Water filters are big business these days, and that can make for big problems for customers who choose to buy from an online company called Tru Water.
The company states it has an enviable reputation, with a mission: "To provide cleaner drinking water to all." Yet it can't even manage to get it to its own customers, if the complaints we've received are anything to go by.
The emails have poured in telling us of ridiculously long delays, products never turning up, or they turn up, but they're not the ones customers have ordered. This despite Tru Water's claim on their website that they've "invested heavily in developing secure state of the art e-commerce architecture delivering cutting edge functionality and the best prices around".
One complainant was Hana Blackmore from Auckland's Waiheke Island. She needed a water filter tap urgently when her daughter started chemotherapy. Hana explains that the chemotherapy means "her entire immune system gets knocked out so you have to avoid any infections from any bacteria". She adds that this was a challenge as they use rain water, which brings with it "all the dirt and detritus from the roof which can contain things like cryptosporidium".
The water filter tap she found on Tru Water's website wasn't cheap in her opinion, costing $299.00, but it was the only three-way tap that would fit under her shutters, and she was pleased after contacting Tru Water to be told they could arrange urgent shipping by the end of the week. But no filter tap arrived.
Tru Water then told Hana the same thing when she contacted them again a couple of weeks later. In fact, she says she asked them eight or nine times over a series of months, each time being told it was about to be shipped. Her original order was in October 2018. By February, she still didn't have the filter tap and she gave up.
Emma Gee in Christchurch is another disgruntled customer. She ordered a Bosch filter from Tru Water for her fridge and was shocked when she looked at her credit card bill to see she was charged in Australian dollars.
The company is called Tru Water NZ, it's a New Zealand website address, and she says she saw no clear indication that she'd be charged in a foreign currency. It turns out that Tru Water is an Australian company based in Sydney, with the New Zealand sister company run online from there. T
he site does include a sentence confirming that prices are in Australian dollars at the bottom of the webpage, but Emma believes it should be much clearer.
Again, the delays she experienced were so long that she gave up on the product and ordered one from another company which arrived promptly. But that wasn't the end of it. Weeks later, the Tru Water fridge filter did arrive, only it wasn't the Bosch filter she'd ordered, it was a Tru Water version with very flimsy sealing that had already become detached before she'd unwrapped the parcel.
In both Hana and Emma's cases, it was only after their own bad experiences that they looked online and read dozens of terrible reviews echoing their own experiences of Tru Water.
One of the most common complaints was the endless list of excuses used by Tru Water in an attempt to explain their product delays. These included suppliers going out of business, technical errors, high demand, bugs in their ordering system, and so it goes on. Customers felt it was impossible to get genuine explanations from the company which is why so many turned to Fair Go.
Fair Go tried the usual routes of emails, phone calls and online chat. Every time, our request for an explanation was fobbed off with excuses. We did receive promises an explanation was on its way, but again, weeks went by without any response. Rather than give up, Fair Go decided it was time to pay them a visit. We forewarned the company, asking for an interview in Sydney. Again, no response. We knew there were three people involved with the business, these being co-founder Geoff Hewitt, operations manager Chris Hewitt, and shareholder Francesca Hewitt.
We had the address of the Sydney showroom and warehouse. Now given the company's boasting on its website of sales to countries all over the world, you'd be forgiven for expecting at least a showroom and warehouse. But no, nothing of the sort. The address was for a main road in a quiet Sydney suburb, a nondescript street of car parks and office blocks.
From the front of the specified address there were signs for a childcare centre and a number of companies, but nothing whatsoever for Tru Water. Luckily we didn't give up too quickly, and made our way through to the back of the complex, and out the exit the other side. There, relatively hidden away, was a small Tru Water store. It was locked.
A bit of nosing around showed that someone was inside, and with persistent knocking, they made an appearance. The person introduced himself as Parham, a name that immediately rang a bell. Parham was often on the end of the online chat and emails that have left customers so frustrated.
I couldn't help but launch into this issue straight away, saying, "we have so many complaints about delays in delivery, not being able to get refunds and false information being sent ... you must spend all your time answering complaints?"
Parham defended himself saying, "I just work here, I can't comment," adding that he'd passed my questions on to the owner and was waiting for a reply. He wouldn't admit there were any problems and suggested I talk directly to the co-founder Geoff Hewitt. I said that's what I'd been trying to do for some time! So he gave me his mobile number.
It seemed to be progress, but several calls later, and there's been no answer. In addition, Parham also said I'd be receiving a statement that would "make the explanation really clear". That was about two weeks ago now, and still absolutely nothing, not a word. And this is despite an email last week promising me it would arrive by the end of the day. I'm beginning to know how it feels for those Tru Water customers.
With so many complaints about Tru Water, you'd think there would be action taken against them. The New Zealand Commerce Commission told Fair Go it's received nine complaints and that it's possible for them to take action, even if the company operates from offshore. However, it is more usual for action to be taken within the same country, and it turns out that New South Wales Fair Trading has issued a warning against Tru Water, saying that the company has breached the commerce law of Australia including double charging and supplying the wrong product.
Fair Go hopes that NSW Fair Trading will take stronger action. A warning is good, but very few people see it. In the meantime, we'd suggest shopping for filters elsewhere, or if you've already been caught out and can't get a refund, try to get a chargeback from your bank or credit card provider.