/ Shopping

What products do you return most often?

January is a pretty popular month for returning unwanted purchases picked up in the sales. So what are all these items that we’re returning?

Christmas has been and gone and in an act as traditional as carol singing with a steaming mug of mulled wine – I hit the sales.

Already some of my purchases will have to be returned. And it doesn’t look like I’m alone either, our research has revealed that six in ten of us have returned something we purchased in the last year.

The top two reasons for returns were that that the products were faulty or the incorrect product or size had been ordered.

We found that more than half of people returning faulty goods last year were returning electrical items like mobile phones, laptops and dishwashers. This was followed by clothing and shoes, then furnishing and home wares. Thinking about my own purchases, this sounds about right.

Using the new faulty goods tool

With our new faulty goods tool we’ve helped more than 1,000 people try to get a refund, repair or replacement for faulty items worth up to £1,188,073 over the Christmas period using our faulty goods tool.

The median average price of a product claimed for by users of the tool is £213, with claims ranging from £4.99 for a faulty nutritional supplement shaker, right up to £58,000 for an unsatisfactory static caravan.

Faulty goods: the post- 6 month problem

But what we found in the same survey was that just 13% of people knew that six months after purchasing a product the onus is on you to prove the fault was present at the time of purchase.

Inspired by comments on our previous conversation we decided to ask people how they would prove a fault was present at the point of purchase. We specifically asked what they would do to prove a fridge-freezer they had owned for 15 months stopped working due to a fault – and 68% said they wouldn’t know how.

Unfortunately, the truth is that the law doesn’t detail how shoppers can prove a fault was present at purchase, which can make it problematic when you’re asked to do so.

Guidance has tended to focus on getting an independent report from a repair shop or expert, but this advice dates back to a time when they were common on high-streets. I suspect you’ll be hard pressed to find one now.

What should you do?

Here are a few suggestions:

1. If you can find a repair shop or expert to undertake an independent report, it’s worth doing so as long as the cost isn’t out of proportion with the value of the product. It’s also worth checking that the retailer will accept the validity of the report.

2. Are people on social media complaining of the same type of fault as you? Or any reviewers or journalists? The more evidence you can collect to show that the fault is a problem which is affecting lots of people, the stronger your case.

3. If the retailer fobs you off, you could consider taking your case to the Consumer Ombudsman.

4. Do you have a guarantee or warranty? If so, check the terms of use. If you’re getting nowhere with the retailer, or if the retailer no longer exists, you may want to go straight to the manufacturer and make a claim.

Returning faulty goods can be a bit of a minefield so we hope that the new tool and these tips will help you out.

But we’d like to hear some of your experiences with returning items. So, what items have you found yourself having to return? Have you had prove a fault with any older purchases? And if so how did you get on?


” With our new faulty goods tool we’ve helped more than 1,000 people try to get a refund, repair or replacement for faulty items worth up to £1,188,073 over the Christmas period using our faulty goods tool.”

I am really pleased to see Which? becoming active in assisting subscribers [or is it all consumers?] in obtaining refunds I do have some concerns that which is overplaying what it is doing. The tool is essentially a template for a letter. Similar to that which could be downloaded from several sites such as the Citizens Advice.

The unstated agenda may be that Which? is obtaining an email address in return , and also statistics on returns. I have previously stated that I think it very useful if Which? did obtain rates of returns from its subscriber base but I would be open and transparent about this and the potential value this might provide if the information is aggregated.

Also not clear is if there is set up a report back function to reveal the success rate of these letters.

I am puzzled by your numbers. If the average price of a product claimed for was £213, and around 1000 people claimed, that is about £213 000 isn’t it. Where does £1 188 073 come from please?,

You advise people that after 6 months the onus is on them to prove there was a pre-existing fault. Which? seems to totally ignore a key requirement of SoGA and CRA that a product must also be “durable” (last a reasonable time without fault). This is not dependent upon a pre-existing defect – poor quality components, bad design, are examples of deficiencies that would cause unreasonably short product life given a sensible purchase price.

Is this too difficult for Which? to address or is my interpretation of the legal requirement wrong?

