/ Travel & Leisure

60 years of Which? – what are your memories?

60 years cover

Which? is officially 60 years old today. So what better way to celebrate than a brief stroll down memory lane, topped off with a quiz? Take a slice of our virtual cake and grab a cuppa for this special edition convo…

First off – 🎉🥂🎂!

In our 60 years we’ve achieved so much change for consumers, and as we look forward to our next 60 years we thought we’d challenge you all with a little walk down memory lane.

Over the past couple of weeks, we’ve heard from Which? Conversation community members John Ward and Wavechange about their Which? memories. While we still have more memories from members yet to come, we thought we’d mark our anniversary with a little quiz!

So here you go, test out your Which? knowledge with our Which? 60 years quiz:

We’ve come a long way since the days of our founders Michael Young and Dorothy and Ray Goodman. Back then they were testing out products in a garage in London’s Bethnal Green.

Last month, we paid a visit to co-founder Dorothy Goodman to share memories of our origins and award her with a lifetime achievement award. Dorothy said:

‘You’re still testing products and brands to make sure that they’re fit for purpose, albeit with more sophistication than the early days.’

‘The Which? Drive, determination, and values remain today, and that’s what I’m most proud of.’

So what are you proud of and what are your favourite memories of Which?’s work over the years? Oh, and how did you score in the quiz?

Chin says:
7 October 2017

Happy Birthday all of you 🙂

Good morning and Happy Birthday. I look forward to seeing more Which? staff dropping in to Conversation.

Although it should be said the rash of staff visiting these last few days has been very encouraging.

On what seem the best achievements, I would say being the first major ISP and content provider in the mid ’90s showed Which? was enabling those with prescience to make their mark. In also being one of the first to host the modern Forum, Which? scored a major first, as it did with the remarkable openness with which the top W? directors visited and engaged. They were extraordinary days.

Many congratulations Which? on your diamond anniversary. Here’s to another 60 years of consumer interest and support. Champers all round today 🙂

Seven out of ten. Geoffrey Howe, compulsory seat belts and super-complaints floored me. Happy birthday, by- the- way. I have no record of joining, but I believe it was in the sixties, when I could begin to afford the luxury of a magazine subscription. I think (but could be wrong) that I was able to buy individual magazines and was thus hooked. For many years I had Which as my I.S.P. and even after wracking my brains (autocorrected from brians, thanks Which) I can’t remember why I left. I have a happier memory, back in the early days, of sitting at home and reading a review of binoculars and finding that the Boots Pacer was a best buy and only ten pounds. I put the magazine down, went into town and secured a pair. I still have them and enjoy the view. A Which best buy dish washer graced the family home when they first became available. It hissed and swished and gurgled, but the dishes came out sparkling. It was the first of many! Which has been a bible for many purchases, but also has been a constant irritant when looking for something I’ve seen, and finding it either had not been tested, or that particular model was not listed in the table of results.
More recently, the magazine has played second fiddle to the internet. The magazine frequently tests a handful of something and refers one to the ‘net’ for the rest. Some of the information articles are of interest and some I skip. I tend to judge the magazine these days, by the amount I read and the amount of pages that I flip. However, I always look forward to the next one when it arrives. Always good for a cup of coffee and a sit down.
I dip in and out of this Conversation site and, usually, having expressed an opinion, am content to let others elaborate for as long as they wish. This creation has been liberating, informative and a stroke of genius on the part of those who brought it into inception. I hope it will continue to inform and widen the perspective of those in charge of Which, in all its guises. We, here, might not be totally representative of the wider public, but there’s a lot of wisdom out there to tap into.

It is interesting to consider the activist Sheila McKechnie and where we are now

From her obit in the DailyTelegraph outlining how the Consumer Association upset UK businesses. You wonder about her likely reaction to the leasehold scams and Optical express.

” At the height of the campaign, she turned up at the offices of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders in a car painted with a Union flag and emblazoned with the words “the Great British Rip-Off”. She then delivered a letter to the SMMT’s chief executive, Christopher McGowan, dismissing the industry’s “feeble excuses” and demanding that it stop treating the United Kingdom as “Treasure Island”. Subsequently, several major dealerships announced they were cutting the prices of new cars.
While such tactics often proved effective, they made Sheila McKechnie unpopular with many in British industry who were quick to impugn the Consumer Association’s credentials – at some cost to its reputation. In 1999, she “named and shamed” the 10 mortgage lenders which, she claimed, had received the largest number of complaints from customers, and announced that the industry was in need of “an urgent dose of regulation to correct its many ills”.

She may not have been the greatest at running a charity but she certainly generated results – and highlighted wrongs.

A bit late, but Happy Birthday Which? and hopefully many more to come.

