battery - power bars graphic

There is a good chance when mobility retailers consider what goes into the batteries they sell and supply, the last thing that springs to mind is a concrete breeze block, however, as misleading products begin to circulate in the market, dealers may well be surprised at what lies within the power products. THIIS spoke to the British Battery Industry Federation (BBIF) to find out why disingenuous batteries seem to be on the rise in the mobility market.

Formed in 2010 from a merger of the society for the British Battery Distributors and the Independent Battery Distributors Association, the BBIF has recently been working with the government with regards to the legislation surrounding batteries.

The organisation has also been working with the Product Enforcement Team at the Office of Product and Safety Standards to look into the misrepresentation of batteries, with regards to mislabelling of products, overrating of products and capacity labelling.

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Aiming to ensure battery customers can have confidence in the products they purchase, the BBIF collaborates with the government so battery companies have a fair playing field, however, a misleading minority in the industry is putting this at risk.

“There needs to be more awareness around the fact that there are products out there that are not what they are claiming to be” Cillian Brugha

With the market for fake goods in the UK is estimated to be worth £1.3bn per year for electrical goods alone, according to a 2018 report by Electrical Safety First, it is unsurprising that the mobility industry is not immune to misleading products finding their way to end-users and retailers.

Rather than fake powerchairs or scooters popping up however, it seems it is the lifeblood of these powered mobility devices that have been found to be not what they seem.

Batteries are the key and vital components that ensure these essential medical devices are able to provide independence and mobility to often the most vulnerable in society, however, worryingly, there have been reports of bogus batteries being sold to unsuspecting retailers, local authorities and even the NHS.

A powerful problem

Speaking with Cillian Brugha & Paul Ross from the BBIF, they highlighted that there is a growing amount of batteries entering the market that retailers need to be wary of.

BBIF Cillian Brugha
BBIF member Cillian Brugha advises mobility dealers to be extra vigilant amidst a rise in bogus batteries

“There needs to be more awareness around the fact that there are products out there that are not what they are claiming to be,” stated Cillian.

“We felt it is important that the trade knows because it really isn’t fair to the dealers and isn’t fair to the customers.”

Concerned by some of the batteries entering the market, Paul commented: “Batteries displaying bogus specifications, advertising themselves as more expensive battery types or even using underhanded methods to deceive retailers are now becoming more prevalent in the growing mobility industry.”

It was recently that a BBIF member came across a battery that had gone as far as to have a concrete block placed into it, a disturbing sign of the lengths some unscrupulous battery sellers will go to in order to deceive customers.

Why batteries?

Designer brands and electrical goods are usually the products associated with counterfeits; however, Cillian explains the battery industry is rife with low-quality, cheap products guaranteeing unachievable performance.

“When it comes to batteries, it is really difficult to get inside them to see that if that battery is what it says it is, so it can be really difficult to prove or disprove that battery is what it says it is,” explained Cillian.

The difference is, one may contain a breeze block” Paul Ross

“There are manufacturers that will simply produce a private label for anyone, as well as screen print whatever they are told to onto the battery case, resulting in products claiming specs that can be wildly inaccurate.”

Alongside the difficulty in verifying the claims made by some battery suppliers, Cillian points out that the very nature of battery products makes the market attractive for those wishing to make misleading claims on their products.

Battery - false bottom
An example of a battery found in the UK with a false bottom and a block of concrete to trick customers about its quality

“These batteries are not fake in the true sense of the word, as they will still function as a battery for a time,” he continued.

“The problem is retailers and end-users will not be aware that the product isn’t what it was sold as until it fails, at which point, it is too late.”

Cillian claims that across members’ trade counters, BBIF member companies constantly see batteries that are not what they say on the label after investigation.

But why concrete?

With the battery market being so big and diverse across the automotive, industrial and cyclic markets, there is no shortage of sectors for companies to supply underrated and poorly manufactured products to and the pair state that attentions have turned to the mobility industry.