Thanks Adam.
Surely Which? should be about “cracking tough nuts” – more able to do it than the individual members that subscribe to your work? 🙂
I have continually asked Which? to pursue this over the last 3 or 4 years but it seems to have totally avoided trying to even begin to deal with it. It can start with a single group of products, and work with other consumer groups through BEUC. If you never start you’ll never get anywhere. As they say – how do you eat an elephant? A little bit at a time. (Sorry animal lovers – just a turn of phrase 🙁 )

Adam, “average” is a total divided by the number of pieces of data. “Median” is the middle number of a data set. I am not aware of what “median average” means. Perhaps your crack statisticians would explain exactly how they arrived at their numbers, and what they mean (not in the arithmetic sense) by “median average”?.

Unless otherwise specified, the term ‘average’ should refer to the arithmetic mean, which is the only term that most people can relate to. Without seeing the data set, I’m not sure how I would present it, but please don’t use average for anything other than the arithmetic mean.

Given Which?’s surprising survey on the public’s innumeracy I would have hoped this article would have been amended to make obvious to any reader what the figures mean without having to read the comments section.

And remove the caravan from the figures to get a more realistic average?

With the usual definition of median, if 1001 folk took part in the Which? survey, the the median value of £288 will have been the value claimed by the 501st person, if the refunds are sorted into numerical order. (I note that the article says “over 1000” but does not report the exact sample size.)

So half of the folk involved were refunded £288 (or less) and the remainder were refunded £288 or more.

If exactly 1000 people were refunded a total of £1,188,073 then the average refund was £1,188. If 1 caravan at £58,000 is excluded from the analysis, then the average over the remaining 999 folk would be £1131.

Hence, as might be expected, the distribution is skewed here (much as things are with wealth and income!), so more than half of the folk involved got “below average” refunds.

In his introduction, Adam wrote: “Do you have a guarantee or warranty? If so, check the terms of use. If you’re getting nowhere with the retailer, or if the retailer no longer exists, you may want to go straight to the manufacturer and make a claim.”

Manufacturers are often helpful, but is there any legal obligation for a manufacturer to support consumers if a retailer is no longer trading?

Thanks very much, Adam. I had not realised that it was possible to make a chargeback claim for goods under £100, so I will bear that in mind.

Many of us have been told by retailers that we have no rights if goods fail outside the manufacturer’s guarantee period. This is obviously not true since we MAY have a valid claim under the Consumer Rights Act if we have not abused goods or worn them out by reasonable use.

It would be interesting to know which law is being broken by the retailer claiming that we have no rights or should take up our case with the manufacturer. Would it be the sales assistant or manager who gave the wrong information that would be liable, or would it be the employer?

I’m sorry I cannot give any anecdotes about having to return faulty goods recently. Periodically I take inexpensive items back to Tesco and they invariably offer a replacement or a refund.

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Mouldy or bad food is what we return most often.

Bread and pitta bread that is packaged before it has cooled down properly or stored where it is cold goes mouldy far too often. Putting it straight in the freezer usually solves that problem though.

Then there is the pack of fruit or veg with a bad item in it that you can’t see behind the label or the bad bit is underneath. Or you cut into in and find it is bad. Why should you buy it just to throw it away?

Then there are the products that just don’t last until their sell-by date.

“Inspired by comments on our previous conversation we decided to ask people how they would prove a fault was present at the point of purchase. We specifically asked what they would do to prove a fridge-freezer they had owned for 15 months stopped working due to a fault – and 68% said they wouldn’t know how.”

I am astonished that 32% did know what to do? Or is it 32% said they knew what to do and were not asked actually what it was that they would do? Afterall they could be wrong. This needs clarification.

Survey numbers, methodology and questions as always appreciated.

Incidentally if I had been asked the question I would probably answered I would not know what to do. The point being that from my range of knowledge I would be thinking in specific actions and my need to refer somewhere for the specific addresses to which I would write.

It is rather like asking an owner and a mechanic why has the car stopped working, both would answer they do not know but you would like to bet that the mechanic is working off a completely different skill set.

SAdam, would you like to give a Which? response to the criticisms made of their use of numbers :-).
As a serious point we rely upon Which? to present data accurately and fairly. Confidence is lost when they appear to depart from this. 🙁

Sorry Adam – typo. Adam – not Sadam. Two letters pressed at once. 🙂

Thanks Adam.
Now, what are Which? planning on doing to address the “durability” issue?

