How to choose a leather couch, protect a new TV & buy beauty items online

'Bonded' and 'bicast' leather lacks the strength, breathability and durability of 'full' leather.
'Bonded' and 'bicast' leather lacks the strength, breathability and durability of 'full' leather.
Image: Mark Weeks

In this weekly segment of bite-sized chunks of useful information, consumer journalist Wendy Knowler gives you news you can use:

There’s leather, and then there’s 'leather'

If you’re in the market for a leather lounge suite, do some research on the types of leather used to make those sofas and chairs to avoid ending up with furniture that peels or cracks within two to three years. I could wallpaper my home with images of hideous-looking “leather” furniture sent by consumers whose bargain leather suite turned out to be anything but a great investment.

And here’s the thing — you usually get a year’s warranty only on those suites, during which time the suite still looks fine — it takes a few years for the plastic coating applied to bonded or bicast “leather” suites to crack and peel.

By then you have no recourse.

A few decades back, when you bought a leather lounge suite, you knew you’d be getting something that would last for decades, and actually improve with age in that lovely vintage way.

That’s because leather furniture was upholstered with the “grain split” or “top grain” — the top part of a hide, after it had been split into two; and it’s the nicest, strongest part.

The bottom bit, called a “split” is a much weaker leather, without the outer epidermis to hold everything together.

In recent years, the leather industry has come up with many creative ways to turn that bottom split into coverings for furniture — splitting, embossing, pigmenting, coating with plastic — so as to make aspirational “leather” lounge suites affordable to the mass market.

They call it “bonded” and “bicast” leather, and some suppliers attempt a description of what that entails, but all most consumers focus on is that lovely “Leather Mark” they use with it, not realising that it lacks the strength, breathability and durability of “full” leather.

Bonded leather is even more inferior than bicast leather, and being 85% synthetic, it’s really not leather at all.

So ask very specific questions about the leather on that suite before you do the deal.

If you can only afford a lounge suite covered in “leather” from a roll, rather than a hide, you’d be much better off buying a fabric one instead.

TV drama — brand new but broken

“People love a really nice thin TV, but forget that it’s glass and can crack very easily.”

That’s what an appliance retailer told me when responding to a client's complaint that the new TV they’d bought — and transported and installed themselves — was broken.

“They often unintentionally ‘manhandle’ the TV and grab onto the glass when taking it out,” she said. “The pressure of their fingers causes a crack.

“We literally beg our customers to let us deliver and install new TVs as we know what we are doing; we have a special team that does this.”

In discussing her office’s latest newsletter, released this week, Consumer Goods and Services Ombud (CGSO) Magauta Mphahlele singled out new, broken TVs as a major source of complaints.

This is the reason retailers remove TVs from their boxes, in store, and plug them in, as proof that they were working when they left the store. Make you put your signature to that. Given what taking up many of these broken-TV cases has taught me, I’d most definitely opt to pay extra to have my new TV delivered, unboxed and placed or installed in my home.

But if you do choose to do that yourself, here’s what the CGSO wants you to know:

  • Never transport your TV face down; always put it upright and cushion it with cushions or pillows;
  • If you’re using a trolley to get your new TV to your car, go very carefully over any bumps on the mall floor or parking lot surface.
  • If you are strapping the TV against a truck cab, don’t tighten the straps to the point that the box starts to crush. In cars, pull a back seat seat belt across the TV and buckle it in to secure it in an upright position.
  • In your home, never touch the TV screen when removing the set from the packaging — the most common cracks form this way around the edges, from finger pressure.

A hairy way to buy your crowning glory

Hair and beauty products can cost a fortune, so it’s not surprising that many people are seduced by cheap online offers. Sadly, that often doesn’t end well, as the Consumer Goods and Services Ombud’s office complaints handlers know all too well.

“It’s a big problem,” said ombud Mphahlele. “The products which are sent are very often not as they appeared on the website.”

Sometimes they don’t arrive at all. “The companies based overseas are the biggest problem,” she said.

Mphahlele urged consumers to look past the merchandise and seek out the company’s returns terms and conditions as well as the delivery costs and extras such as customs duty and VAT, before making payment.

“Also check out reviews of the company online — if you see a lot of complaints about slow or no delivery, that’s a good warning,” Mphahlele said.

Great advice. Local sites are your best bet if you’re shopping online, but make sure you know exactly which entity you are dealing with.

To make up for the fact that you can’t inspect or try on a product before you buy online, you have the legal right to a seven-day cooling off period in which to change your mind and send the product back. Know that the retailer can make you pay for the cost of that.

GET IN TOUCH: You can contact Wendy Knowler for advice with your consumer issues via e-mail: or on Twitter: @wendyknowler


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