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Avoiding the internet bandits – the perils of buying a hot tub online

We’ve analysed the serious dangers of purchasing poor quality ‘bargain’ hot tubs from websites that use social media hype to drive sales.

Throughout the last decade the booming development of online shopping sites has ensured that waiting until the weekend to hit the road and go shopping is now a thing of the past. At our fingertips there are 24/7 ‘shop windows’ from both national and international companies that are providing us with the capability to browse at the time of our choosing and then with just a quick click allow us to make purchases of products that are then conveniently delivered to our own homes.

This convenient ‘open all hours’ shopping experience may be ideally suited to all manner of small-ticket consumable products, but anybody that has had a bad experience trying to return faulty electronic goods to an online platform will know that it can spell frustration and disaster in certain circumstances.

Whilst buying online may be appropriate for purchasing entry-level inflatable hot tubs and paddling pools costing a few hundred pounds at most, it is certainly not recommended for more considerable investments involving thousands of pounds of your hard-earned income and savings, especially in the case of hot tubs, where water and electricity make unlikely bedfellows if strict safety regulations have not been observed during manufacture.

Industry warnings

Despite warnings from respective industry representatives, hundreds of unsuspecting consumers are finding out to their cost that there are many dangers of purchasing a hot tub in this way, as less-than-reputable traders hide behind the facia of anonymous registered offices and glossy websites with constant fictitious sale offers, whilst peddling shoddy ‘grey imports’ that turn out to be very poor quality and even dangerous fire hazards in some cases.

“Unfortunately for trusting UK consumers, where large sums of money are involved in any market, a small dishonest underbelly of suppliers always seems to get ahead of the authorities and try to scam unsuspecting buyers; the hot tub industry is no different it is sad to say, especially when they can hide behind the facia of slick websites and social media profiles,” testifies Nick Clamp, WhatSpa?’s Editor-in-Chief.

A general word of caution applies here. If you cannot identify the provenance of a hot tub model from the website of a trader and trace it to a trusted manufacturer of good repute, it’s advisable to do more research and ask some searching questions about where it was manufactured and what quality assurance standards have been observed in its production.

In particular, before you commit to purchase, ensure that a full delivery, installation and commissioning, and water care training service is included in the price, as opposed to ‘kerbside delivery’ where you will be responsible for moving and installing an appliance that can weigh up to half a tonne! Also ask for warranty details in writing and ensure that parts as well as labour call-out charges are covered for at least 12-24 months.

Manufacturer traceability

Sadly, there also seems to be a growing trend for some online retailers to offer products typically manufactured in emerging economies, but then claim they are manufactured in the UK, North America, Canada or Europe, which may mislead customers into thinking they are buying a product from one country when it is actually from somewhere entirely different, where quality control and manufacturing standards can be far less exacting.

If you do your due diligence and purchase a quality hot tub from a trusted brand, not only will it give you many years of reliable service, it will also maintain a strong residual value should you ever wish to upgrade or sell it on. You are also guaranteed continuity of parts going forward so that it can be kept in great working order for decades if well serviced and maintained.

By stark contrast, some of the grey imports that are available are generally only lasting a couple of years because, despite looking great in the pictures on the website, the model has been manufactured very cheaply using poor materials and unrecognisable fittings, pumps or heaters that cannot be replaced. From the moment that you hand over your hard-earned cash, products like this are literally devoid of value and will even cost you money to cut up and take away when they finally stop working and can’t be fixed.

Trusted reviews

Treat glowing testimonials placed on company’s websites and social media pages with an element of scepticism as they can be unauthentic or edited, and any negative feedback from disgruntled customers can easily be removed from social media feeds. WhatSpa? has even seen reports of disgruntled clients being ‘blocked’ from social media pages to prevent them from adding feedback that is deemed by the company to be potentially damaging, even though the complaints are valid.

For more trustworthy sources of ‘social proof’ look out for reputable third party review websites like Trustpilot, Reviews.co.uk and Feefo, who’s reviews and star ratings cannot be edited or deleted by the supplier. If a spa retailer is registered with any of these platforms, they will generally display their star rating on their website but you can also search their database by visiting the rating company’s websites.

Struck off

The perils of purchasing from hot tub ‘web shops’ have been highlighted recently following complaints of poor products and service by customers of Hot Price Tubs, which was incorporated in July 2016 by company director Dean Morley under the company name HOTPRICETUBS FR LTD. The online business was later dissolved by compulsory strike-off by Companies House in January 2018.

Hundreds of Hot Price Tubs customers were reported online as never gaining complete satisfaction and were left with products that quickly had major faults occurring upon delivery or within months, without the provision of warranties promptly being honoured. Consumers were then left scrambling to claim their money back via their finance schemes or credit card providers before Hot Price Tubs was officially dissolved.

