We’re turning 60 this year! To help mark this momentous occasion, we’re revisiting some of the stories we’ve covered in Consumer’s six mighty decades in print.
We’ve come a long way since 1959. But our stock in trade hasn’t changed – whether it’s exposing dodgy dealers or giving you the lowdown on products that go the distance.
We cast our net wide in our first issue, from aspirin to the headache of Christmas tree lights. Our Post Bag page highlighted letters to our advisory service including this gem from a Christchurch member: “It seems rather unreasonable that men’s shirts are made to a standard sleeve length. My father and my husband both wear a size 4 shirt but my short husband rolls his sleeves up … while my tall father suffers from frozen wrists.”
The “sun tan in a bottle” cult hit New Zealand, but buyer beware! One product claimed the tan “fades slowly like a real suntan, will not wash off”. Unfortunately it worked a little too well. There was no way to remove the stains short of removing the skin! Other products dyed the skin in patches, leaving stains on the hands and fingernails. We couldn’t find reliable information about the active ingredients in these lotions so warned members to not hit the bottle until we could test.
Our members frequently asked us “what are the best brands of nylons to buy?” With no lab test yet developed that met our standards, we gave our hot tips for the care of nylons. We advised hot cigarette ash, sharp toenails, tight suspendering, crossed ankles if shoes had buckles or shoe plates, stiffened petticoats, car exhausts and infrequent washing were all enemies of nylon.
We warned wearers that about 98% of spectacle frames imported into New Zealand were made of inflammable plastic (cellulose nitrate). Although it was unlikely the frames would catch fire while being worn, we advised against leaving them anywhere near an open fire.
A member wrote to us concerned about the elastic in the £1 bloomers she got as a gift. The elastic became non-elastic after the third wear. Our member found the stitching very difficult to undo when she replaced the elastic and thought the elastic should be stronger. We recommended anything with an elastic waistband should only be washed in soap and dried at a low temperature.
We thought it smelt fishy when we heard about attempts to legalise artificial colouring of tinned kahawai and rename it as a more popular fish, such as trout or salmon. This is not a case where colouring would be “merely decorative”, we said. It would be downright misleading!
The results were shocking when we tested portable electric hairdryers – every model failed on electrical safety. Some had exposed live parts and many were extremely noisy. The popularity of hairdryers had boomed in the past two years and we thought a standard was urgently needed.
Members were disgruntled about the state of their “shark & tatties”. Some even wanted standards set to ensure their weekly takeaway met expectations. We said this was unlikely to happen and consumers needed to vote with their feet to show the local chippy they weren’t happy.
In 1967, manufacturers didn’t have to mark cosmetic containers with pesky details such as weight and volume. We investigated several containers of cosmetic cream, cutting them in half and finding many had a double wall. These cosmetics were dummy-packaged so consumers were misled into thinking there was more product than there really was.
A 17-year-old was sold $326 (that’s more than $3000 in today’s prices!) of linen by a door-to-door salesperson. She was persuaded to sign the order and taken to her savings bank to withdraw the deposit. We weren’t impressed with this type of pushy behaviour. We urged consumers to be extremely cautious when dealing with an unknown caller.
We’ve come across many products claiming weight loss without effort, but the “Magic Button” stood out. Simply wrap an elastic belt arrangement around your midriff and press a small black woolly square to “see inches disappear instantly”. It also came with a book of exercises and the user was told to measure the abdomen after exercising “while keeping it taut”. Thankfully, there was a money-back guarantee if your unwanted inches hadn’t disappeared in 10 days.
Hearing aids were a pricey purchase, ranging from $50 to $200 (that’s $800 to $3300 in today’s prices). Our mystery shop found some retailers used pressure tactics and one used an audiometer in its hearing test that was practically useless – it was out by more than 40 decibels! We urged consumers to try several models before buying and not to forget the Social Security hearing aid subsidy ($26 – $428 in today's prices).