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S’well bottles: a hit or miss on quality?

S'well bottles: a hit or miss on quality?
Swell_bottles

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.

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54 Comments Post a comment
  1. Sarah Kocmond #

    Please accept my apology for any misunderstanding this may have caused you. As the S’well Helpful Team Manager, I oversee the day to day interactions with customers to ensure that every one is a Happy S’well Customer. I simply wanted to clarify that (as was explained to your fiancé’s mother) S’well Bottle works closely with all our retailers to resolve any and all problems that may arise from a defective product. You are correct that S’well Customer Service policy has changed. Effective January 1, 2012, S’well Bottle handles returns and exchanges directly with customers making a purchase from our online store. Another change in our policy is that dishwasher use (please note, S’well bottles are not dishwasher safe) will null and void our guarantee of product performance. We have determined that 9 times out of 10, failed vacuum seals are a result of a customer running the bottle through the dishwasher.
    I certainly hope that your finacé’s mother has contacted the original retailer to begin this process. I personally will quickly resolve this, working in tandem with them, to get her a replacement as necessary. I appreciate hearing from customers who let us know when things are not right. In the future, please contact me directly at helpful@swellbottle.com so I might resolve any misunderstandings and ensure you remain a Happy S’well Customer.

    February 3, 2012
    • vivve #

      Hello Sarah,

      Thank you for your reply. I appreciate you taking the time to write me, and just wanted to clarify a few things that may not have been apparent in my original blog post.

      All in all, I posted about my experiences with S’well, not to complain about the customer service, but to correct the original recommendation I had made directing readers to retailers, and second to comment on the new policy itself in relation to S’well’s alignment to social responsibility.

      I was actually very impressed with the customer service I received, but was disappointed by the shift in policy that prevented your teams from continuing that level of customer focus and seamless, pain-free issue resolution for all of your products, rather than just the percentage of those sold through your online store.

      In regards to the recommended product care – I’m afraid that for both myself and my fiancé’s mother, our bottles were the 10% of defective product cases that were not the result of dishwasher use. My bottle was only ever rinsed, hand-washed, and air-dried, never immersed in water or put through a dishwasher, and I know that my mother-in-law-to-be did the same thing. If you have any other insight into what may have been the cause of our unfortunate problems, it’d be tremendously helpful. I’m sure you can appreciate how difficult it is to have the same level of enthusiasm and confidence in the product when we did everything by the book, and the product still failed to perform according to design.

      Finally, while I can appreciate that S’well works closely with retailers, this process is invisible to customers, and frankly, is an expectation. It is often an aggravation and disappointment to have to contact any manufacturer at all when a nearly-new product breaks down, but to get passed on and to have to start another process to get help from another “man in the foodchain” is even more disappointing.

      In the case of our momma, she did originally reach out directly to S’well at the email you had kindly provided; however, was politely told S’well could not help her and that she needed to contact the retailer directly. The end. That said, as of this afternoon, she has finally happily reached resolution after 30 days, 13 emails, several phone calls, and one very helpful Lavish & Lime agent who kindly provided her with his personal email to help resolve her long chain of frustration and misconnected emails. In her words: it’s a good thing she’s retired!

      I have no doubt that the majority of your products are well-made and function as they were designed to do; however, it’s in the strange occurrence of when they do not that the policies in place and practices around how to assist your customers matter most.

      Best regards,

      Vivian

      February 3, 2012
    • Nancy #

      I certainly hope the situation with the S’well bottles have been remedied by now. I work in a retail store that has started selling these bottles. Our store’s reputation is at a risk here because we have been touting these bottles as the best insulated bottles you can find. Now we are a bit skeptical.

      November 10, 2012
      • Hi Nancy,

        I hope so too! When the bottles are fully operational, they are really fantastic. It’s just unfortunate that if the seal breaks, they stop working entirely. It has been some time since I last bought my bottles and had the issues I had – I hope they’ve taken a look at the engineering and design behind the seal again and rectified it.