After problems fulfilling orders occurred, an online news article by Gazettelive.co.uk reported that to help ease the backlog two new North East factories were established in Hartlepool to produce hot tub shells and fit components under the London Spas brand.

Alarmingly, one of the reader comments after the article states: ‘Our hot tub caught fire…I had to take them to court to get our money back’.

Reviewers on Yell.com urged consumers to avoid Hot Price Tubs after proclaiming it to be ‘the worst company in the world’. One review stated: ‘They ignore all phone calls…They take your money and are never heard of again.’

On TrustPilot Dale McGleenon wrote: ‘I was given a replacement and told in writing by Dean the owner that the replacement would come with a new 3 year warranty. Fast forward another 9 months and the replacement hot tub’s acrylic shell starts to bubble…I am told the warranty has expired…Be aware that the owner has another shell company he has created called Tubs2U’.

Dissolved service

Dangers of hot tub ‘web shop’ purchasing were also illustrated a few short years ago after online retailing operation Danz Spas brought the curtain down on its activities after announcing that it had ceased trading and was in the process of appointing a liquidator.

Thanks to celebrity endorsements and low-budget options, Danz Spas had tasted the sweet success of gaining a share of the online market over the course of a decade, but the tide turned and former favourable online reviews were overtaken by sour criticism about poor customer service, delivery of incorrect products, and faults not being rectified.

Disgruntled customers of the company, launched in 2006 by Daniel Thomas, were forced to report poor post-sales service after forking out thousands of pounds for problematic products.

On her ‘Google Review’ a clearly frustrated Danz Spas customer Emily Payton wrote: ‘Terrible customer service. My spa is just over a year old and the heater has broken. Called the company three times to try and speak to somebody. Call centre promised to get someone from technical to call me back and still no call back. Very frustrating. Pay a bit more for your spa and go with a company who have good customer care and will provide support post sale!’

Safety concerns

It wouldn’t be so bad if all online retailers abided by EU Distance Selling legislation and ethically offered good quality, reliable products with a rock-solid warranty, but the WhatSpa? editorial team has been alerted to the tactics of a small number of web-only retailers that hide behind slick websites, but offer dangerously sub-standard hot tubs that do not comply with technical safety standards.

“The worst part is that you can’t tell if a hot tub is built to technical safety and CE standards by looking at photographs and videos on websites,” testifies Nick Clamp, WhatSpa?’s Editor-in-Chief.

“Often these products look great on the surface, but the danger lurks beneath the cabinetry and manifests itself in plumbing that can pose entrapment safety risks, and equipment and electronics that are not fit for purpose.

“That’s without taking into account the risk to your capital when buying one of these sub-standard ‘grey imports’ that cannot be serviced or repaired and end up being a short-term liability rather than a long-term lifestyle asset to be enjoyed,” revealed Nick.

Bandit victims

Despite major campaigns from manufacturers and consumer warnings from trade organisations such as BISHTA (British and Irish Spa & Hot Tub Association) and respected industry representatives, there are still some unsuspecting consumers who are finding out to their considerable cost that there are many dangers of purchasing a hot tub online.

Every year we come across atrocious examples of poor quality hot tubs that are dangerous and unfit for purpose, which have been purchased by British homeowners. Most of the time these hot tubs, purchased in good faith from unscrupulous online suppliers, simply fail to work and are then scrapped. Then there are those that are manufactured so poorly that they are almost inevitably going to cause injuries and even catch fire.

Even though there are many examples of terminal atrocities that have been uncovered by industry experts there is still the temptation to try and gain a ‘hot tub bargain’ from an online source; rather than gain the peace of mind from a trusted showroom dealer who will provide models with warranties that guarantee thousands of pounds of hard-earned savings are not going to be washed down the drain – literally – or pose a serious risk to the health of you and your family.

Purchasing care

Hot tub technician trainer and 1Stop Spas Managing Director Chris Brady, who is a specialist retailer for the USA manufactured American Whirlpool and Marquis brands, works closely with BISHTA and has his own horrific fire damage evidence to deter those who may be thinking of online purchasing.

Chris urges consumers to think very carefully before attempting to gain any ‘bargain’ from a hot tub ‘web shop’. He believes that the only way to guarantee satisfaction and safe hot tub use is to purchase from respected hot tub showrooms and is so committed to the campaign of driving out ‘cowboy dealers’ that he has recently launched a SpaTech Training scheme to ensure ‘internet bandits’ do not take advantage of unsuspecting ‘web shop’ customers.

From his Lincolnshire base, Chris has linked up with the Association of Pool & Spa Professionals (APSP) and BISHTA to launch the SpaTech Training scheme. His aim is to deter ‘cowboy’ hot tub retailers from gaining a foothold in the market by convincing consumers to seek out dealers who have gained the highest levels of training designed for the British hot tub market.