I remember buying the first copy for a shilling when I was about 11 and rather liking it. I saved my pennies and bought it regularly until a new invention was discovered in my road, which I was forced to investigate.
It was somewhat mysterious and alien, but I persevered and found out that it was unusual, operated in unusual ways, not always operating as would be expected and perhaps it might be a good idea for Which to investigate this phenomenon to see if it is good value.
I think maybe it could generate some thoughts. It was, as I later found out, called a ‘girl’.

Ha! Loved this Tel. I am glad you’ve enjoyed Which? for so long. 🙂

I joined ‘Which’ in 1958 after the issue that tested which national newspaper was the best to use for kindling our household fires – long before household central heating.
I very much favoured the idea of someone independent of the manufacturer testing their products, a person with no financial interest in the product.
For this reason I object to advertisers being able to say in their advertisements today; “Recommended by Which” or such like words, which must mean they have paid for the right to make such a statement.
Thank you for the re-issue of the early issue, now a different size which I used to keep in the special folder you sold at the time.
Best wishes,
Michael Talbot,

I share your concerns, Michael, and would like to see a balanced review of the advantages and disadvantages of allowing companies to use Which? recommendations in their advertising. I do remember that some companies did this before it was allowed.

I have a problem with the use of the word “Best” to indicate what really is a recommended product. If there is only one product it is legitimate. If a product is clearly ahead of several good products which are recommendable then Best is perhaps fair. If you have 30 products, say kettles, all marked Best Buy it makes a nonsense of English and in fact is a misleading use.

Last time I looked MT the rate was £15k per six months for use of the accolade- this including TV and everything. I think the lowest charge was £2500 for a restricted use. As you can imagine for a big company the charge is negligible and the uplift in sales is measurable. Whether a change to “Recommended” would affect the income raised I doubt and would have the advantage of being more truthful.

Well, Patrick – there could be some sense in having 30 kettles listed as “Best Buys” if they were split into categories to suit people’s preferences. For example, ‘best buy red kettle’ might help some people, ‘best buy all-metal kettle’ could be a useful discriminator, ‘best buy kettle over fifty pounds’, and so on. The term “Best Buy” is not just about performance or quality but takes price into account, so if it is cheap but performs adequately that can be a “Best Buy”. Under analysis the term is pointless, but it clearly has marketing influence and to Which? it is valuable. Consumerism at its purest?

I’m aware that a ‘Best Buy’ is generally one of a number of recommended products and wonder how many are genuinely confused by the term. I’m more concerned about whether it is right to allow companies to use this and other Which? recommendations to promote their products and businesses.

It’s interesting to have a look at the relevant trademark: https://trademarks.ipo.gov.uk/ipo-tmcase/page/Results/1/UK00002608824

John – The scores in product tests ignore price and since the ‘Best Buy’ products are those with the highest scores are selected as Best Buys then I don’t see how the price is currently a factor. Maybe it would be useful to routinely rate products according to value for money but with prices so volatile it would not be easy.

It is not clear how much income is derived from the sale of the accolade/logo as the organisation does not reveal it in it’s accounts. The premise for introducing it was that a change in the law meant companies could freely use the comments anyway so it may aswell be monetised.

The area of Which? dealing with logo licensing does highlight an uplift effect from the logo use.

In an off-the-wall approach one might think if Which?’s top accolade was “Not Bad” I doubt the companies would nick the phrase to use. I note that QueChoisir in France marks out of 20 which is also I believe a disincentive in marketing terms.

An alternative view is that the money raised can be usefully used for the charity, and the logo encourages better products. One might contrast this view with the acknowledged fact that washing machines have shorter lifespans than in the last decade. Or that the banks have never taken a blind bit of notice that FirstDirect regularly gets the top award whilst they continue downgrading services.

ConsumerReports in the US do not allow their tests to be quoted at all and argue very logically that the system can be manipulated by a halo effect relating to a single product out of a range produced. Build one great TV and just advertise that model and it’s awards whilst selling a range of mediocre TV’s in the light of the halo.

I note that AO.com, much favoured for price and cheapness is currently the most expensive, by 100% , for a stick hoover. They are no doubt conscious that many people may believe that the prices they offer are always competitive.

It’s worrying that some manufacturers have the same type of product (e.g. a washing machine or TV) in both the Best Buy and Don’t Buy categories. In some cases the cheaper products feature in the Don’t Buys but there are plenty of expensive Don’t Buys too.

“And of course, any profit we make through our business ventures is directed back into our charitable arm supporting our campaigns.”