        Vivian

        November 11, 2012
  2. Rohani #

    I too am disappointed with these bottles and won’t be recommending them. I had one used it three times, no dish washing and only rinsing with soapy water as per the instructions found it to be defective. Got a replacement through the supplier here (Australia) and the same thing happened. It was implied that I used it in a dishwasher but there isn’t one in this house. Am wondering if it’s just a batch of pink ones that are dodgy or just the batch that this supplier received.

    June 2, 2012
    • I haven’t ordered any additional bottles since either, or been able to recommend to any friends. I just would hate for it not to work for someone, or worse, for them to have to go through the trouble we did. It could very well be the batch, but it’s difficult to know for sure. We had ordered a number of them in different colours, and several of them had the same problem. I’ve stopped putting hot water in my replacement bottle for fear it’s the potential cause of the problem with the seal.

      August 2, 2012
  3. Matt #

    I too have the same experience. As soon as i got the bottle i tested it with my insulated Kleen Kanteen [KK]. after 2 hours, the water wasn’t cold anymore. With the KK ice cold water would last for hours!! Put a few ice cubes in the KK and it will last 24 hours. Buying the S’well was a big disappointment. One would be more satisfied with a cheap plastic insulated mug made in China as the S’well didn’t even perform half as well as the KK.

    I’m from Australia too, so maybe its the batch? i don’t know. But if i were to spend again, it would be on a KK or some brand that is more or less at PAR with the KK.

    August 9, 2012
  4. Matt #

    Now i forgot to mention that when i used my S’well bottle to hold hot water, it quickly became uncomfortably hot to hold specially in the neck area.

    August 9, 2012
    • Thanks for your comment, Matt. It’s good to know we weren’t the only ones. I hope they’ve solved the problem going forward. Hopefully, it was a batch problem. I live in Canada – so the batch we got seemed to have been flawed also.

      August 15, 2012
  5. Anonymous #

    I am having the same problem as everyone else, plus it leaks. The o-ring in the lid seems to wear out quickly. I ordered 200 and would not recommend this bottle to anyone.

    August 24, 2012
    • Wow – you ordered 200!? That’s awful you had such issues with your bottles.

      August 24, 2012
  6. Anonymous #

    I’m grateful for this thread. I saw one today in SF and almost bought one, but wanted to check it out. On their website, I was dissappointed to see they are made in China. They look good, and like the slimness.

    October 4, 2012
    • vivve #

      They’re beautiful bottles. When they work well, they’re great. It’s just too bad it’s been so hit and miss. I hope it’s something they resolve. Thanks for posting! It’s nice to know when a post is helpful!

      October 10, 2012
      • Natalia #

        Hit and miss and not the best customer service. Too pricey for these issues and lack of commitment/accessibility from customer service. They do look great and feel great, that is true.

        January 8, 2014
  7. Corrie #

    hi, wanted to comment as i have contacted s’well earlier this morning about my bottle. purchased in August 2012 in Napa, CA area. LOVED the bottle for first couple of “ice cold water” months and now this past week have noticed it’s decline. it is starting to show sweat around the neck area of bottle and not keeping the water as cold as it had previously :( disappointing. also, the bottle has been only hand-washed and was never dropped or dented. i have never used for hot drinks, but have rinsed it in very hot water when cleaning???

    November 5, 2012
  8. Anonymous #

    I’ve had my S’Well bottle for over a year and it’s fantastic. I’ve had no problems and I do take care of it per their instructions on the website. Over the summer the ice water in the bottle stayed cold for days when I kept it in my hot car. AND they don’t sweat on the outside! Huge plus. My daughter has used her pink bottle at school every day for over a year and still loves it.

    Obviously there may be an occasional issue, but it sounds like their customer service is great too. From everything else I’ve seen, heard and read, and in my personal experience using them, these bottles are great and I’d highly recommend them.

    December 2, 2012
  9. Sofia #

    Greetings from Sweden!

