If they behave sensibly they should offer you at least a partial refund based on the use you have had.

This site lists a number of Qualcast batteries.

Time we had common interchangeable batteries.

The problem is a common symptom of a faulty battery.

Qualcast is now just a brand name owned by Argos and the manufacturer has no responsibility for faulty goods. Your rights under the Consumer Rights Act are against Argos, the retailer.

Batteries are usually excluded from manufacturers guarantees but I do not believe that this applies with the Consumer Rights Act. Perhaps Which? could advise us.

There has never been a requirement for manufacturers to supply spares for the goods they make and when we return new products that don’t work properly they may be scrapped after replacement. With high value items, the expensive parts may be recovered for reuse.

I suggest you follow the advice and get someone in the trade to confirm that the battery is faulty. Since a repair seems unlikely, the possible remedies available would be replacement of the hedge trimmer or a partial refund, taking into account the age of the product and how much it cost. It would be interesting to know how your case is handled, James.

When buying cordless power tools, the best bet is to go for ones with lithium batteries, which are rapidly becoming standard. It’s only worth choosing cordless for tools in regular use because even if spare batteries are available they can be very expensive.

To confirm – batteries are covered by the Consumer Rights Act and are actually specifically mentioned in the guidance notes.

http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2015/15/notes

You will need to get someone to look at it though to prove the fault that led to the battery failing was there since it was sold. Good Luck and do let us know how it works out.

@abbysempleskipper, proving the fault in a battery, or its charger, was present at purchase on a 3 year old product would, I suspect, be difficult and maybe expensive. That is why I suggest using “durability” as the complaint. It is specifically covered in the legislation but the problem, of course, is defining what is a reasonable life. Here is where Which? could help by looking at battery life c/w cost to give James some idea of how long similar products normally last. It is an area that needs much more attention to help people like James pursue claims.

Thanks Abby. It would be good if Which? featured the premature failure of a battery in one of the ‘Brief cases’ series to help guide us with what to expect from the retailer if there is a problem. Faulty batteries result in power tools, vacuum cleaners, phones and lawnmowers being scrapped prematurely when the battery is the only faulty component.

I’ll add it to the list of potential convos – definitely an issue a lot of people have experienced.

One of those topics where regular surveys of Connect Members could gather invaluable information. I think this sort of information needs structured compilation, something that Convos do not normally offer. I suppose they could if you asked people to just contribute information on their battery, charger, appliance, battery life and whether they pursued a claim. .

From an article on lawnmowers on the Which? website: “Qualcast is now owned by Bosch, which in January 2011, signed an eight-year licence agreement with the Home Retail Group (Argos and Homebase) for exclusive use of the Qualcast name.”

There is a possibility that Qualcast products use the same products as Bosch ones, albeit with with a different brand label.

What I’m most intrigued about is a full decade has now passed since the ‘eight year licensing agreement with HRG for exclusive use of the Qualcast brand name’.

As I mentioned on here just over a year ago, it seems the only retail outlet still selling Qualcast-branded products is now Homebase, though they closed their store in our area around six years ago. The Argos offerings are now badged ‘McGregor’, (which are probably from the same moulds as the Homebase Qualcasts, in all but branding).

I am surmising that Argos ditched the Qualcast branding and switched to McGregor for contractual reasons due to their becoming part of Sainsbury’s about four or five years ago.

I am also surmising that as Bosch were well into doing their own-branded lawnmowers by the latter half of the 2000s, and probably more profitable than the Qualcast-branded offerings, they (Bosch) probably wanted to phase out and eventually disown the Qualcast brand, so it looks like the very last ‘Concorde’ electric cylinder mowers were made in early 2011, though I seem to remember our local B&Q store still selling them well into 2012, possibly on a ‘while stocks last’ basis.

For the record, I have never really been a fan of Qualcast mowers, and we always had Flymos until we ditched our lawns a few years back.

Sorry for my long meandering essay but I have always been intrigued by the demise of Qualcast, especially as there is a dearth of info online about it, plus Wikipedia has never even had a dedicated page for the brand, not even whilst they were still a ‘mainstream’ brand.