If i return a faulty product within 6 months and its sent away for repair. Am i within my rights to reject a refurbished model if they can’t repair it? The product is a new £500 phone which i paid for outright.

“With our new faulty goods tool we’ve helped more than 1,000 people try to get a refund, repair or replacement for faulty items worth up to £1,188,073 over the Christmas period using our faulty goods tool. ”

Are you getting any feedback on the claims success or otherwise? Particularly interesting would be “right up to £58,000 for an unsatisfactory static caravan.”.

Jay says:
22 June 2016

I bought a Tefal iron from Currys cost £170.00 thereabouts, within 8 weeks the electrical cord had melted when it was rewound inside machine. Curry’s at CHINGFORD refused to refund or replace but instead offered me a repair but I would be without an iron whilst that was being carried out. I refused as I have a family that needs clothes pressed daily. What are my rights here? This must be a design fault?

Currys are within their rights to offer a repair because you have had the goods for 30 days. Which? has some useful information here: http://www.which.co.uk/consumer-rights/regulation/consumer-rights-act

Jay, you have to be given redress without unreasonable inconvenience. You could make sure Curry’s are aware of this when agreeing the time the repair will take, and demand a loan iron if that is excessive. Good luck though – we need someone to help us exercise our legal rights. Which? could do much more, I believe, in this respect.

You are right to question whether it might be a design fault, although you would think a melted cord would have shown up earlier. I’d suggest you email Tefal – on their website tefal.co.uk you will need to go to “consumer services” “contact us””about the product you own” “guarantee info” which has a helpline and an email form. I’d describe your failure on email and ask them if they would like a photograph of the damage. You never know, Tefal may appreciate your information and may offer extra help.

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For a problem to be a design fault, the same problem would have to occur fairly often. If a number of online reviews report the same problem, then there may be a design fault, assuming that the instructions have been followed and the product has not been abused.

Duncan makes good points about the likely cause of the problem and it is possible that the instructions have not been followed. On the other hand, manufacturers generally use heat proof cable for irons. If Tefal is using cable that melts I would suggest that the iron may be unfit for its purpose and that could give Jay another reason for making a claim under the Consumer Rights Act (or Sale of Goods Act prior to October 2015).

Having a little ferret it would appear to be a Tefal steam generator iron where the iron is stored on the top and the cable retracts inside..

At the Very site there is this intriguing little note
” Non returnable under our Approval Guarantee, once installed or connected. Your statutory rights are not affected. See Returns section in our Help pages for more information.”


Thanks Dieseltaylor. I have had a look at the instructions, which include the following: “Completely unwind the power cord before plugging into an earthed socket outlet.”

It is possible that the iron has been used with the cord not completely unwound. This is a problem with cable reels, where the cable will melt unless either the cable is completely unwound or they are used for low power items. I pointed out to a friend that her new cable reel was limited to about 700 watts wound even though it could handle a load of 3000 watts fully unwound.

My Philips iron came with a heat resistant cord and when it has worn I have replaced – three times – with cord sold for use with irons.

Good sleuthing. Looks an interesting potential cause. The fun thing is whether :
A; This what happened which can be easily tested
B; what the regulations require of this type of iron

On-board ships there is often a timer cut-out that users can re-set for another few minutes or ten.

26 June 2016


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This is an interesting question given the high price of undergarments these days, especially anything slightly fashionable. It is often impossible, without trying something on, to tell whether a product will fit. I recently bought a three-pack of undershorts of the wrong size in error [they were mixed up on the rack but, still, I should have checked]. I did not realise my mistake until I had broken them out of the packaging and tried to put a pair on some days later. If they had been a size too big I would have probably added them to stock as still being wearable, but at a size too small they were far too tight for comfort. I only had a brief encounter [!] with them immediately after a shower, and they looked as good as new, so I put them with the others and took them to a charity shop. Modern packaging is designed so that any attempt at opening it is visible; taking something back and pretending it hasn’t been opened is a non-starter. This is a much more serious problem for women because garment sizing is inconsistent between retailers, and products like bras are not only very expensive but correct fit is essential.

