Kmart blender: built to fail?

The most likely next stop for this cheap Kmart blender: landfill. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Close up of kitchen blender components.

There’s a paragraph on page two of the instruction manual for the Anko BL9706-CB blender, that states:

Kmart blender with ingredients in it.

To prevent damage to the electric motor, the maximum operating time is 1 minute. Allow it to rest for the least 2 minutes before using it again. After 5 cycles of operation, allow the blender (electric motor) to cool down to room temperature. Allow it to cool down for approx. 30 minutes before using it again.”

So you can blend, but not too much. Clearly, the motor (and most likely the rest of the appliance) isn’t built to last.

The Kmart Facebook page champions its “Low prices for life”. The blender certainly has a low price ($29), but its life is unlikely to be long.

To find out how this $29 blender lasts in daily use, I bought one and set about making smoothies: my healthy breakfast for the foreseeable future would be a thick bowl of frozen banana and mango, spinach, yogurt and matcha powder.

How the blender performed

The seemingly impossibly low price generated a lack of confidence around the Consumer NZ office. Talk was that this cheap blender would fail quickly – and I should keep a fire extinguisher handy! At the very least, most people expected it to fail as soon as I ramped up my testing from making a daily smoothie to blatantly disregarding the warning in the manual.

Drops of green liquid on the kitchen bench.

I started by seriously over-blending a smoothie for eight minutes. The motor housing got warm (about 45°C), but the blade kept spinning. Now, after a month making five or six thick smoothies each week, the blender is still working. To be honest, I’m not surprised – if these Anko models were failing after just a month, Kmart would soon pull them from shelves.

However, it’s not all good news. In the first week the blade worked loose in its housing. Tell-tale signs were drips of a worrying green-black liquid from the base of the jug. Perhaps the Anko will hang on for a while yet – but yuk – those drips don’t fill me with hope.

No repairs for you

The blade is removeable for cleaning, so it would be a doddle to replace. If it failed on a pricier model, I’d expect a spare part to be readily available. However, buying a cheap product from a store known for cheap products means support is unlikely.

I’ve previously contacted Kmart to see if I could get spare parts for an Anko kettle. It said:

We do not offer spare parts or warranty repair service [for any kettles sold] at Kmart. It is not possible to do so, within our everyday low pricing model.”

Kmart broken part.
Anko blender's faulty part.

My blender has a 12-month warranty. I contacted Kmart customer services asking for a replacement part. The answer I received avoided the subject:

If your blender is less than 12 months old, please take it along with your receipt to your local Kmart store for an exchange or refund.

I took my blender (and proof of purchase) to my local Kmart store, explained the problem and repeated my request for a replacement part. I was told no parts were available and offered a refund. My Anko blender is toast if a part costing a few cents fails? That’s not good enough. I don’t want to junk an otherwise fine appliance because one small, easy-to-replace part has failed.

I asked Kmart what happened to faulty or unwanted appliances returned to its stores. A customer services rep told me “returned items are either refurbished or recycled for parts”.

Manufacturers, retailers and consumers have to stop this cycle of making, selling, buying and binning cheap junk.

There is a better way: repairability

For this trial, I put my usual KitchenAid blender aside. It’s at least 17 years old – I know because it still has its original UK plug and I moved to New Zealand in 2004.

Photograph of a blender's replaceable part.
KitchenAid coupling replacement.

It’s been repaired three times – I’ve replaced the blade and its seal, and a rubber coupling between the driveshaft and blade has failed twice. Each coupling fix, the latest six months ago, used a $15 part fitted in two minutes. The part is designed to be easy to replace. It protects other parts, such as the motor or driveshaft from damage, so failure doesn’t become a catastrophic problem.

Of course, my blender cost much more than $29 – the equivalent current model (the Diamond Artisan) sells for $349. But, even factoring in spare parts, and assuming it’s been in-use for 12 years (it has been stored for some of its life), it’s cost me about the price of an Anko blender each year. If an Anko blender lasted much more than a year in my kitchen, I’d be very surprised.

So I estimate that repairing my blender is likely to have saved the resources needed to make anything up to 11 additional blenders, their packaging and the transport emissions to get them here from China.

Good design costs almost nothing

Anko BL9706-CB blender.
Anko BL9706-CB blender

Designing and making products more durable and repairable means using better materials where it matters, improving quality control, and designing critical parts to be user-replaceable should they fail. A $29 blender that lasts a lifetime might be a pipe dream, but a $50 model that lasts for five or six years isn’t impossible.

The bigger problem is brands not having the desire and business model to make durability a priority, or committing to support their products after they’ve been sold.

For companies focused solely on low prices, such as Kmart, it’s cheaper and easier to replace an entire product than fix it. The few that fail within warranty hit Kmart’s bottom line, but the majority that hang on just a bit longer don’t cost them a cent. This means there’s no incentive to make a blender that lasts for 12 years. When its appliances die – it’s not Kmart’s problem.