Roxanne Sheppard says:
12 April 2020

Have a qualcast lawn mower that was working perfectly, now it won’t retain the oil and I am wondering if it has a puncture as the oil once poured in is all draining onto the ground. Any ideas on how to fix problem?

Have you googled for how to fix a qualcast lawnmower leaking oil?

There are several reasons for a leak and searching for your model number might give you better information.

I would start by cleaning the engine, which should make it easier to identify where the leak is coming from. As Alfa says, there can be various reasons. Is it a rotary mower or a cylinder mower such as the Suffolk Punch? Most of the rotary Qualcast mowers use Briggs & Stratton engine (as do most makes of rotary lawnmower). Manuals for B&S engines are available from the B&S website: https://www.briggsandstratton.com/eu/en_gb/support/manuals.html

I once had a used and abused Honda CB400T which came with a hole in its crankcases. A previous owner had repaired this with some kind of DIY filler, such as one might either buy in a tube like glue or mix up Isopon style. I’m not sure of the exact material used, but, as regards keeping oil in, it worked well enough to not require any further attention.

Roxanne – presumably you have checked that your mower’s sump drain plug is still present?

I’ve never had the misfortune of loosing one on the road, but I’ve certainly come across a few self-loosening ones in my time.

Alec Beanse says:
14 June 2019

I brought a ‘Spear & Jackson’ Electric Cylinder Lawn Mower eighteen months ago and was not impressed with it but it did the job sort of. Now, after not a lot of use the motor is playing up. The noise sudenly changed and it sounded as though it was struggling before finally stopping. I left it and once it had cooled down it is now going again but obviously all is not well with it. I would suggest that anyone thinking of buying one or the equivalent ‘Qualcast’ model to think again!

Boffo says:
6 April 2020

I have had the same problem with a Hitachi TV set. Although the TV is fine I was annoyed to find out that Argos bought the Hitachi name and the TV set was manufactured in Turkey by Arcelik, who also make budget brand Beko and also own and manufacture under the old German Grundig name. There should be a law that says when you buy something it must state clearly on the bod and in the description where it was made. If you buy a Philips product you don’t want to see that it is manufactured in the far east or that Zanussi washing machines are now no longer Italian but made in Turkey as well. There is also a 1 in 3 chance your Samsung smart TV is made in China and a Sony DVD player I bought recently was made in China too.

As for lawnmowers, didn’t Qualcast even used to put Union Jack sticker on their products to show it was British made? Shame on them then if they have opted for cheap and shoddy Chinese manufacturing now, same with Spear and Jackson. But I can happily tell you that although they are a Swedish company, Flymo lawnmowers are still built and packaged at the Flymo factory up near Middlesbrough. Flymo lawnmowers last for years and are very reliable from my experience so not only are you buying a good product but you are keeping jobs in this country.

Boffo – I don’t think we should condemn all Chinese-manufactured goods as poor quality. There are good and bad products made in all countries, including rubbish made in the UK. In general it comes down to how the product is specified, designed, and quality-controlled throughout the manufacturing process.

You mentioned Philips. Most of the LED lamps I have bought have been Philips products made in China and very good they have been – because the product has been well-designed [probably in the EU] and carefully produced using good quality materials which have been controlled all the way through the process. We also have some small household appliances made in China and sold under UK brand names and they have also performed very well. It does all come down to the degree of involvement that the UK or EU company has in the manufacture. Price often has something to do with it as well.

I partly share your concerns over the trade in brand names because that is designed to mislead, especially when older – reputedly more reliable – brand names are resurrected to enhance the appeal of a second-rate product; but that has been going on for decades and consumers have to remain on the look-out, helped by independent product testing and reviews. Qualcast were taken over by Bosch and excellent lawnmowers continued to be produced in British factories; I believe they are all sold under the Bosch brand now and there is a range of qualities from the cheap and cheerful to the more expensive and more powerful; the customer can choose. The customer can also go on a website and have the pick of a host of similar-looking products out of the same Chinese moulds in different colours with unheard of brand names at half the price.