I am not sure where tee-shirts fit in the scheme of things here; I should not be surprised if they counted as underwear but it could be they are treated the same as shirts or blouses and would be exchanged.

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Yes – it was an expensive mistake.

You need to be very careful when buying underclothes as some boxer shorts packs can be American which have different sizes to ours. The package usually has the size conversion on the back so it’s as well to check especially if you see a package adorned with Stars and Stripes.

I recently bought a new bras from a small local store and was amazed at the service received. I just happened to mention that my last bras was purchased from them but as I had cut off the label I couldn’t remember the make. A quick flip of my top and she went straight to the hanger and picked the same one without any hesitation. No need to try it on, it was a perfect fit! I will be returning soon to buy another.

John please. never buy any underclothes that are too loose – it’s a perfect excuse to justify putting on weight!

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Too much information!!

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Men’s underpants normally come in waist sizes, not sure what you were referring to Duncan!

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There’s an automatic profanity filter, Duncan, that comes pre-loaded with naughty words that need to be drawn to our attention by having asterisks substituted for the proper letters. It’s a crude device.

It’s an extremely blunt instrument, Duncan. Most allow words to be assigned by the moderators but it seems that in this case it doesn’t. We should run a sandbox test… :>-)

I don’t think the moderator would be able to differentiate between boxers and jockeys when debating men’s underwear Ian 🙂

I had to return a strimmer to Bosch some time ago. It had been awarded Best Buy status in Which? but I very unwisely chose to ignore the various reviews on Which? by those who’d actually used the thing and paid the price.

It was a Bosch Art 35, and the most frequently noted issue was that the spool feeder would jam solid, and with a fixing nut that was clearly too short for the job it couldn’t be easily reassembled. After it happened to me I contacted Bosch and they collected it then returned it, fixed. But the design of the thing is clearly ropey at best, so quite how it gained Best Buy status is beyond me. But I’ve noticed that the testing companies that Which? uses seem to have a thing for Bosch. Gradually, as I replace power tools with the current Best Buys, they’re all becoming Bosch.

I agree Ian. I would hesitate to buy a product on the basis of Best Buy status alone. Ideally I have a look at products belonging to friends and look up online reviews. As you say, it’s common for products to have poor design features.

I have got a collection of Bosch power tools and they have generally proved good value for money if bought when on offer, which is quite common. Maybe not very robust but I’m not using them every day. My Bosch router is a pain because it does not have a spindle lock to facilitate changing the bits. I have two Bosch angle grinders with spindle locks, so perhaps the company could have shared this feature across their products.

Hello Ian, sorry to hear you have had problems with the Bosch Art 35. We’re aware that line feeds are a problem across the board with strimmer and it’s the most commonly complained about feature of any strimmer.
We’ve tried to address the problem by introducing a line feed test where we deliberately try to break the line and see how well more line feeds out. However, at present there’s no easy and fair way to stress test strimmers and this is something we will continue to work on.
As to having a preference for Bosch, I can assure you that we really don’t. Our testers have a massive list of criteria against which to score any garden tools and we can see they are always fair in their marking. We currently have 19 Best Buy strimmers and only one of them is from Bosch.

We are a company that has bought a laptop from a supplier that has a fault – when you close the lid it never goes to sleep, it always powers off and all work is lost – it appears to be a fault in the design of the device. We’ve attempted to fix it with the manufacturer, and they couldn’t get it working either, so finally we accepted a replacement. This is showing exactly the same fault – taken right out of the box the manufacturer cannot get it working.

We would like a refund now having exhausted all options – but the retailer is pointing at the manufacturer and the manufacturer is pointing at the retailer.

Who is responsible for supplying the refund, and if they refuse what action should I take?

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Pippa says:
31 July 2016

I want to return a bike to halfords it’s 2 weeks old has had a front wheel replaced already and has now developed the same fault.
The front brake also broke in the first week and they have ordered another.

