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Defective product, worse customer service @Panasonic Australia

Have you dealt with Panasonic.
If you have not, recommend that you steer clear of their products.

Their brand message is “A better life, a better world”.

That sounds very responsible.

It is a same their customer services team cannot back this.

Trust me when I say you will have a better life if you do not purchase their products.

Please share your thoughts.

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Welcome Lena! What exactly was your problem with? TV, Air-con etc., and the nature of the problem? What remedies did Panasonic offer / not offer? This will help us address this better.

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Hi Zackarii
The product was a fridge - the Panasonic 547L PrimeFresh French door. It was just 6 months old, we bought it in December 2018 and it failed in June 2019. To date, we have not received any compensation from Panasonic - yes this is now January 2020.

The “repair” process
Panasonic could not provide a service repairer till that Wednesday 18 June. That was 2 days after and only because we pressed the urgency. The repairer, a
contractor from Panasonic, came and diagnosed the issue on Wednesday 18 June. He said the condenser fan was not working at all.

So the condenser fan is the part that keeps the fridge refrigerated . A reasonable person would consider that this is an
essential part for a refrigerator and such components should immediately, if not readily be available, from a fridge manufacturer.

Well this was not the case with Panasonic, we were told that 1) the warranty claim had to be approved and 2) then the part would be
ordered. I was told by Panasonic that this process would take at least a week.
The service repairer did not have any parts with him or available to him Panasonic.

Panasonic has an obligation to keep spare parts readily available. This is part of the Australian Consumer Law. There is a statutory guarantee that when you purchase a product the manufacturer or importer must provide spare parts and repair facilities for a reasonable time after purchase.

My issues is with:

  • the lack of parts availability;
  • the time it took to repair; AND

The fact that, given the nature of the defect, an objective person would take the view that this was a “major problem”.

We asked Panasonic to provide a replacement fridge, they said no, we were only entitled to a repair. The repair took 2 weeks. The same fridge was available for same day delivery by Harvey Norman. Panasonic refused - they took no steps to help us mitigate any future loss as a result of the defect. For example, school lunch orders (we have 3 children under 12).

Panasonic’s position has been that we are only entitled to a refund of the value of the items which perishes, They asked me to go back to the place where I shopped and get receipts. From a common sense perspective, people do not always shop in the same place and/or always but their goods at the same time. The Vegemite in my fridge may have been there for 3 months while the chicken was bought the day before. Panasonic said they could not provide a refund without a receipt. They also said they would not provide any compensation for cost incurred as a result of the defect, for example, the cost of buying ice to keep groceries cool.

Their latest position from their customer service manager (as at today) is this:

  • no compensation without a receipt for each item that perished; and
  • that we should have gone to the retailer for recourse.

Clearly, Panasonic have no understanding of their regulatory obligations. Nor do they have any empathy and clearly no interest in process improvement.

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I dont think Panasonic keep spare parts. IN some cases they wont supply them. I bought a superzoom camera from the US. It came with a charger but I had to get a gadget to take the US plug. Did so, got annoyed and tried to get an australian charger from Panasonic. I wanted to buy it, I was not expecting a free replacement. Oh no, they said, we dont carry that part. I suggested that was a bad idea because these things break, and I was given pretty short shrift. I bought one on ebay, a non-genuine part, but it worked. I still buy Panasonic gear but only when its going cheap.

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hi Sue, they are supposed to keep spare parts, that’s the problem. All good manufacturers do and all good repairers know that Panasonic take short cuts. on top of that, they play hardball with the consumer when they are down and out. You’ve already bought the product right - too bad, now you’re stuck and they control the resolution. That is what happened to my family.

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Your story has been most instructive. Not a good look by Panasonic.

You still can go to the retailer who under the ACL ‘owns’ the problem. Considering the elapsed time and the reality it seems to have been fixed your further remedies may be diluted, but not necessarily.

I go to the manufacturer or the retailer, case dependent. If I go to the manufacturer and they knock me back I immediately send a formal ‘Letter of Complaint’ per the ACL to the retailer. Retailers have more leverage with a manufacturer than any single consumer, and if unsuccessful may offer remedies for their own goodwill. One might not always get what one wants as they want it, but one’s rights and remedies under the ACL are rarely ignored. Unfortunately there are still cases where a consumers last option is legal action if the manufacturer and retailer are not adhering to their obligations; that is costly at best and must be weighed against the likelihood of winning a case vs the value of the product or service involved.

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The ACCC states that… have spare parts and repair facilities reasonably available for a reasonable period of time, unless the consumer is advised otherwise.

It would be interesting to see what reasonably available means. Does it mean it is reasonably expected that they would be available locally (or somewhere nationally) or that a business needs to have spare parts for the products which are sold, even if these are only available internationally.