We continue to pay the price for the troubles in UK manufacturing 40-50 years ago which reduced our industrial capacity to a shell and drove consumers to avoid British-made products. The climb-back has been long and slow but it is still possible, at a price, to get good quality products designed in the UK and made for the British consumer.

I agree that the country of manufacture should be clearly presented in product descriptions but I still do not believe that “Made in the PRC” automatically means bad and “Made in England” automatically means good. The consumer needs reliable information in order to make their choice. The important thing is to know who the seller is and how easy it is to deal with them when something goes wrong so that it is possible to get it fixed and to exercise rights under the warranty. If it is sold in a shop you can take it back and get redress; if it is only sold on-line the chances are greatly reduced.

The Chinese are undercutting other businesses by making products under license then doing their own copies cheaper,(I have physical proof via a product that I bought via EBay )they are flooding the world with counterfeit goods, their counterfeit goods market is worth more then their illegal drug market.Their instructions on every item are always poor and nearly always incorrect , and the way they treat their workers is appalling. For some strange reason it seems to be cheaper to make an item in China and import it rather then make it in the UK. We need to stop this and refuse to buy and import anything from China and not support that countries immoral and unethical behaviour. We need to protect UK industry, build things here and put extremely large import taxation levies on China to create a fair competitive field.

Mark says:
28 April 2020

I want to purchase a electric lawnmower, but do not want to support a ‘Made in China’, brand. This is proving to be impossible to do online as no suppliers mention the country of origin.

I am trying to buy a British made, NOT CHINESE, Pressure washer and grass strimmer, this is proving almost impossible, I brought, yesterday, a Spear and Jackson Pressure washer, which I thought was British made, after reading these comments I dont think it is! I’ve narrowed the grass strimmer down to Flymo, Black and Decker (American?) and Bosch, but still dont know if these are made in China, some say they might be? help!

Jacqueline – I have a Hozelock pressure washer and it has performed very well. It might not be the brand leader [which is probably Kärcher, a German company] or be the most powerful machine but it has been cleaning our patio well for many years.

The Hozelock website explains that the company was formed in England in 1959 and says that, today, “we are a global garden equipment manufacturer with our head office in Birmingham (UK). Over 75% of our products are made in Britain. With the remaining 25% built in our overseas factories in France, Malaysia, Taiwan, and China”. You could give them a call and ask where their pressure washers are made. I have other Hozelock garden products like sprinklers, hoses and hosepipe fittings and they are well made and they have supplied spare parts for the pressure washer.

Hi Jacqueline – Most products have a label that shows where they are ‘made’, though this may just be where they were assembled. Spear & Jackson is part of a multinational company with HQ in Sheffield. Perhaps you could say where your new pressure washer was made.

I have numerous Bosch power tools made in China, Hungary and Malaysia, and a blender made in Slovenia. I still have a couple that were made in Switzerland, but they are more than 20 years old. Black & Decker is based in the US though it has sold in the UK for so long that some people have assumed that it is British, especially since some cities had their shops or service centres. My B&D sander was made in China. Flymo does have a factory in County Durham.

As John says, Karcher is the main manufacturer of pressure washers, certainly light duty domestic models. The ones I have owned over the years were made in Germany have all developed problems and the only reason I have stayed with the brand is that I have various older accessories that can be used with a new pressure washer.

I had not heard of the Hozelock pressure washer mentioned by John. I presume that it has been discontinued, though spares are mentioned on the website.

There have been various efforts to produce lists of British products but I am not aware of anything that is up to date and covers a reasonable range of products.

I think it would be quite reasonable for Which? to give the origin of any product they test and/or report on. Then any consumer who might have views on where what they buy is made could make a (partially) informed decision. They may have political, human rights, exploited labour, or other factors in mind and should be able to exercise their choice.

Several of us have suggested this over the years. In some cases it might be necessary to show more than one country, where manufacturer produce the same product in more than one country. It would be good if we could have some discussion with Which?. I look back fondly to when members of their teams used to drop in and join in with our discussions.

I have suggested that Which? could use the ratings provided by Ethical Consumer in their product reports. https://www.ethicalconsumer.org To see detailed information requires a subscription. It would be useful if Which? was to look at a sample of EC ratings to see if they are based on fact and up to date.

