Can a vacuum owner be protected?

“Does the (Good Housekeeping) Seal mean anything?” was a question posed by Ivan, a Wise Bread reader and vacuum consumer. Having had a bad experience but now hopeful for a performs-as-promised vacuum, he wants to know if the Seal, placed on the packaging of certain products, provides any guarantees or imparts any rights to the consumer.

Here’s what happened to Ivan a couple of years ago; he:

  • purchased a vacuum cleaner from a Hoover factory store in California
  • found that the machine “didn’t perform as one would reasonably expect from reading about the ‘advanced’ features on the box” that also featured the Seal
  • attempted to return the product to the store for a refund
  • persuaded a store associate to read the Seal and solicited this response, “Yes, it does say refund or replacement for defective, but it isn’t defective.” 
  • left the store with a promise to return the next day to meet with the manager

At home, he visited the Good Housekeeping website in an attempt to learn what the Seal meant for him, the consumer, especially now that there was a dispute on what constituted “defective.” He didn’t find answers and learned that, at the time, “nowhere on the site or in its links does it actually state the complete details.”

Ivan asked for guidance in interpreting the guarantee. Here's what I did: 

  • visited the Good Housekeeping website and found a page that referenced the Seal
  • followed the “click here to receive full details of the program” link
  • never found the full details but landed on this consumer advocacy page
  • wondered if the full details were embedded in the product pages, causing me to believe that guarantees were offered not by Good Housekeeping but by consumer products companies
  • sent an email to the address associated with the Seal; sent an email and placed a phone call to the contact person listed on an auto-responder email
  • waited
  • visited the website in September
  • discovered that a new page now linked to the “full details” page, which contained information about the program and a contact email for those wishing to file complaints.

In September, I heard directly from Good Housekeeping and learned that:

  • websites were redesigned and re-launched in May 2007
  • page in question was available in August 2007 but there was an incorrect link that took visitors to the "GH to the Rescue" page
  • the link was corrected after the website techies and Seal administration staff were alerted to the problem
  • information on the Seal is in the monthly magazine

and, the program works like this: 

  • Good Housekeeping will send a complaint to the consumer via U.S. mail
  • consumers need to complete the form with the product name, date of purchase, problem with the product, etc. and send in a copy of the sales receipt and any service records (note: there is a limited warranty for two years from the date of purchase)
  • if the product comes under the scope of the Seal, Good Housekeeping will investigate the complaint and information will be shared with technical experts at the Good Housekeeping Research Institute
  • consumers may be contacted to discuss the complaint, may be asked to send in the product (at Good Housekeeping's expense), or an inspector may visit the consumer's house 
  • when/if the product is deemed defective, then the consumer will have the option of receiving a refund or a replacement 

If anyone is wondering, Ivan did get to return his vacuum through his negotiations with the store manager (he reboxed the machine and the manager marked it as unopened). Now, this Wise Bread reader is back in the market for a vacuum and wanted to know if he should trust the Seal or just move on. So, here's the answer: talk to Good Housekeeping rather than the store or manufacturer (though holding the store accountable as he did was a great plan).

Meanwhile, I am hoping that companies with websites will conduct usability testing or, if they are feeling frugal, ask their employees' friends to visit their sites and test the navigation.

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