I suspect that many businesses would make decisions based on the popularity of the item being sold. An example could be an exotic car manufacturer which sells only a few cars each year. …should they have every spare parts in a vehicle, locally in Australia, just in case a particular spare is needed. One possibly would think that such would be unreasonable of the manufacturer and as long as a spare part could be imported soon after it is needed, this would suffice. Storing every spare part for vehicle (or every product model sold) would be expensive and ultimately costs would be passed through to the consumer in the new product pricing. Some manufacturers reduce the number of spares being sold by using the same parts on different models (for cars, this would be like using the same motor in different models).

The above can also apply to appliances, even of popular brands such as Panasonic, where a model being sold is in low numbers (not overly popular) and the same parts are not spread over a number of models.

Now, if say Panasonic didn’t have any of a particular part in stock (either a decision not to stock it in Australia or if say the Australian stock had run out), a company should determine if the wait would unreasonably inconvenience a customer.

While a replacement of a part may be seen as a minor fault under the ACL (which is possibly the case in relation to your fridge), this could easy become a major fault if the consumer was overly inconvenienced waiting for a repair. In the case of a fridge, most households can’t do without one for more than a few days without causing major inconvenience or disruption. In your case, it may have been prudent for Panasonic to either replace the firdge outright with a new one that works…or offer a temporary loan fridge until such time your fridge could be repaired (a bit like a car dealer offering a loan car until one’s own car is repaired). It appears that Panasonic did not do this for some reason or it was not negotiated as an option to alleviate the inconvenoence caused).

Compensation should be reasonably available without proof of purchase of original goods been provided. Reasonable proof could be in the form of photographs of the contents of the fridge and receipts showing the replacement costs of the items (note: Panasonic may not replace non-perishable items some may store in the fridge).

Did Panasonic explain the process to seek compensation like that I have outlined (photos and replacement receipts?) or was it assumed that original receipts for the items in the fridge needed to be provided?

Also check with your insurance companies as some insurance covers include loss of food items as a result of a fridge fault. This may be another avenue to explore. Also see what evidence your insurer would need as this would slso seem reasonable in relation to seeking compensation from Panasonic.

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Many years ago it was widely claimed in the electronics industry, including by Philips when they manufactured radiocommunications equipment in Australia, that manufacturers and importers had to supply spare parts for 7 years after a particular product was no longer sold.

Prior to the Trade Practices Act, there were also claims that importers had to hold a certain value of spare parts for the electronics products that they sold in Australia but I cannot comment on the veracity of this claim.

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7 years seems more like a period to keep financial records.

I suspect that most businesses would keep spares until their stock after discontinuing a model runs out (maybe they might restock spares/heavily demanded consumables if they beleive that they will be needed as it would be a good revenue stream).

Keeping for 7 years if it is true could be possible if they are available anywhere in the world…or recovered/reconditioned from second hand market.

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I would expect, as a minimum, it would cover parts for the duration of the warranty for the last unit sold through their normal distribution channels, but should be nothing less than the ‘half life’ of the product genre.

That it is referenced but undefined was likely to satiate the manufacturers statistical modelling for failures (eg If a part is not expected to break for 20 years they obviously would not want to stock them), although the manufacturers may be taking advantage of the lack of clarity for their own purposes.

Last decade we bught a new Hyundai. It got rear ended and there were no exhausts in Australia. Why? They were stainless and would last forever. Nobody thought about bringing any in for smash repairs, at least not until. They airfreighted one quick smart, and well done to them for that.

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Hi PHB

The laws in Australia were changed in 2011 to make sure manufacturers in Australia could not weasel out of obligations by pushing obligations back solely on the retailer or reseller. I understand your points but Panasonic put their hand up to deal with the matter and dealt with it poorly at best.

In relation to evidence, I agree, reasonable evidence such photographs should be sufficient. I provided photos of the items that were thrown out. The customer service manager told me that this would not be enough. If I have taken a photo of a packet of mince that I then need to go to Coles/Woolworths and a get a receipt for that packet of mince so they know what it cost.

If only they even suggested something reasonable, I would have been happy.

Thank you for the advice re the insurance, this may help. However, I am not trying to double dip and I do not see why my claim history should be affected by this.

There has been some reporting on what “reasonably available” is. However, in this case, we are talking about a fridge we had for 6 months that is still available for purchase at major retailers at full price.

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It appears that they are after the replacement cost rather than than the cost of the original purchase.

If you has purchased say prepacked mince even if it was on special), if you return to the same supermarket they would compensate for the cost to replace the mince at the time that the replacement occurs (where the mince may be full price). Such would seem reasonable and fair as prices do change…and it appears that they we willing to compensate like for like (even if the price was more or even less at the time of replacement).

It may be worth qualifying/checking this with Panasonic so that you can move forward with them. Once this is confirmed and the fridge is working again, then replace the items in question and send Panasonic the replacement cost invoices/receipts. Make sure that you don’t ‘exploit’ the situation and only replace those items you have photo evidence, as this may give them grounds to refuse payment of compensation.