I had realised that Hozelock no longer made pressure washers. Presumably the Kärcher and imitation models have taken the market and with universal fittings available there is no longer enough demand. Plus they perform so well they last for ages – ours must be fifteen years old.

It looks like the Hozelock flood pump is no longer available either. We had to use it regularly at our previous home if there was a long spell of wet weather which flooded a depression in the garden. No such problems where we are now on light sandy soil.

The instructions for pressure washers are still on the Hozelock website, John, so it might be that they have been removed because of supply problems caused by the coronavirus problems. I looked at the instructions for model 7920 – Pico Power and they showed that this model is made in PRC, so your Chinese pressure washer has outlasted my German ones. I had to take my present one apart to correct a leak recently and all I can say positive is that it’s much easier to dismantle and reassemble than the earlier models I have worked on.

I have just ordered a ratchet-lopper from Wilkinson-Sword. Back in 2016, this Convo made me a little wary, but I risked buying a W-S telescopic anvil pruner and that has served me very well indeed. I’m hoping that the ratchet version will reduce the amount of effort.

Ratchet loppers are brilliant – they take the effort out of cutting larger stems. I have several loppers of various makes, both anvil and by-pass, but my favourites are the Wolf ratchet ones with telescopic arms – although at full extension they can be a bit of a stretch to open the jaws to the maximum extent and they are on the heavy side.

I am not sure that my Hozelock pressure washer was made in China 15 years or more ago but it might have been. I accidentally kinked the delivery hose leading to a loss of pressure and was very pleased with the speed of supplying a replacement.

I see that I left out the word “not” in the opening sentence of my previous comment.

It was using ratchet secateurs that has convinced me that I need ratchet loppers too.

Your pressure washer may well have been made in the UK, John, and you can check by looking at the rating plate. My early Bosch power tools were made in Switzerland but they moved production to China and eastern-European countries.

All my Bosch power tools show where they are made and the year of manufacture. This reciprocating saw is the first I have seen that shows the month as well as the year of manufacture:

I wrote to Bosch to complain about the lack of interlock to prevent the power button being pressed if the saw is carried by the handle. I did not realise when I bought the saw because a cheaper and a more expensive model in B&Q did have this feature. There is also no blade cover for when the saw is not in use.

A few years back I asked someone I know the question ‘what ‘make’ is your lawnmower?’.

They replied ‘There’s no such thing as ‘makes’ anymore’!

What they really meant was in many cases, ‘brand’ names were no longer the actual ‘manufacturers’ of many products bearing their name/corporate logo.

Homebase must now be the only UK outlet still selling Qualcast-branded products as Argos abruptly switched to the McGregor branding around 2017 (I think), whose products still look very similar to the former Qualcast-badged products but with a different brand name. Surely Homebase are flogging a dead horse by continuing to sell products badged with a ‘historical’ name that is now simply a pale shadow of its former self, and presumably retained in name only over the past decade or so for ‘sentimental’ reasons, despite bearing no relationship whatsoever with the original company. Also Bosch were already well into producing high-quality lawnmowers (and likewise products) under their own branding by the latter half of the 2000s, which was probably when and where the rot started to set in for many of their ‘offspring’ brands.
The Bosch ROTAK now seems to be king!!

And all these deceitful practices concerning product branding are still going strong almost ten years on from the original article expressed above. And the powers that be have still remained blasé about it just the same during the time that has since elapsed.

I am utterly confused with the mower market these days. Need to replace my rotak which died yesterday. I’ve been looking at the McGregor and Powerbase 40cm models, both look similar to older Bosch green coloured models. I’ve been trying to find out who actually manufactures these brands without success. Are they derivatives of Bosch or just wannabes ?

I don’t know of an easy way to find this sort of information, John. I doubt that companies want us to know.

I wonder if your mower is repairable. Motor brushes can be easy to replace. The mains cable on some Rotak mowers can break easily where it leaves the mower (others are designed to avoid this problem) but it is easy to shorten the cable to remove the damaged part.

