Andi Be Free: of returns, reviews and plagiarism
Our shop sells headphones, power banks and chargers from the Swiss brand Andi Be Free. This has proved cause for disagreement in the Digitec Community. I spoke to the CEO of the startup.
My report on the first headphones from the Swiss startup Andi Be Free garnered a lot of criticism from the Digitec community. «[...] another piece of junk from China that probably sounds like you’re rattling around a speaker in garbage can,» was one of the nicer comments under said article. It’s true – these headphones, like most electronics these days, are produced in China. However, the company states it was developed in Siebnen, in the Canton of Schwyz.
Since my review, there have been a few incidents with the Andi Be Free brand that put the honesty of the company, which I’d highlighted, into question. The headphones have not only come under heavy criticism from the Community, but are also frequently returned. In addition, voices in the Community have surfaced, accusing employees and acquaintances of Andi Be Free of posting fake reviews on our website. In addition, there are some inconsistencies with the brand’s wireless chargers. The suspicion has arisen that the same products can be found on AliExpress. That is, that we’re selling a no-name product under the Andi Be Free brand name at a premium. I want to find out the truth.
1st topic: returns
In my article, I recommended the Concert 1 headphones for limited use cases only, noting I’d tested them only briefly myself. It’s come to light that the Concert 1 are returned to us very often – at a rate of nearly 25 per cent. The return rate and warranty score have been visible for all products on our website since the beginning of this year.
A 25 per cent return rate is very high. Mind you, this is currently only a preliminary, internal figure; the return rate is only displayed on the product page once we have a larger set of data. Among the headphones in our shop, only Nokia has an even higher return rate of 28.8 per cent.
I ask Jonas Wohler, co-CEO of Andi Be Free, for an explanation of the high return rate. «I don’t have an explanation for this, because our own return rate on the Concert 1 is about eight per cent, which is also above our average, but significantly lower than yours.» Wohler is referring to the Andi Be Free online shop, where the Concert 1 are also available for purchase. He continues in writing: «It seems like your customers’ expectations aren’t being met. Why exactly that is would be of interest to us as well.»
It’s important to keep in mind that the return rate and warranty score are two different things. In other words, it’s not the case that the Concert 1 broke for many customers; it’s that they didn’t like them and therefore sent them back. The warranty score – that is, how many headphones are defective – is only two per cent for the Concert 1. This figure is solidly average compared to other ANC headphones.
The returned devices are available for purchase on our resale platform. The price varies greatly, as the headphones were initially more expensive to buy.
2nd topic: reviews
The reviews in our shop are a testament to the fact that the Concert 1 aren’t very well received. What’s interesting here is that there aren’t many reviews in the two to four star range.
If you look at the reviews for the Concert 1 directly in the Andi Be Free online shop, they consistently score five stars. When asked about this striking discrepancy with the reviews on Digitec, Wohler explains: «The Concert 1 reviews in our shops, andibefree.ch and andibefree.de, come from our customers. We use the review.io app, which doesn’t allow for review management, that is, it’s not possible to remove bad reviews.»
As for the far more negative reviews on Digitec, Wohler suspects they’re the result of the «negative dynamic» that arose in the comments of my background article on the Concert 1.
In some of the bad reviews on Digitec – in addition to the criticisms of the headphones – were accusations that fake reviews were being posted by employees and acquaintances of Andi Be Free. User Sebas writes: «I too was tempted by the great reviews at the time, written by people who’d demonstrably reviewed Andi Be Free products. Sure, it may well be that these four were the biggest Andi Be Free fans and only registered with Galaxus for that reason. However, I have the suspicion that the product was deliberately pushed.»
User c.andy writes something similar: « I also almost fell for the initially very good product reviews ... but then suddenly became suspicious: all of these reviews were written about 2 months ago 🤔 Then I randomly decided to google one of these reviewers, namely ‘Remostaubli’:
- Former professional football player... cool!
- HSG graduate ... well done!
- Investor at Tecflower AG ... aha.»
Your search for the review by «Remostaubli» will be in vain now. Our Community Management Team deleted it some time ago. Since the review was posted by an investor in the company, it’s clearly biased – and therefore dishonest.
I confronted Jonas Wohler with the above points. His answer: «There are a number of Andi Be Free fans among our approximately 20,000 customers, and I can’t rule out that a few of them have left a review. However, we haven’t encouraged anyone to provide positive reviews in our own interest. I think it’s easier for you to evaluate who’s behind each review than it is for us.»
True; we at Digitec do see who’s behind each review. So, let’s take a look at the profiles behind the remaining good reviews of the Concert 1. As of 12 May, there are still eight who have given the headphones more than four stars. First up: user frederic. Based in the full name behind the profile, I can’t find a connection to Andi Be Free or Tecflower. Same goes for users peter.piana2010, mNeumi08 and TONIS386. All these profiles have also reviewed other products from our range.
