Legal

Thermomix customers claim they were forced to sign “gag orders” in order to receive a refund

Eloise Keating /

Thermomix has been accused of forcing customers to sign non-disclosure agreements in order to receive a refund.

Thermomix customers pay more than $2000 for the high-tech appliance, which combines the functions of 10 kitchen appliances to chop, blend, weigh and heat food.

Several Thermomix customers have told news.com.au of the difficulties they have experienced when attempting to get refunds, repairs or replacements of faulty Thermomix products, with claims the company demanded they sign “a gag order” in order to receive the remedy.

It’s not the first time the cult kitchen appliance brand has come under fire, with Thermomix apologising to angry customers in September 2014 for a lack of warning over the introduction of a new model of the expensive product.

One Thermomix claimed she spend months lobbying Thermomix to get a refund for her machine, which would shut down each time she tried to use it.

“They only offered me a refund after I lodged a consumer complaint with the Magistrates Court of Western Australia, outlining all the problems I’d had,” the customer said.

“Thermomix did attempt to get me to sign a gag order, but I refused. I was successful in getting a refund in the end.”

Another customer said she did sign the “gag order” because she was “sick of fighting” after suffering burns from her broken machine.

News.com.au reports the non-disclosure agreement states the details of the “settlement” between Thermomix and the customer cannot be discussed without written consent.

“You also agree not to disparage, speak ill of, or comment negatively about Thermomix of [parent company] Vorwerk, and not to take any action which is intended, or would reasonably be expected, to harm the reputation of Thermomix or Vorwerk, or lead to unwanted or unfavourable publicity,” the agreement states.

However, a spokesperson for Thermomix Australia told news.com.au confidentiality agreements form part of “standard legal practice” when legal disputes are resolved.

The spokesperson said Thermomix does not require customers to sign a confidentiality agreement when requesting a refund.

“Where a customer has asked for a refund due to a faulty with an appliance, and our technicians confirm such a fault after inspecting the appliance, we provide the customer with a refund and do not require them to sign a confidentiality agreement,” the spokesperson said.

However, a spokesperson for the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission confirmed to SmartCompany this morning the regulator is “currently considering a number of issues associated with the recall of defective Thermomix products”.

The spokesperson said the ACCC is not able to comment further at this stage.

When do companies have to offer refunds?

The entitlements of Australian consumers to refunds are outlined in the Australian Consumer Law.

If a consumer has a minor problem with a product or service under the value of $40,000, they must accept free repair from the business. However, if the business does not give the consumer a free repair in a reasonable time or is unable to address the problem, the consumer can ask for a refund or replacement.

If the problem with the product is major, including where the product is unsafe or cannot easily be fixed, the consumer is able to request a replacement or refund.

The impact on a brand

Independent brand analyst Michel Hogan told SmartCompany these is little doubt claims such as those being made against Thermomix would have a negative impact on a brand.

However, she says the more interesting question concerns the strategy behind what appears to be attempts to get consumers to keep their experiences with a brand confidential.

Hogan describes brands as a “result” of the decisions the business makes and the promises it keeps, as opposed to the words it uses to describe its products or services.

“What you say is fine, but you become what you do,” she says.

“That’s where the rubber meets the road.”

SmartCompany contacted Thermomix Australia but did not receive a response prior to publication.

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Eloise Keating

Eloise Keating is the editor of SmartCompany. Previously, Eloise was news editor at Books+Publishing, the trade press for the Australian book industry.

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