E-waste product stewardship scheme in the works

Thankfully, change is coming. Last year the government announced electrical and electronic products (anything with batteries or a plug) as one of six priority product classes that’ll get a mandatory product stewardship scheme. That means everyone involved in making, selling and using an appliance will have to take some responsibility for dealing with it when it is no longer wanted, or it dies and becomes ‘e-waste’. The reality is, users (in other words, consumers) already pay for end of use management – whether it’s through a fee to recycle it as e-waste, or to junk it in landfill – whereas most of those who make and sell stuff (which is manufacturers, distributors and retailers) get off scot-free. A product stewardship scheme aims to fix this imbalance.

Parts of appliances in boxes.

At its simplest, a scheme means producers and distributors, such as Kmart, will likely pay a small fee for appliances they import and sell in New Zealand. Money raised will then be used to pay for e-waste collection and recycling activities, along with education and awareness of the schemes.

However, a well-designed scheme could also incentivise producers to supply more durable products and offer more after-sales support. For example, a mandatory scheme could incentivise good product design through reduced fees – if it’s built to last and the embedded resources can be safely and easily recovered then this could and should be rewarded.

Inexpensive improvements, such as making troubleshooting resources available to owners needing to fix faults, or access to consumer-replaceable spare parts, could make even a $29 blender last longer. It wouldn’t cost much for Kmart to supply a replacement blade. If doing so meant it reduced its cost of dealing with dead blenders, acting responsibly might become the more cost-effective option to choose in the long run – even for a store championing its everyday low prices.

Change won’t happen overnight. We’re a long way from seeing the end of cheap, unsupported, built-to-fail appliances, but we’re moving in the right direction.

What's Kmart doing about it?

On its website, Kmart states it’s transitioning to be part of a circular economy (an economic system that aims to reduce waste). The retailer is also committing to train staff on circular economy principles. This year it will launch a plan to provide customer access to in-store drop-off, reuse or recycling options. From July 2022, it says its bedding, towels and clothing will include washing labelling aimed at minimising water and energy use.

It’s positive that Kmart is committing to change, but its commitments push responsibility on to consumers to do the right thing.

We’ve asked Kmart to clarify what actions it is taking to make its appliances more durable and repairable.

How long should a product last?

In our latest survey, 54% of consumers agreed that “the warranty period was a good indication of how long a product will last”. I had to read that number twice, surely no-one would expect a product to fail right after its warranty expires?

Typically one or two years, the warranty is the most basic guarantee of life. It’s the period in which the manufacturer has calculated it’s economic for it to cover all repairs and replacements of faulty products. That means it’s the period in which it expects to see few failures. A company will tightly define its warranty conditions: prescribing how you are expected to use the product and what you can’t do to it without voiding its warranty.

Realistically, you should expect a product to last well beyond its warranty period.

You choose: 10 years or 10% cheaper?

For a promotion in 2020, Miele offered a 10-year warranty on most of its large appliances. It said if anything went wrong it would put it right. As an alternative, consumers were offered a 10 percent discount on the usual selling price, but with the regular two-year warranty.

Miele 10% saving program.

Many people, knowing Miele were confident enough to stand behind its product for 10 years, chose the discount. They were confident the appliance would be durable and they got a better price.

In our survey, four in five consumers strongly agreed that they’d pay more for an appliance that lasted longer. But how do you know how long an appliance is likely to last, if the warranty period isn’t a good indication?

Durability rating labels

That’s where we think manufacturers should state the expected lifetime of an appliance. Such “lifetime labels” could be a star rating for a product in a category – similar to how the food star labels, or energy efficiency stars work. If the lifetime claims were independently verified, consumers could confidently decide which is more important – price or durability.

In 2020, the European Parliament voted in favour of a new policy to “develop and introduce mandatory labelling, to provide clear, immediately visible and easy-to-understand information to consumers on the estimated lifetime and repairability of a product at the time of purchase”.

If the Anko blender came clearly labelled with a one-star lifetime rating, perhaps more consumers would look beyond its everyday low price and choose a higher rated blender that’ll last much longer.

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Member comments

Get access to comment

Timi U.
27 Mar 2021
It's impossible for a consumer to know how long a product will last.

Even if you pay more for a product there is no guarantee it will last a long time or that the company will continue to stock spare parts for it. Most companies will overhaul their models yearly or every couple of years. A blender that was reviewed highly by consumer may no longer be available and we have no way of knowing if the newer model is as good.

So even if a model is solid and will last you five years before a breakdown what happens if after five years the model isn't made anymore, there are no parts for it, and is no longer supported by anybody?