Professional battery companies have become very sceptical of the claims made on some products and are determined as an industry to identify misleading products from the high-quality ones, say the battery experts.

“It is something that has been seen more frequently in the automotive and leisure battery industry,” said Paul.

“If you go back to the days when I first started in the battery industry, which was a long time ago, the old automotive dealers would weigh the batteries to make sure there was enough lead in the box to allow the batteries to meet the performance.”

Cillian elaborated: “Most mobility batteries in today’s market are sealed so you can’t lift the lid off and see what is inside; one of the immediate ways of working out the quality of a battery is its weight. Batteries are lead-based so, in general, more lead in the battery means more capacity, which means a better and heavier battery.

“By putting concrete in the bottom of a battery, it will feel heavier and convince buyers of the quality.”

With the powered mobility device market’s rapid growth, the two battery specialists warn that the market will be targeted more in the years to come, with Cillian highlighting that market conditions are making mobility an attractive sector for low-price, low-quality batteries.

“Lead prices went up significantly about three years ago and are still quite high, so higher quality batteries are expensive, alongside the big shift in currency, with the pound not being as strong as it was two years ago,” he asserted.

“This is alongside the retail market becoming increasingly price-conscious at the moment, which is understandable as retailers – and particularly high-street retailers – are having a really tough time and looking for ways to keep costs down.”

According to the pair, cheap batteries can prove a tempting way of cost-saving and boosting margins, particularly when they are sold as promising the same specifications as more expensive products on the market.

“A really low price is always tempting,” said Paul.

“Especially when the packaging says it is the same product with the same specs as higher quality ranges, however, the difference is, one may contain a breeze block.”

Short-term gains, long-term pains

As Cillian and Paul underline, these “cheaper batteries” may offer financial benefits to dealers in the immediate future but are likely to give dealers and end-users headaches down the line.

“Beyond an attractive price, these products will not give retailers’ customers the performance they expect and down the road, retailers will have unhappy customers who have broken down somewhere after a short period because of these batteries,” highlighted Cillian.

Paul Ross, BBIF Chairman
Paul Ross, BBIF Chairman, notes the problem of suspect batteries was seen more in the automotive industry but is making its way to the mobility sector

“Factories that are producing and miss-labelling batteries with false information do not have their name on it, so they can produce low-quality and fraudulent batteries that do not do what they say because there are no risks associated with producing them.”

“Retailers and end-users will not be aware that the product isn’t what it was sold as until it fails, at which point, it is too late.” Cillian Brugha

In comparison, the pair stress that buying from reputable distributors that work with trusted manufacturers that brand their own batteries means there is more accountability and more quality, as the reputations of both the distributors and the manufacturers are on the line.

“When these fraudulent products do fail, it won’t be the factories or the distributors supplying the batteries that will feel the effect of a dissatisfied end-user, it will be the retailer that supplied it to them,” cautioned Cillian.

“Each time there is a problem as well, this is where those initial savings will be errored in call-outs, testing, replacing and everything else that comes with battery problems. This is where the real costs, in terms of money, time and reputation, are really felt.”

Predicting that these misleading batteries will start to show their true colours after around nine to twelve months, the pair foresee a rise in demand for higher quality products from retailers once vulnerable consumers are left stranded.

Noting that these poorer quality or misleading products will eventually be found out and there will likely be a renewed demand for higher quality batteries, the pair worry that this will likely occur at the detriment of unsuspecting retailers and vulnerable consumers.

What dealers can do

It seems when it comes to batteries, like many other items, the old adage of “if it seems too good to be true, that is because it probably is” comes to mind, suggesting that products being sold at prices far lower than the market rate warrant further investigation by retailers before making a purchasing decision.

“It is about being aware that what is said on the front of the box is not always what is inside it and what performance it actually gives,” stressed Paul.

“Check what you buy and make sure it has the right certification and a chain of traceability.”

Echoing Paul’s thoughts, Cillian finished: “Buying batteries does need a degree of research and this doesn’t just apply in mobility, but any industry where batteries are sold.”

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