John, I don’t know these makes. I’ve always gone for a Honda petrol and found them very reliable and long lived. Which? review mowers from time to time and, if you are a member, can be seen here https://www.which.co.uk/reviews/lawn-mowers/article/recommendations/which-best-buy-lawn-mowers? Worth being a member to get independent reviews like this.

I have had several Bosch Rotak mowers over the years and have always found the motor to be the most reliable part. I agree with Wavechange and suggest you check the power supply first. I have had two or three failures in this area but they were easy to repair. Sometimes the cable has become disconnected, sometimes the ON/OFF switch has seized or got jammed. Once fixed the mower works well again. I once fretted over the mower not starting and eventually discovered that the fuse in the extension lead plug was defective. A quick replacement fuse and a thorough check-over and we were going again.

The McGregor and Powerbase mowers are sold by Argos, Homebase and B&Q. The first post on this page mentions the manufacturer of McGregor mowers.

If I was looking for an electric mower I would probably go for a Bosch model, which are reasonably priced, usually well rated, and can last for years, as long as they are not overloaded and are properly maintained. As John has said, there can be minor problems with mowers and I wonder how many are scrapped because of simple faults.

Patrick Taylor says:
22 April 2021

mowdirect.co.uk/lawn-mowers/mains-electric-lawn-mowers/electric-four-wheel-rotary-lawn-mowers/lm-filter-build-quality/economy

Interesting site with famous name brands I never even knew built lawnmowers! Hyundai! but also Wolf who have a good reputation.

Mobile phones, smart watches, DIY equipment and gardening tools all have a list of Chinese imports under unknown brand names. They are usually cheaper than the brands that are recognisable and they all look smart. Some may be very good since the Chinese have become major manufacturers of most things we use these days. The trouble is that there is no way of knowing since there is no brand history to make a judgement with. I’d rather buy a Bosch than a Wingding and pay the extra but I may be buying the same product in disguise!

Is there anything not made in China .? I went to B and Q this afternoon looked at strummers, everyone was a brand , Bosch, MacAllister, kingfisher etc , everyone made in China, is it a legal requirement to put place of making or origin on a product?

According to STIHL, their worldwide manufacturing network consists of STIHL group owned and operated production plants in Germany, Switzerland, Austria, USA, Brazil, China and the Philippines.

See:-https://www.stihl.co.uk/p/media/download/uk-en/STIHL_2021_Modern_Slavery_Statement.pdf

Here is some information about products that are made in China: https://www.stihl.com/pi-stihl-production-floor-area-in-qingdao-china-almost-doubled.aspx

It does not seem to be a legal requirement to show the country of manufacture on products though many of us would like to see this information. Bosch always states where products are made – see my photo above for an example.

I think we are now also paying the price of becoming an ‘instant grat’ society, particularly over the past 20-odd years, where we ‘want here, want now’ and ‘as cheaply as possible’.

Plus over the same period, ‘quantity over quality’ seems to have taken precedence.

What’s most ironic is whilst many people complain that most consumer products aren’t made like they used to be, they still seem mostly indifferent towards such phenomena and have a ‘don’t really care’ attitude!

Just seems like ‘anything goes’ nowadays.

Hardly surprising the second-hand market for ‘vintage’ items is an increasingly thriving business, something that would have been unthinkable some 20-odd years ago!

I could hardly agree more, far too many standards have dropped far too much. And I prefer to see where stuff’s made as I don’t like buying stuff that supports a brutal dictator regime and the chinese regime is very oppressive against beliefs other than communism. But what are our western governments supposed to do? If they were to impose tariffs on goods from such countries then it would most likely put a lot of essential household goods out of the reach of people on low incomes, like those on the dole. Too much of our essential stuff like light bulbs, batteries, torches, clocks, cooking pans, and various kitchen utensils, clothing, printer cartridges, plugs, fuses, phones, security cameras, power tools, hand tools etc. are nearly all made in china as too many manufacturers just can’t compete unless they’re stuff is made there. And I have an old can opener made by probus which is British made which must be at least 30 years old and it still works really well and I’ve had a few chinese ones which were great to start with but only lasted a few weeks before totally wearing out. But there is still some decent western made stuff out there if you know where to look, and I’d like to see it made compulsory to clearly show where stuff’s made so I can make a more informed decision about what I buy, but then with far too much stuff it’s either chinese or nothing which infuriates me, such an oppressive regime should not have such a monopoly.