Monty A.
27 Mar 2021
Straight to the the Tip with my Anko blender

I bought the Anko $60 dollar blender thinking what an incredible bargain, for a digital blender, with lots of accessories! After only several uses it crapped out. More than being annoyed that it was not working I was thinking how it was a massive waste on the planet and that all this plastic and metal was going to be dumped straight into a big hole in our earth. "Built to last" is a very good slogan that should be a consumer catch phrase that we all should know and stand by.

Sarah W.
27 Mar 2021
Unreasonable cost of spares

I was interested to read about the performance of your Anko blender. Over the years I have had kitchen appliances from most of the major, Consumer NZ Trusted brands but now almost all have been replaced with a Kmart/Anko equivalent (espresso machine, toaster, kettle, slow cooker and food processor). None has failed and all get daily use. Many were purchased following Consumer NZ reports and recommendations. The reason for the change is that ALL the other companies (Breville, Kenwood, Russell Hobbs and Sunbeam) could supply replacement parts or spares but the cost was prohibitive and well above the value of the appliance.
Yes, ideally we would like to repair and recycle but not everyone can afford, for example, nearly $200 for a new plastic lid for a ($300) Kenwood food processor, for example. The lid for the food processor, incidentally, cracked after 13 months and although we asked for it to be replaced under guarantee or at least on the basis not having lasted as long as a machine of this value could have been expected to last, but were refused.
I think the tenor of your review is unworthy of you and devalues the faith we have in your work. You haven't given full consideration to the situation regarding spares at the current time. As Kmart have said, they are working towards the circular economy and your criticisms would be better directed at the 'Big Boys' who virtue-signal by offering spares and repairs but keep very quiet about the extortionate cost, putting them either out of reach altogether or an unwise investment in what is, by definition, a machine on its last legs.

Shayne M.
27 Mar 2021
Legal requirement to carry spares

I thought there was a legal requirement for companies to cover spares for a reasonable period. So if your blender failed after 18 months it would be reasonable to insist that K-mark provide the spare parts. if they then elect to replace the whole unit then all well-and-good. Also I am not sure they can contract out of this requirement. Consumer - please advise on both points.

Frank - Consumer staff
31 Mar 2021
Re: Legal requirement to carry spares

Hi Shayne,

If the blender from Kmart had a 12 month warranty, and you took it back with your receipt at 19 months, then Kmart might say that as the warranty has expired, Kmart won’t help. You would have to raise the Consumer Guarantees Act (CGA) with Kmart and ask for it to be assessed. Kmart cannot contract out of the CGA. Kmart could choose to repair, replace or refund the blender, assuming you haven’t caused the fault. The issue here is that it would probably be replaced, rather than repaired, adding to the landfill problem.

Kind regards,
Maggie - Consumer NZ adviser

Simonne M.
27 Mar 2021
Yes to Product Stewardship Schemes

Manufacturers, suppliers and distributors of cheap junk products need to be faced with the full costs of disposal of their products and waste products from their manufacture. This will deter them from providing cheap non-sustainable junk.
Currently they are not paying what it truly costs, with the end user and tax/rate payers picking up the tab.

Roger Cole.
27 Mar 2021
This is why we subscribe to Consumer

The article is exactly what Consumer should be doing - pointing out the down side of low priced product. To ask Consumer to "actually do some work to justify the subscriptions we are paying you" is unfair and arrogant - and suggests that the writer does not bother to read the multitude of articles ranking product and providing very useful information for members seeking to purchase such items. We have been members for over 40 years and have no complaints. If Dwayne B feels the subscription is not justified there is a very simple solution - but perhaps he cannot see it for the red mist in his eyes.

Dwayne B.
24 Mar 2021
Condescending.

Attacking Kmart for offering low-priced items to people who can't afford anything better is a cheap-shot and shows again how out-of-touch and arrogant you people really are.

Instead of going for the low-hanging fruit, why don't you actually do some work to justify the subscriptions we are paying you?

Go after large, evil, and powerful corporations like Apple, who charge an arm and a leg and still try to avoid reasonable warranty repairs.

J S.
25 Mar 2021
Great Article And Very Thought Provoking

I completely agree that Kmart and other manufacturers should take more responsibility to have their products more repairable. As for the other commenter taking exception about this article - you entirely miss the point. This isn't about being elitist, it's about sustainability and how affordable it would be for Kmart to be more sustainable with improving the repairability of their products.

Kate W.
27 Mar 2021
Makes sense

With setting up a house recently quite a few ANKO items have been purchased- only if Consumer has recommended them- and there are many ANKO items that DO make the grade. Good to know when one is not performing so thank you for pointing that out. I definitely prefer one that will last longer. It's not just the price of the item over time- it's the time and energy to take items in for repair, replace new ones. And Dwayne B- isn't this precisely what we're paying our subscription for? Pointing out the duds and figuring out the best options. I didn't understand your stance at all. And by the way- Kmart is not low hanging fruit- they may not be the size of Apple but they are definitely a large corporation that should be taken to task if providing a substandard product.