    I got a S’well Bottle as a graduation gift in June and has been using it daily to keep my coffee warm at work. So far, I’m loving it. Easy to clean (I use water and baking soda/baking powder), awesome design and keeps my beloved coffee warm. It takes me 2 hours to get to work, and when i drink my first cup (2,5 hours after making the coffee) it still tastes fresh. It keeps the coffee boiling hot for 6-8 hours, then it slowly cools down (have never tested for exactly how long it stays warm since my coffee never lasts more than 8 hours, mohehehe). Super satisfied! And I have never experienced any leakage, nor the hot neck.

    I do recommend this bottle to friends and family, and would without doubt say that this is the best thermos (do you say Thermos in english?) I’ve ever had.

    I should mention that I haven’t been exactly careful with it, it has been cleaned in the dishwasher, I have dropped it, my horse has tampered with it and I’ve left it at work full of coffee during the holidays (not intentionally).

    So, conclusion, I love S’well bottles. Hopefully y’all find a S’well that will meet you expectations, ’cause I surely did.

    Love, Sofia in Sweden (yes, we do ride on polarbears to school).

    December 16, 2012
  10. Anonymous #

    Thanks for your insight here, I was about to buy this, but have decided otherwise.

    January 1, 2013
  11. Cristina #

    I bought four last Nov 2012. One for me and my hubby, the other 2, for my friends. Out of the 4, 1 is already defective. I have already started to email the Swell helpful team and see what they can do about it. I am from Singapore.

    January 3, 2013
  12. Franka White #

    I found a Swell bottle and went online to find out more about it. From what I’ve read the quality seems to be hit or miss and for the high price and hassle of having to deal with the retailer I’ve decided not to buy one.

    January 5, 2013
  13. Beth Staggs #

    I swear by my S’well bottle. I used to be a Tervis Tumbler fanatic, but after using S’well for about 6 months, I would recommend this bottle to anyone. Mine keeps ice for 2 days. Love, love, love it!

    January 14, 2013
  14. nita #

    my bottle rusted after 3 months of use! i was disgusted one day to realize the interior was starting to rust, after I had already gulped down half of the bottle. I have no idea how long I’d been drinking that dirty water. don’t risk it!

    April 25, 2013
    • Natalia #

      same thing happened to us, we were advice by their customer service to clean it with baking soda, they claimed it is normal (we never had any other stainless steel bottles got rusty..) so I cleaned it, but it keeps coming back and is more and more rust, plus the mouth piece has big crack running along the top, which keeps getting very rusty as well. It is pretty disappointing for the money it costs and quality I expected. Also, to solve this with customer service is proving to be pretty much impossible (no contact besides a form..)

      January 8, 2014
  15. Wendy #

    I purchased my swell bottle in March 2013. After 2 weeks of using it solely to hold water, I found a rust stain/ brown discoloration at the bottom of the bottle. It has only been hand washed. After email communications with the S’well helpful team and trying to various ways to clean the bottle per the “team’s” suggestion, the rust stain remained. My bottle is sitting there collecting dust now as S’well has not responded to my request of a replacement or refund. It’s a shame, because the bottle worked well while it lasted. I am very disappointed that this company has not stood by its products.

    April 28, 2013
  16. Anonymous #

    Big Bummer! I had set out to make a purchase online today… Love the look… decided to do a little research… After all I have read, I will be looking else where.

    May 22, 2013
  17. Anonymous #

    I was about to buy a few of these in the wine bottle size, as a sleek hot/cold solution would be perfect for my water and teas, but it sounds like it is too good to be true.

    June 10, 2013
  18. Anonymous #

    I have a Swell bottle and I love it! I had taken hot tea with me to work in the winter. It was always still hot when I was ready for it. Now that it’s warm weather I plan on using it at work for cold tea. Fits in my tote perfectly. I have friends that use theirs for cold wine.

    June 10, 2013
  19. anonymous #

    I purchase two bottles in December from the website. One is still great but the other stopped keeping water hot in May. I only cleaned them as recommended. I contacted the company and was told to return the bottle and they would send me a replacement. They have had the returned bottle for a month and no replacement yet. Customer service is horrible…it takes multiple emails to get a response. I hope one day to get the replacement bottle but will never purchase a S’well bottle again.