I appreciate what you say about goods being made more affordable to the more hard-up individuals, but even fairly well-off individuals still seem to buy into the ‘want here, want now, and as cheaply as possible’ phenomenon.

Whilst I also agree that not everything that bears the words ‘Made in China’ is absolute garbage, for some years now I have often believed that having goods mass produced there on the cheap is not only a false economy, but IMO also heavily contributes to climate change, which has been woefully overlooked for far too long now, especially where certain Chinese factories are still very backward-thinking and still haven’t even considered going green.

Like I have already suggested, I feel as if we’re now paying the price for our own self-inflicted elements of greed!

While I consider it unlikely that we shall see legislation requiring compulsory place of manufacture labels on products — if only because many individual components are sourced from other places — I don’t see why a concerned group could not start a “Where’s It Made?” information website where products could be listed as people detect their origins.

It would need some upkeep though as products come out of production and are replaced with new models, or if production is duplicated across a number of factories. In the present situation I like to know where something is designed [and, hopefully, specified]; this can be a useful indicator of quality and durability.

Another way of looking at this would be for all the manufacturers in the UK, the EU and in selected other countries to agree to label their products with their country of manufacture. Goods from elsewhere would then have to be described as “Origin Unknown”.

I should like to think such a policy would lead to more production from the UK but it might just be that the only goods left as “Made in the UK” would still be too expensive for most people.

China benefits from having the biggest home market in the world which makes it almost impossible for other countries to compete. All we can hope to do is constantly seek to raise the quality standard.

The Japanese approach was, where market demand reached a certain scale, to transfer manufacturing to that economic area or zone. The Chinese have the opposite philosophy of maintaining strict control of manufacturing and eliminating any competition through dumping until they have captured the market.

I agree with John that we are unlikely to see legislation about country of origin and he has explained one of the problems in trying to achieve this.

As consumers I think we stand some chance of raising awareness of British products and hopefully encourage manufacturers to label them as such.

I hope that most of us are still using some British products produced in the days when this was commonplace.

RJF wrote: “I think we are now also paying the price of becoming an ‘instant grat’ society, particularly over the past 20-odd years, where we ‘want here, want now’ and ‘as cheaply as possible’.” I suspect that this has a lot to do with advertising and peer pressure.

I am amazed that prompt delivery has become such a high priority for online retailers. With a little planning there is very little that really needs fast delivery.

The manufacturer is whoever puts the product together in its final form. It doesn’t really matter that the components come from different sources; that is very common.

So a lawnmower could be described as made in Germany even though many of its parts are made in China [for example]. That doesn’t seem right to me. I appreciate that the final form of the product is the responsibility of the German supplier but the final action could just be putting it in a box. Perhaps that is the convention that needs to be changed so that people know what they are buying. The only aspect of that arrangement that I think is satisfactory is the German warranty.

Phil says:
9 June 2021

It’s what used to be derisively called a ‘screwdriver operation’, assembling imported components or even complete kits.

The manufacturer is responsible for the final product. They are also responsible for the components they choose to incorporate in the design they have originated.

Is that established in law, Malcolm? Does it automatically mean that the product has to be referred to as being Made in Germany [say] when a high proportion of it is made in China [for example]?

I am looking for practical assistance to purchasers rather than dogmatic adherence to an outdated convention by manufacturers who might wish to conceal the origin of parts.

The manufacturer is responsible for the safety of the product, for example (CE documentation, independent testing, and so on), any warranty, so, as far as I am aware, is the only entity that would be held accountable. I presume this even extends to rebranded products but am not familiar with the law.

When I was in manufacturing and designed new products we would purchase many components, from terminal blocks to electronic devices, from specialist suppliers, and assemble the final product. We were still the manufacturer.

Thank you, Malcolm. Globalisation complicates everything.

It would be good if we could buy British made products produced by British companies, but what choices do we have? Perhaps we could look at gardening tools as an example.