Just to clarify. The charitable arm owns Which? Ltd lock,stock and barrel and therefore all assets and incomes are already under it’s control. “Into our charitable arm” seems to be a common Which? misunderstanding or misrepresentation of the relationship better said as our charity owner” or better still ” our owner the charity the Consumers’ Association.”

As to Best Buy and excellence Lauren – this commenced before your time but is an interesting insight into the problems of contracted out short period testing, and also not having someone monitoring the complaints lodged by subscribers about Best Buys:
And see the comments.

A long campaign lead to a survey of members and the downgrading of it’s original rave review. If your business relies on subscribers then what they say needs a response.

Then CA is, however, unique as a Charity, gaining all its income from subscriptions and income from its nine commercial operations. And the legal structure within the institution, whereby Which? Ltd and Which? Financial Services Board supervise nine commercial companies between them does mean that Lauren was correct when she spoke of their Charitable arm.

Thanks, Wavechange. I was getting confused. For me, when considering a purchase, the price is an important determinant and also the purpose and frequency for which I want to use something [durability], so my ‘best buy’ is not necessarily a Which? ‘Best Buy’. I agree that it would be impractical for Which? to take price into account, and since current price information is normally given in test results it is easy to make a price-sensitive or value-for-money judgment.

I would prefer it if Which? did not allow the use of its ‘Best Buy’ designation as it represents only a snapshot in time and can easily be misused alongside marketing material for products that would ot achive such a rating. I also feel if it is going to beused that the date should be incorporated and that if subsequent comparative testing reveals that a particular product no longer remains the ‘Best Buy’ than use of the logo should cease. The term ‘best’ is a superlative so there has always been a problem with having more than one ‘Best Buy’, but after sixty years we have learnt to live with it.

Ian, I think you may find that the NT is also a subscription organisation and provides the gross profit and the running details from 13 areas including several distinct commercial areas.

Perhaps you can expand on the nine commercial companies as I was not aware there were that many. There are areas of Which? operating as profit centres probably such as Which? Legal but which does not trade through the limited co. of that name which has been providing dormant returns.

I agree that the use of ‘Best Buy’ should cease if there is a reason why this should no longer apply.

I recently found the December 1991 issue of Which? magazine, in which the term ‘Best Buy’ is used but not explained. We have moved on. There are no percentage scores, which we are now familiar with. Interestingly, I am still using a Rowenta coffee machine that was chosen mainly because it had a gold filter and was identified as having a problem because the coffee it produced was below 80°C. To me, that was an advantage because coffee spoils quickly at high temperature. The summary table shows the name of a country against each product, and my Rowenta was made Germany. What the Which? test did not and probably could not have warned me of was the inferior plastic, which started to stain and deteriorate after a few years of use. It’s now so tatty that the machine is ‘hidden’ in a corner of the kitchen. I’d love a bean-to-cup machine but from using them in friends’ homes and from what I have read, the domestic versions don’t seem reliable.

It would be nice if it was possible to show the country of origin of reviewed products but nowadays, products can be assembled from parts made in other countries.

Patrick: no, the National Trust is different, in that it does receive donations in both cash and kind and, of course, has a healthy commercial arm through rentals, products, gardening centres and quite a bit more. AFAIK W? doesn’t receive donations – or at least, not many, if it does.

I’ll expand on the companies in the MO topic as I don’t want this topic to be sidetracked.

In my view a real “best buy” includes proper value for money. That will mean taking account of how much it costs and how long it is likely to last.

My recollection is that, in olden days, Which? “best buys” took price into consideration.

These days, I often wonder if they are merely “best than money can buys” unless they also score the “great value” tag as well. (See Page 64 in the Dec 2017 issue for examples of this.)

In my opinion a product awarded the ‘Best Buy’ accolade should be so far ahead of the competition that its status is virtually indisputable. If that does not pertain then ‘In the top five’ [or some such] might be more appropriate. The problem with that is that “in the top five” usually means No. 5 so it could be misleading. The application and use of the ‘Best Buy’ designation all comes down to control by WhicH? and the public must have full confidence that that is being exercised diligently and scrupulously without any form of commercial compromise.

Interesting. Wonder if there’d be any merit in W? producing a Michelin-type award scheme for products and companies? The problem with all awards, of course, is that things can change so quickly, so that what was once a superb item can quickly become run-of-the-mill. Happens with restaurants, certainly.

With restaurants, the management and staff can change, or just lose interest. (In my Harley’s Owners’ Group days, I once toured Europe with, amongst others, a young professional chef who dreamed of opening his own own restaurant and another guy who worked as a chef in his local Toby Carvery. One lived to cook and the other cooked to live, as you might say.)

Any well built and well maintained product won’t become less capable as it get older.