“We have collected evidence, including horrific fire damage pictures, to prove that there is still a problem of poorly manufactured hot tubs being purchased online and being delivered without any qualified instruction on how to install them and use them safely,” reported Chris.

Fire starter

Chris has recently gained horrific evidence of what dangers poor quality hot tubs can pose, from a client whose previous hot tub, bought online, proved to be poorly manufactured, and just dropped off at the kerbside, without specialist installation and hot tub tuition. After a few weeks, it caught fire while the owner was at work and resulted in fire crews having to be called out and prevent the fire spreading into the home.

“The hot tub owner was at work when he got a call from a neighbour saying that the hot tub had caught fire and was burning the guttering and windows of the home,” reported Chris.

“If the fire crews had got there later it could have been an even worse case scenario. The fire could have burnt through the window frames and caused major fire damage in the home. Thankfully this was not the case, but it illustrates what can happen when you purchase poor quality hot tubs.

“We have obtained pictures from this person because they want us to show other people what dangers lurk beneath inferior hot tubs that are not manufactured by respected and established companies with a long history in the market.”

Imitation awareness

As part of its aim to raise awareness of the importance of seeking out a trusted hot tub dealership and eradicate the problem of consumers being deceived by bogus retailers, Jacuzzi has been running its ‘Beware of imitations’ marketing strategy for a number of years.

Joint partner of Jacuzzi dealership Euphoria Lifestyle Mike Robinson has an award-winning company website, which has been bestowed with Gold Award recognition from BISHTA, and knows only too well how it can help to increase sales. Yet he still believes that the online environment is fraught with ‘net dangers’ and is causing unsuspecting consumers to seek cheap models from dubious ‘web shop’ suppliers. These are then usually worthless within months, rather than lasting many years.

“Even though most people we speak to in our showroom eventually do purchase quality hot tubs from us or other showroom dealers; there are still those who speak with us and ignore all of our advice and try to get an online bargain,” divulged Mike.

“The trouble is, once most people have a bad experience with a high-ticket hot tub product from a ‘web shop’ they are not likely to then go out and purchase a quality hot tub from a showroom dealership.

“It is worrying, but hopefully consumers who read the features by WhatSpa? and see awareness campaigns by BISHTA and brands such as Jacuzzi will think twice before risking their money on an online hot tub purchase that could be worthless junk not long after delivery.”

Research and rights

Even though WhatSpa? would always strongly caution against purchasing a hot tub online, there is a great deal of Internet information that can be researched about retailers and the world’s leading hot tub manufacturers before visiting reputable showrooms.

Views of users in product reviews or testimonials may provide peace of mind for you or your partner ahead of splashing out a large sum of your savings, while sites such as our very own whatspa.co.uk provide an independent launch pad of valuable guidance for your online research of products and new features that will steer you in the right direction to maximise your hot tub knowledge to achieve the appropriate wellness and relaxation capabilities for your particular health requirements.

This homework and subsequent knowledge of the market will provide you with confidence when you visit hot tub showrooms, and will ensure that dealers can guide you further with specific advice on your personal health and lifestyle requirements and hot tub brand choices, rather than starting from scratch and having to explain all the facets of the hot tub manufacturing and wellness capabilities. It will also help to build a relationship with your chosen dealership for future water treatment purchases, or servicing requirements, which will enhance your enjoyment of your hot tub by ensuring it is always working in tip-top condition.

For those that still want to take the gamble and purchase big-ticket items online, it should be noted that you are covered by the same Statutory Distance Selling Regulations that apply to buying from your home via telesales or mail order. A key element is the right to a cooling off period, which most traders usually allow 14 days for, and a refund in the event that you are not satisfied with the hot tub.

Another aspect of these regulations is that consumers purchasing products online have the right to clearly defined information before placing an order, as well as a complete refund if products or services are not delivered by an agreed date, or within 30 days of the order being registered.

Online shoppers who make credit card payments should also have the peace of mind extra protection against the seller for breach of contract if the need arises following goods being faulty or not being supplied. This policy could prove to be vital if the online trader goes out of business and it applies to goods valued at £100 or more but under the £30,000 price tag for a single item. It applies even if your credit card has been used for a deposit payment.

Immediate action

Notify your supplier as soon as you believe you have received faulty goods and this should be done via phone, email or mail, while making a note of the date, time and name of the person you spoke to. Also retain written or printed records of emails and copies of correspondence.

Whenever you want to make an online purchase, you should also firstly check to see if the online company has a secure and encrypted method of payment and is approved by leading independent bodies such as TrustUK. Additional security for your purchases, meanwhile, can be gained by registering to online fraud protection like the ‘Verified by Visa’ scheme.

It should also be noted that registered companies with a website are legally required to have their company number and registered address displayed on their website. You can confirm that the website you are looking to purchase products from is a credible one by utilising the free Companies House Webcheck Service at www.companieshouse.gov.uk/info