I though Burgon & Ball were still a British company but they have been taken over: https://www.insidermedia.com/news/yorkshire/historic-sheffield-manufacturer-bought-by-canadian-group I assume that most or all of their tools are still made in the UK.

The ultimate territory of the ownership of products is of less interest to me [although it’s best if profits are retained here]. I am more concerned with keeping our production facilities up to date and expanding and our workers employed and well-skilled.

That could be a separate discussion. I had seen reference to Bulldog tools being made in the UK but see no claims on their website. They appear to have a factory in Wigan, though at least some of the manufacture may be abroad.

Exactly what I would like to see, John. Which is why I would like to see companies like Dyson encouraged to manufacture in the UK; instead of investing in a production plant for digital motors in Singapore it might well have been better for the UK to invest here. That is not a criticism of JD, but of an environment that does not seem to favour home production.

I do personally believe that most of us here in the UK tend to be rather indifferent as to where products are actually manufactured, as like I said upthread yesterday that we’re very much a ‘want here, want now’ kind of society, and think about how good (or bad) an item is later.

Also I believe many are incapable of grasping the concept of ‘you get what you pay for’. Paying higher prices for premium products of UK or European origin is probably more worthwhile in the long run than paying peanuts for often cheapo products of Chinese origin, some of which have been known to barely last even a year, which is of course, a false economy, unless it’s a rare case of pot luck.

These are entirely my own personal views and opinions of which not everyone may agree with, which I totally accept and understand.

I have agreed with about many people wanting products immediately, RJF. Marketing is effective.

I do not understand the appeal of the cheapest products and if you take the cheapest and most expensive products this theory it is easy to ‘prove’ that you get what you pay for. On the other hand, if you take into account mid-price products it is far from clear-cut and mid-price products can often offer the best value for money.

And that is why objective and disinterested testing is so important in assisting consumers to make the best choices according to their needs and their means.

I don’t know what can be done to discourage people from wasting their money buying very cheap products. I doubt that many are aware that cheap phone chargers may not last long or could be dangerous, for example products bought via online marketplaces. Which? has provided examples but some publicity on TV would help.

It could be argued that if you can’t afford a decent charger you can’t afford to use a mobile phone. Perhaps choosing a less extravagant phone would allow the purchase of a better charger. With the price of the phone usually concealed in a tariff and the charger being a separate purchase it is easy to see how a false economy arises.

Probably the latest bugbear of mine (whilst not related to gardening products) is all the latest hype around the revival of audio cassette tapes, and many of the new cassette machines not only have dreadful wow-and-flutter, but are mono instead of stereo, even if the other components within the same unit in the case of boomboxes (radio tuner, CD player, etc) are stereo.

Rip-off of the century if you want my opinion!

I wasn’t aware there was a resurgence of interest in audio cassettes and players. I was hoping that particular technology had been consigned to the graveyard. It was never good when it was at the height of its popularity. I can’t think why anyone would want one. Wow-&-flutter is mechanically built into the product.

John – Many people buy dodgy phone chargers even if they can well afford to buy known brands that comply with safety requirements. We have become conditioned to focusing on price and may assume that if a product is offered for sale it must be safe. If business was regulated properly that might be achieved.

RFH – I had not realised that there was a cassette revival. I’m listening to music played on my mid-80s Denon cassette deck and there is not a problem with wow & flutter. I tend to carry on using products that are still working.

After buying cheap but short lived products (e.g. chargers), I suspect most folk will learn to stop doing that, especially those who are having to carefully manage low incomes.

Almost all of the latter will need to be able to afford a mobile phone, as they’ll need web and text access for such matters as Universal Credit claims – and they will certainly want to avoid the expense of a landline.

Quite often the very cheapest products can be of suspect quality, but paying just a little bit more can sometimes buy a much better product. For example, I am very pleased with my Bosch strimmer (see:-https://www.argos.co.uk/product/8863191?clickPR=plp:5:24 ) for which I paid £40 last year. It was a little bit more expensive than the cheapest available offering, but does a decent job of strimming.

