S’well bottles: a hit or miss on quality?
Back in August 2011, I wrote a post on brain sugar about a new water bottle that I had recently come across and was very excited about: S’well. The design, function, and charitable contribution of the bottle and company were all things that really impressed me. I became a big fan and loudspeaker for S’well – but that didn’t last long.
At the time, I purchased two bottles for myself and my fiancé, and seeing how much I loved my bottle, a few friends of mine as well as my fiancé’s mother also purchased bottles. We live in Canada, and sourced them from a local distributor – particularly as at the time of my first order, S’well wasn’t shipping to Canada yet.
Initially, the bottle was everything I read it to be. It kept my iced water cold, and hot water hot for 24 and 12 hours. But after a few months of use, I noticed my bottle would get very hot to the touch when I put hot water in it, and the water itself become cool in a matter of one to two hours. A long cry from the 12 it once supported. Cold water resulted in condensation on the outside – which is the opposite of what should be happening – and didn’t stay cold. Somewhere along the line, my bottle no longer insulated. (Note that true to the recommended product care, I did not put the bottle through the dishwasher, or leave it immersed in water. Only the gentlest hand-washing, rinse, and air dry for my bottle!)
I contacted S’well, who were kind and gracious and diagnosed the problem to be likely a rare instance where the vacuum seal had been compromised. They promptly sent me a new bottle.
Within weeks, my fiancé’s mom’s bottle also started showing signs of what mine had. This was worrying as I had just ordered several more bottles as holiday gifts, and now, out of our original order, two of the three bottles we’d ordered had broken down. It didn’t seem to be as rare an issue as we thought.
She also contacted S’well to report her problem and to see what could be done. The answer this time was nothing. S’well no longer supported bottles not purchased directly through them. She would have to contact the retailer directly.
As the creator and seller of a highly innovative product, I was surprised to hear that S’well had implemented a new policy not to be responsible for bottles not purchased directly through their website. It would appear that they overlooked that customers don’t see the lines differentiating between retailer, distributor, and manufacturer. Especially for products that are innovative, when problems arise, only the manufacturer brand that is on the product matters.
For myself, now having been informed of this new policy and having had two of three bottles lose their insulation on me, I am unable to purchase S’well products with confidence anymore. Particularly if I see S’well at a retailer or other local shop and it’s more convenient to purchase there than to have one shipped, I just won’t risk the trouble. After all, if anything went wrong, I would need to embark on the tedious process of going back to my retailer and working through resolution with them or worse, be left with an expensive, broken water bottle.
Not the best customer experience for me, but also not the best commerce “empire building” result for S’well. (An aside: they have a member of the team whose title is actually “Empire Builder”.)
As a consumer, if you’re interested in S’well, they do make a good product. But like all products, sometimes, they break down. If you get one, make sure you only purchase through their website, and hopefully the bottle seal stays in tact for you.
As a manufacturer and retailer that has built a brand on quality and social good – this new policy is really misaligned to that original brand, strategy, and value system. If I were S’well, I’d reconsider. Corporate social responsibility and good management are also about the policies and practices in place that provide the best for your customers as well as the world at large. Companies that treat their customers with care and reward customer loyalty have much to gain in the long run. Even if these practices are more costly in the short term.
Just my two cents.