    July 24, 2013
  20. Urooj #

    So unfortunate! Think I will be buying Klean Kanteen then. Always disappointing when a company changes their policy regarding replacing a defective product, too.

    August 5, 2013
  21. I also bought several Swell bottles for myself and friends from a retailer. After a few months my medium size one started to show condensation on the outside. My retailer happily exchanged it but now the replacement stopped working after a few uses. Three friends have also bought them and are having the same problem. I still use it with only a few ice cubes in it. I have stopped buying them as gifts and I would not recommend them. At $35 each, hit or miss is not an option on quality.

    August 23, 2013
    • Natalia #

      “At $35 each, hit or miss is not an option on quality”. – this is exactly what I am thinking? We have issues too, and I would think there should not be issues when is it supposed to be this standard of quality. It is also impossible to reach someone and talk to, which I find disappointing as well.

      January 8, 2014
  22. Anonymous #

    my fiance and i had the same issues. both of our bottles stopped working, and we dont have a dish washer

    August 29, 2013
  23. Stoked #

    I have been using a double wall stainless Camelback bottle from Water.org for several years now. I only use it for cold drinks and have never put it in the dishwasher. Yes, keeps cold for 24 hours, no rust and no vacuum leaks. I have dropped it more than a few times and it is getting pretty ugly (dents and all) but it still works. The only drawback is that it doesn’t fit in the cup holders in my Mini.

    September 9, 2013
    • Thanks for your suggestion! I’m sure a lot of people coming through here appreciate it too.

      September 9, 2013
  24. Anonymous #

    I am so shocked at the comments. My husband and I both have each had the same S’well bottles for over a year, and LOVE them. People actually think I am a bit obsessed with them. I give them as gifts all the time, and everyone thinks they are the best. They keep my water cold for 24 hours. I really, really am taken back by the negative comments. So my vote is they are THE BEST!!!

    September 12, 2013
    • Corrie #

      I have purchased two in the past year, they both failed within a couple of months. I went back to merchant and they replaced them, so far so good with these, fingers crossed that they will last. I agree, they are Great when they are working properly. The best. But it’s a bummer when they stop working. You’ll know right away, because there will be condensation on the outside of the bottle when filled w/ cold water, and they stop keeping the water cold.

      September 12, 2013
  25. Natalia #

    Hello, we have purchased two, for my son and daughter, my son got the basic stainless steel finish, and his is great, my daughter got teal stone finish and it is just being real pain. The mouth piece has big crack running along the top and the whole mouth piece keeps getting rusted all the time. I contacted Swell, was told to clean it with baking soda, which did clean it, but hasn’t change the fact that it comes back the next day and my daughter hates her bottle since it tastes like metal. I contacted their customer service again, but have to wait again till my “form”gets processed and somebody writes back, but I think we are ready to move on, and unless they send her new bottle, we will purchase different brand. For the price they charge, and the name they are shooting for, I would expect, flawless product, certainly not one that keeps getting rust (rusty coating?) and for customer service to be willing to replace these bottles if they are not working as they should.
    Again, we have one, that is great, and one that is just poor, so it is hit or miss with S’well.

    January 8, 2014
  26. Jenn #

    I am really surprised by this. I have two S’well bottles, one of the 750 ml and one 500 ml, and I have been happily using them for more than two years. I just bought a third one and noticed that it is different inside than my first two, so it will be interesting to see if perhaps they are trying to address the issue? I have never had any issues with rust or discolouration.

    January 25, 2014
  27. Andreane #

    Got 3 bottles… 1 year later all the caps are defective ! On the first year these bottles were great !

    March 31, 2014
  28. Terresa #

    Try Hydroflask, they may not be as cute, but they have a lifetime guarantee, and they really work as advertised!