For modern phones – i.e. smartphones – when buying from reputable UK retailers, I think the “sweet spot” for a decent new phone starts at around £100 and ends at around £150. Below that range, performance can be disappointing and above that range, extra money spent tends to add “nice to have” features rather than “need to have” ones.

The product description is not very helpful:

“18 volts.
280 watts.
2 stroke .”

18 volts implies that it is battery-operated.
2 stroke implies that it is petrol-powered.
In fact it is a mains-powered strimmer.

Argos usually does better than this.

Yes – I remember noticing those obvious errors for a corded strimmer a year ago.

In fact I see they were reported and flagged for update in its Q&A page back in 2019.

When shopping online for goods from reputable manufacturers, it always a good idea to check out their product descriptions, see:-https://www.bosch-diy.com/gb/en/p/easygrasscut-26-06008c1j00-v47452

Clearly the 18V must be a cut and paste error from another product page while 2 stroke could be a misread of “2 step assembly”.

I used to love inaccurate descriptions and my favourite was ‘vacuum filled’ light bulbs.

Prompted by your mention of strimmers I have been using my mid-price Black & Decker GL570C model. It has a now unfamiliar inscription: “Made in England”. Maybe that’s why I chose it.

But at least the mid-80s was when the cassette format and their machines were at a technological high point, plus Denon have almost always been a reputable brand.

Give me that any time over today’s rubbish equivalents which simply aren’t fit for any person of five years old or younger, let alone a die-hard audiophile!

Hopefully it’s a good model so far and well worth the money, even just for the sake of the (now-rarer) words ‘Made in England’ printed on it.

Bravo to B&D, and to you of course!

Patrick Taylor says:
11 June 2021

It is sad that we are having this discussion when most of us are fully aware that the readers comments on products is no longer a feature of Which?. It was subscribers who were giving their honest opinions on products not tested for longevity by Which?’s hired laboratories. Removing this important facet of the W? experience devalued the whole idea of testing if all that occured was a brief test and an very small amount of detail.

Obviously readers did buy Which? Best Buys and were rightly writing when products failed prematurely. It was illuminating to see when many buyers reported the same breakages etc.

Which? by high-handedly suppressing all the subscribers comments under the pretext something better was coming insulted the membership – and devalued the benefit of being a member.

I have said how business friendly Which? became under Vicary-Smith and this seems on of his final acts in divorcing members from any ability to record their real life usage of products for the benefit of the community.

I bought the Denon tape deck because it offered Dolby C noise reduction. It’s popular to believe that cassette machines are rubbish on the basis that many are. Sadly the cheap & nasty new products you mention are going to do nothing to change views.

I realise that I chose the strimmer because it automatically fed replacement nylon line when required. That works well and may now be a standard feature.

I have British-made Burgon & Ball edging shears. Unfortunately they were damaged when the old chap next door borrowed them many years ago and cracked the blade. He was probably not aware of what he had done. I bought Wilkinson Sword as a replacements but by then they were make by Fiskars and this is clearly marked. Current Wilkinson Sword products are not labelled in this way. Maybe we are expected to believe they are British made.

Derek – I generally look at manufacturers’ websites before buying products too, and Which? reviews if available. I guess that your new strimmer was made in Hungary or China, hopefully the former. As far as I know, Bosch always marks its products with the country of origin, though sadly this information is not on the website.

My Stihl hedgetrimmer has an 800mm blade and performs very well. But it is heavy and as I age I find it more and more tiring to use, so I’ve ordered a Which? best buy Bosch with a 500mm blade and weighing just 3.5kg. It arrives on Sunday and I’ll see the country of origin.

Arrived a day early. Made in Hungary. 3 year warranty.

For the benefit of others the guarantee is two years and registering the product extends this to three years.

Registering the product means that hopefully, in the event of a problem, I will be contacted. That seems like common sense. One day I hope all potentially hazardous products will be automatically registered at the point of sale. The only way I can see to effect a “full product recall”, let alone let owners know of any issues that may just be advisory.

I started using the hedge trimmer today, although it is a bit hot outside. First impressions are it is not too heavy, cuts well, decent length cutter bar, fairly quiet. My only slight gripe is that holding both switches on does nor quite match the way I hold the trimmer. Maybe I will adapt.