But, for emerging technologies, dramatically better kit may come along, for example DVDs (and, to some extent) Blu-Ray discs have now completely replaced VHS tapes as physical media for home movies.

As regards “white goods”, progress can be a lot slower. For example, my 1988 Zanussi FL812 washing machine is still serving me well. I’m hoping I won’t have to replace it before such time as a machine that will wash, dry and iron the clothes is available.

I have no problem with the current ‘Best Buy’ selections, other than their use in marketing. I’m sure that we all look for different things when making decisions on purchases. For example, most people would either want to avoid or choose Apple computers when buying a new laptop or desktop computer. Many focus on products in a price range, cars being a good example. In many cases the presence of a feature is essential to be worthy of consideration, for example cameras that record the location of where photos were taken. For these reasons, I don’t think that it is possible to identify a single Best Buy. If this was done, I’m sure that the retailers would waste no time in raising their price.

I guess potential consequences of Best Buy awards are that manufacturers not quite making the grade may try harder next time while those with many Best Buy awards to their name might be tempted to raise prices for those models and/or run off some cheaper ones, that aren’t as good. TVs may be an area where we can see this happening.

In general, marketing is all about making folk want stuff they don’t need, like expensive coffee and cakes (as now available from a newly constructed “drive-through” shop in my vicinity).

I wonder just how sales of a “best buy” are improved when they are labelled with the Which? logo in adverts? And whether they should be a “Best Buy” or just a “Good Buy” when several similar products are given the accolade?

“Emma Mattress UK awarded Which? Best Buy award”

“Introducing the Teramo 1400.

The Teramo achieved the Which? Best Buy status in 2015 and 2016, receiving the highest score when tested against 28 other products, including a whole host of other types of mattresses and pocket sprung models. Now in 2017, the consumer resource said “when we tested this mattress in 2015, it was the best we had seen in years. More than a year on, we’re still yet to test anything that can match this Best Buy”.

I have no problem with a “Good Buy” being publicised, to help people with no knowledge, or access to real reviews, spend their money on something that should not disappoint. My main concern would be the criteria used for a best buy. I believe value for money is very important, and this included price and durability. As I don’t think Which? check durability in a useful way – accelerated testing, dismantling to check component and build quality, repairability for example – an important factor for many.

I suspect in advertising many (most?) people will remember the brand associated with a “Best Buy” rather than the particular product. So John Deere may stick in your mind rather than the two lawnmowers that earned the right to use the Logo. Much more useful though when it appears on the packaging when you are out shopping.

Do Which? publish a list of current “Best Buys” and those for which endorsements have been purchased?

This is what the Dutch say about the use of “BEST”. Seems funny that they understand the concept of Best so much better.

Incidentally the Dutch also have a Test Evlauation logo available to manufacturers – it gives the month of the testing and more importantly the range of the test results is incorporated in the logo. So the logo may say 7.6 scored and the high and low for the test were 5.3 and 8.1. This very very helpfully frames where the product sits. It is currently under trial and members will decide whether it is continued. Personally I think it is useful.

Only one can be the best

Until 2014, the Consumentenbond could award products with almost equal test scores the Best out of the Test predicate. We regularly received signals from outside that only one can be the best. We recognize that this may cause confusion. That is why it was decided at the time to name 1 product Best from the Test.

There is an exception to that rule: in a shared first place, so if 2 or more products have exactly the same highest test result, they all get the predicate Best out of the Test.

Also for the Best Buy predicate from 2015 onwards, only one product or service in a category can receive the predicate Best Buy. The predicates have therefore become more exclusive.

I’m not sure about that, Patrick. I doubt that many of us buy products simply because they have been awarded the highest scores in Which? tests. I’m sure I’m not alone in looking at features, product reviews and price. I’m sure if you were looking at washing machines you would focus on temperature more than most people. With a simple device that has a single function – for example a corkscrew or can opener – it might be possible to come up with a best on test recommendation but with a vacuum cleaner, TV or mobile phone it would not be realistic.

I suspect that many members are unfamiliar with Consumentenbond but this is the blurb:

The first 2 months are free, after that you pay € 5.75 per month (cancelable on a monthly basis).
With Consumentenbond Basis you receive:
access to all online test results
help with issues regarding purchase, warranty and conditions
the weekly newsletter with current tests and buying tips
discount on books and e-books
557,405 members made a better choice this year with our tests

So 69euro a year. The population of the Netherlands is 17m[2017] which means it has a very high penetration rate. They do compare subscriptions to number of households on the premise that several people may read or use it per household.

It’s double Dutch to me.

It would be a great help if the Which? website did not show products that differ only in appearance as separate items. Why not list them as a single item and mention in the product description that it’s available in a variety of colours?

Well I’ll be 1958