Under the Consumer Rights Act 2015 you have a legal right to reject goods that are of unsatisfactory quality, unfit for purpose, or not as described, and get a full refund. This right is limited to 30 days from the date you bought your bike. You can ask Halfords to repair or replace the bike but they can then choose whichever would be cheapest or easier for them to do. If you are outside the 30-day right-to-reject period, you have to give the retailer one opportunity to repair or replace goods which are of unsatisfactory quality, unfit for purpose, or not as described. After 30 days you will not be legally entitled to a full refund if your bike develops a fault.

Pippa – Which? has a summary of your rights under the Consumer Rights Act 2015: http://www.which.co.uk/consumer-rights/regulation/consumer-rights-act If you want the official document, it is available online and it might be useful to have a printed copy to hand when you contact Halfords.

As John says, you have the right to reject goods within 30 days and my understanding is you should still be able to do this if the same problem has occurred.

According to the Gov guidance – BIS Sale and Supply of Goods 2015:
In the first 30 days you have the option to reject the goods for a full refund or agree to a repair or replacement (1st tier remedy).
If that fails to fix the problem then the 2nd tier remedy is to keep the goods with a price reduction, or you have a final right to reject the goods and obtain a full refund within the first 6 months. See page 38 of guidance.

The Which? document referred to by Wavechange above does contain some typographical errors and it isn’t as clear as it purports to be in places. I would hope it will be revisited soon.

Indeed. It would also be useful to add a link to the relevant legislation.

It also seems a bit deficient.
Although in one part it correctly refers to both the Sale of Goods Act and the Consumer Rights Act, with effective dates, under the heading “Sale of Goods Act” it says it no longer applies in UK law. This is a bit misleading; it should say it still applies in UK law for any product or service bought before 15th Oct 2015.

I could not find a link to either the CRA or SoGA legal documents, nor to explanatory documents that have been issued to accompany them. Both might be very useful to someone planning to pursue their legal rights, and the explanatory documents are much more comprehensive than the Which? document. The documents I have are for retailers (business), one issued by BIS for the CRA, with lots of examples, and one by the defunct OFT “Sale of Goods Act Explained”.

Which? also refers to “fault” which is again misleading to some. CRA refers to non-compliance with contract terms. This includes “quality” and under quality “durability”. You might not associate the general use of low-quality components that lead to an unreasonably short life as a “fault” but an unacceptable manufacturing strategy perhaps; unreasonable life then fails to meet the contract requirement of “durability”..

It seems to me that Which? does not have to go it alone on these issues but should give links to more comprehensive (and hopefully comprehendible) documents.

The Which? article is a straightforward introduction to the legislation, Malcolm. ‘Fault’ is a commonly used term, that we all understand. If we are going to encourage more people to make use of their rights then I think its useful to keep things simple. A link to the legislation would help anyone who wants to study their rights in more detail.

Thank you wavechange. I think fault is misleading, SoGA remains in force, the Which? article could be more complete, and links as I said should be included. But just my view. 🙂

Citizens Advice and the Department of Business Information & Skills also refer to faulty goods, Malcolm. In education at any level it is standard practice to start by using familiar language and then introduce terminology used in the discipline.

Sometimes it can be confusing if novices are confronted with official use of language. For example, many people know that a three pin plug is connected to live, neutral and earth conductors, but officially ‘live’ is referred to as ‘line’ and both L and N are officially ‘live’ conductors. In addition, 230V mains is referred to as ‘low voltage’.

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wavechange, as a said I expressed a personal view because I believe “fault” as a criterion may well put people off making a claim when they might view “fault” as something unusually wrong with their particular example of a product.

The example I gave above “You might not associate the general use of low-quality components (in a higher-priced product) that lead to an unreasonably short life as a “fault” but an unacceptable manufacturing strategy perhaps; unreasonable life then fails to meet the contract requirement of “durability” . I think this illustrates there is a separate perspective to the CRA (and the SoGA) that many people may not appreciate, and therefore may not pursue a claim. CRA does not mention “fault” at all as far as I can see, only “default” two times in the context of a person’s failure. But it mentions “contract” innumerable times.

I would like someone who understands the application of CRA to give a view on this. Which? seem very reticent. I am quite prepared to be wrong but in the absence of expert comment to the contrary I will keep asking about the failure to meet contract requirements, one of which is “Durability” – a key issue for sustaining resources (even if it is not so good for a throw-away economy).