    July 10, 2014
  29. Anonymous #

    I’ve been researching the product and based on the above comments here and on other sites, it doesn’t appear that problems with the bottles are rare – more like bottles without problems are rare. I’ll be going elsewhere for my water bottle. Thanks to all for sharing your stories.

    September 22, 2014
  30. Janie B #

    Well, dern. I was so excited about getting some of these bottles, but you have all talked me out of it!

    November 16, 2014
  31. Anonymous #

    Thanks for the reviews I was going to fork out over $100 aud for 2 bottles but will now look at another alternative. It does seem like the ones that work are the exception not the norm. It had so much promise.

    November 17, 2014
  32. Anonymous #

    I found the quality of the bottle is fine. and it works well. but just way too pricy.

    November 18, 2014
  33. Anonymous #

    I just made a +$300.00 purchase of Swell bottles for Christmas gifts and what a horrible experience I had. Firstly, the website was buggy and kept throwing me out. Then after a day of trying, I was able to place my order. I went back in on Cyber Monday (2 days later) to purchase another bottle and to my surprise the website indicated the prior day’s price was lower than what I had paid. I took a screen print and contacted customer support. Customer support denied the very screen shot showing the bottles were cheaper than what I had originally paid prior to the Monday sale. The website said “Old Price – $25.00″ new price “21.25” when I paid $35.00 not $25.00!!
    When I contacted customer support they denied the issue and just said too bad lady basically! Now I’m reading these bottles are defective apparently! Oh man did I make a mistake in this big purchase. The biggest issue is apparently they do not stand behind their product, their website is not accurate, and they don’t seem to care.

    December 4, 2014
    • That’s really such a shame! I wonder if they’ve adjusted their price for some of their bottles, or if it had something to do with Cyber Monday. From memory, their bottles were $35 ea, although I’m noticing they’re now listed according to collections and show range of $25-$45 (the few I clicked on all looked to be $35). I’m surprised they wouldn’t acknowledge your screen shot. An explanation would have likely gone a long way… particularly for a company that is trying so hard to establish themselves as a social good / gives back to the community kind of brand. I hope the bottles you got work out. There have been people happy with their bottles – and it does seem to be rather hit or miss. Fingers crossed for you that you got the good ones!

      December 10, 2014
      • Anonymous #

        Well already some bad news on the product. After one month of use where I rince the bottle in hot water nightly before filling with fresh water, the bottle is beginning to give off a bad odor. I washed using soap and 2 days later the bottle again is emitting an odor.

        I’ve had many bottles in stainless steel and never had this happen before. Now I’m stuck giving out about 7 bottles as Christmas gifts that may be harborers of bacteria. Yikes.

        December 10, 2014
        • Try diluting a little vinegar with water and washing it out that way – especially the lid – where moisture can get trapped. Not sure if that will solve it, but it may help…

          December 10, 2014
          • Anonymous #

            Yes I will and that may work but I have to wonder why that is required? I have had dozens of different stainless steel bottles and never had that happen. Makes me question the quality of this bottle.

            December 10, 2014
          • I think it’s the rubber they use in combination with how deep the lid is and narrow the space for the screw on. All to say… you make a good point. Why indeed. :)— Sent from Mailbox for iPhone

            December 10, 2014
  34. Anonymous #

    I can not find a phone number to contact S’well directly, just via email, can anyone provide that to me.

    December 10, 2014
    • Wow. It seems there’s no longer a phone number/customer service direct contact on their website and now it’s a contact form submission only.

      I’m afraid I don’t have a phone number for them anymore – just the direct customer care email I had followed up with at the time: helpful@swellbottle.com (not sure if that’s the one you have already). That said, I did a little digging and came across a phone number for their NYC office: +1 646 707 3605. It’s likely not a customer service number, but may be a good place to start. Sorry I’m not able to help more! Good luck!

      December 10, 2014
      • Anonymous #

        Customer support was not good at all for me. Only way I could speak to anyone was via email and the so called customer support manager. Was unhelpful and offered no solution.

        December 10, 2014

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