At the end of one of the isles in Asda I saw a solitary Servis washing machine at a dirt cheap price. As I opened its door and looked disdainfully at its flimsy build I couldn’t help thinking what an inappropriate place this was to sell washing machines.
If I’d been a customer interested in buying a new washing machine there was no one around to ask about it. Even if I’d found someone I couldn’t help thinking how unlikely it was that they’d really know a lot about it.
Apart from anything there was no other choice of brand in sight. So they couldn’t even guide me to a different brand or model if appropriate.
Washing machines on sale in supermarkets and other daft places
OK so they may be dipping their toe in with plans to expand the range later, but I instinctively resent supermarkets thinking that just because they have regular customers and a lot of space they have to try and sell absolutely everything. Of course they are free to sell what they like as long as it’s legal, but the logical conclusion of their policy is that we don’t actually need any individual shops at all.
They’d prefer us to have one super-hanger-sized building that sells everything we’d ever need under one roof owned by just one company. They are morphing into department stores before our eyes.
£99 washing machines?
I’d recently read about another national supermarket that also had a Servis washing machine on sale even cheaper at just £99. So I was already feeling negative about washing machines in supermarkets because £99 is just ludicrously cheap.
What’s the point of a washing machine at £99? The first time it goes wrong out of warranty it will most likely be scrapped. Manufacturers would charge as much or more than that just to come and clean the pump filter.
Even most local repairmen would struggle to fix it for much less than the purchasing cost if it needed a part. It should be illegal to sell products at a loss because that’s how the big boys put other people out of business.
It’s not competition, it’s using money to take customers from other traders because you can and you are lazy. It should also be illegal to make and sell washing machines that are effectively unrepairable.
It’s not just supermarkets either, it’s DIY stores like B&Q, Boots the chemist – and even Currys Digital now. Washing machines and tumble dryers just seem so far away from their established business models and they look bizarre in these alien environments.
Who’d want to sell washing machines anyway?
I’m perplexed at why everyone wants to sell washing machines all of a sudden. Of all the things a company can deal in, I can’t think of anything more potentially complex and troublesome to sell at such relatively low profit margins.
Most people even hate replacing their washing machine and want to spend as little as possible when forced to do so.
Too many people are selling washing machines, and there are far too many different makes and models being made as well.
Too much competition is bad
Competition is good for us all, but too much competition eventually leads to poorer quality products.
This is because after an initial period of competing through innovation, and genuine production cost savings, unless some of the big players go bust, products inevitably end up competing purely on price.
This results in a slow deterioration of quality and repairability until most players are producing products significantly inferior to ones they produced in the past – albeit at lower initial cost. Anyone trying to maintain standards risks being rejected by the public for being too expensive – because so many of them are obsessed with price.
These criticisms do seem logical to me, and fair. After all it’s bad for the environment that we scrap so many washing machines and other white goods appliances. It’s also very bad for local repairmen who are starting to look as unnecessary as blacksmiths not long after the invention of the car. The funny thing is though, I never felt this way before about supermarkets encroaching on other trades.
I never felt this way when they started selling TVs and video recorders. So why do I feel this way? Have I got an axe to grind or a vested interest? Well not really because I don’t sell washing machines and I don’t repair washing machines either (although I used to).
Specialists are better, and washing machines are just too big to be throwaway
At the end of the day all that matters to me is whether it’s good for the general public that all these different places are selling washing machines.
Personally I doubt it. Supermarkets and DIY stores are trying to sell as many products as they can and as cheaply as they can. They are highly unlikely to know much about the washing machines and the other white goods they stock because they are just another commodity to them. The only things supermarkets ever specialised in was food.
They are also highly unlikely to stock expensive (and better made) brands – just the cheap stuff. This encourages people to see washing machines as just another disposable cheap product, but they are too big to be discarded so quickly.
People are of course free to buy their washing machines from wherever they want but I just feel supermarkets are far from ideal, and people really need to buy from companies where washing machines are their business, or at least a substantial part of it, so they can get proper help choosing the right make and model, and help if things go wrong.
“Stack ’em high and sell ’em cheap” businesses ultimately only pander to one of our needs – cheap prices. Some needs are far less appealing, but more important.
The need for good quality sustainable products that don’t actually cost the majority of people much more in the long run. The need to have an undamaged environment as well as the need for thriving local traders and service providers for example.
It remains to be seen if these companies will have any success selling big, bulky, heavy white goods that people can’t take away on their trolleys.
Personally I can’t see it being a success but if it’s what the public want it’s what the public will get. I just hope enough people will eventually realise that washing machines are just too big and awkward, do too important a job, and have too big an environmental impact to just casually buy the cheapest and most convenient one that’s shoved in front of their trolleys then discard it when it breaks down.
I noticed Currys Digital have removed their dryers and washing machines. Asda have also removed theirs (at least in the main Sheffield store). It could just be temporary, but I hope it’s because they’ve realised it was simply a daft idea to try selling them in the first place.
I just read on a trade forum – “I was told last week by a customer who works for B & Q that they are going to stop selling free standing appliances, due to the amount of returns for problems and that they are unable to answer customers questions”
Some of these stores now have dedicated kitchen appliance web sites, which at least have a lot of appliances to choose from and special offers. If you are shopping mostly on price they may be worth having a look at especially if you are a regular customer of theirs anyway and collect their loyalty points –
The washing machine which sparked off my article selling at £99 was made by Servis UK, who have since gone bust (again)
For links to most major household appliance retailers and web sites visit my Buy Appliances page.
Fixed-price repairs, Pay monthly, Repair & protect your whole appliance..
50% off annual membership
Subscribe to Which? today and save 30% on Digital Annual subscription for your first year. Offer ends 18.03.24. This offer is only available for new Which? annual subscriptions (excluding Gardening, Travel, Computing or Money packages).