I appreciate these points, Duncan, but I chose this example of why using everyday language can avoid confusing the general public. You frequently give us technical information, and you try to help rather than baffle us. Which? documents are clearly intended to be understood by the public and providing a link to legislation or more detailed interpretation would be useful.

EU legislation and LVD (Low Voltage directive):

“EU legislation in the electrical sector is important to ensure Europe-wide harmonisation of a set of essential health and safety requirements for products placed on the market.
The LVD covers all health and safety risks of electrical equipment operating with a voltage between 50 and 1000 V for alternating current and between 75 and 1500 V for direct current. These voltage ratings refer to the voltage of the electrical input or output, not to voltages that may appear inside the equipment.”

When this was raised in the context of goods being fitted with continental two pin plugs rather than UK plugs it did not help the discussion much. Using simple language is the best way to involve the general public in technical matters.

A bit like executive summaries, it is fine to give an overview, but we need to respect many readers who are quite able to understand more than just “simple” language. Simple needs also to be accurate. Many of the “general public” are a good deal more intelligent and capable than some may think. It is unhelpful to treat them otherwise

Thanks @johnward I’ve flagged that page for review, just to note also that we’re carrying out a review of Consumer Rights content over the summer.

Thats great news, Lauren. It would be particularly useful to have advice on what to do when a retailer says that there is nothing that can be done because the manufacturer’s guarantee period has expired, or refers us to the manufacturer – who has no legal responsibility.

It would be great if Which? pushed for all retailers to put information about consumers’ rights on their websites. As far as I’m aware only Apple does this, but would be interested in other examples of good practice.

Thanks for this @wavechange, I’ll let the Consumer Rights team know about this. It would be pretty amazing if all retailers published consumer rights information on their websites – thanks for the tip off on Apple 🙂

Hi @ldeitz – I wonder if anyone has asked the retailers to provide this sort of information. Here is the relevant page on the Apple website: http://www.apple.com/uk/legal/statutory-warranty/
There are many similar pages relating to legislation in other countries.

A tip off that’s been given three times in here to my knowledge. You’re not keeping up with your homework, Lauren 🙂

Thanks @wavechange, I’ll take a look and share with others for a view on this. I’m doing my best to keep up @carneades – need more hours in the day! 🙂

Which? News today:
“Keen to join the blending trend, but on a budget? Lidl’s Silvercrest Nutrition Mixer Pro could be the answer. Costing just under £30, ” No comment though on how well it is made, and how long it might last.

In common with other products tested it would seem eminently sensible to dismantle them after testing and look at the build and component quality to get a feel for how well made it is, and whether there are weaknesses in design, quality and construction that are worth reporting. We might then have a better assessment of whether something is worth buying (unless we are happy of course to throw it away after a year).

Which? Weekly Scoop today says

“Wondering how long your washing machine will last? Every year we undertake a huge reliability survey of household appliances, so we can tell you which brands will let you down.”

I can find no information on “how long it will last” (washing cycles for example) only that they compare breakdowns between brands – so it lists “relative reliability” by the number of stars.

I really want to know how long “machines will last” before they breakdown. not just for washing machines, but other appliances. If Which? have this data as part of their reliablilty survey it would be useful to publish it. Alternatively use data from other organisations, like the German Consumer Association that dieseltaylor mentions from time to time – they do durability tests that seem much more useful.

Read more: which.co.uk/reviews/washing-machines/article/most-reliable-washing-machine-brands – Which?

However, if i have missed finding Which?’s information, (I searched their website) then please let me know. It would help in making purchasing decisions.

Stiftung Warentrest is the famous German body rated the third most trusted institution in Germany.

The amount it does on a smaller budget is impressive. The running of washing machines for 6 months to test durability I consider a benchmark that other consumer bodies should emulate – or at least buy the results to tell us. I have actually bought some of their washing machine reports over the Web from the Test.de site but not reading German is a drawback. : )

dieseltaylor, I have asked Which? a number of times about how they cooperate with their European counterparts to share information and avoid duplication of expensive testing. I’ve had vague responses, but no sign of real action. Using data from Stiftung Warentest would be a classic to help in the choice of a new washing machine. Perhaps something holds them back?

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