Not so in the case of the profile YaraS779. They’ve only evaluated products from Andi Be Free – and found them all to be very good. Still, looking at the full name behind the profile, I can’t find a clear connection to Andi Be Free or Tecflower. Same goes for schillingjoelle’s profile: there’s just one review, and it’s of the Concert 1. But I can’t find any connection to the company.
That leaves two users: SmaAP and DamRaphael. They both gave the Concert 1 a five-star rating. And based on their full names, both are clearly connected to Andi Be Free and Tecflower. One of them works in management, the other in marketing in the two sub-companies.
We’ve removed the two reviews that are clearly assignable to Andi Be Free. Like the review by «Remostaubli», these are clearly biased and not written from a neutral point of view.
What a lawyer has to say about fake reviews
I ask Martin Steiger, lawyer and entrepreneur for law in the digital space what the legal situation is regarding companies that rate their own products, like Andi Be Free. He writes to me, «I presume that undeclared positive reviews on your own behalf may constitute unfair competition.»
Steiger cites Art. 3 (1)(b) of the Federal Act on Unfair Competition:
However, this must be clarified on a case-by-case basis by means of a criminal complaint or civil action to determine if there’s actually been a violation of the law, says Steiger. He continues: «Incidentally, Digitec Galaxus’ terms don’t expressly prohibit reviews made on a company’s own behalf.» Good point. We’re currently considering if we should explicitly include this point in our guidelines. Even though illegal activities don’t have to be explicitly mentioned, it’s more efficient to refer any offending companies to our own guidelines instead of having to quote the general legal situation.
3rd topic: plagiarism
Another suspicion that arose in the products’ reviews is that the wireless chargers from Andi Be Free can also be found on AliExpress – that is, that they’re a no-name product being sold at a higher price under the Swiss brand. This practice is also known as white labelling.
I pointed this out to Jonas Wohler of Andi Be Free. He wrote: «I can assure you that we don’t sell white-label products from Alibaba. Our products are designed and developed by us in Switzerland, and we work closely with our suppliers to ensure that the products we offer meet our high quality standards.»
Wohler provided me with a link to the patent for the Andi Be Free charging station, which protects and certifies the product with WIPO, the World Intellectual Property Organization. «Our design is protected and we have a patent on the development.» According to Wohler, their wireless charger is being copied and offered on other platforms regardless.
«For us as developers and sellers, false claims in the comments are a problem,» Wohler says, referring to the comment pictured above. «The product was entirely developed and designed by us and certified by Apple. As you can imagine, Apple’s certification process is very rigorous, and the criteria to get a product certified are tough.» Wohler sees the fact that customers can rate products they haven’t actually purchased as a problem. We’ve deliberately left this option open; after all, someone may have purchased the product elsewhere. However, you can always see next to the review if the reviewer purchased the product from Digitec Galaxus.
While researching this article, I also noticed that a product very similar to the MagPowerbank from Andi Be Free can be found on AliExpress, among other places.
Wohler explains to me: «None of the products you mentioned correspond to the Andi Be Free MagPowerbank, unless it’s being sold illegally there. Our MagPowerbank has been further developed together with our manufacturer, so there’s no identical magnetic power bank on the Swiss market. These are contractual agreements with our manufacturer.»
Taking a closer look at the entire range of these power banks – for example, those from Anker – it’s clear they’re probably all designed in the style of Apple’ power bank. This is partly in the nature of things, as the ring shape of magnets used for charging is built into iPhones.
Wohler concludes with, «There are several similar power banks around the world that are different from ours, not from those offered by, say, Anker. All our products are strictly certified. I highly doubt that the power banks you mentioned have these certifications.»
Conclusion: we remain vigilant
As is so often the case, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. On the one hand, the company Andi Be Free hasn’t done itself any favours with the fake reviews uncovered by the Community. At the same time, the Community did make accusations that couldn’t be substantiated. With the patent, Wohler has shown that at least the charging products aren’t simply cheap, white-label products from other manufacturers.
However, the fake reviews are a nuisance for us as an online shop. Could clearly biased manufacturers post reviews on our platform again? Unfortunately, yes. We’re always doing our best to verify the suppliers and reviews on our platform. Just recently, a manufacturer tried to post fake reviews. As a result, the Community Management Team had to remove over 60 reviews. With our growing range come more and more products – and with them, more opportunities for unfair behaviour. This can result in a cat-and-mouse game with fake reviews.
Our Community Manager Fabian Zaugg explains, «We see when the same accounts post an unnatural number of similar ratings. We follow up on these and remove them. And our buyers are also informed about offending manufacturers.»
Finally, if you’re familiar with the Digitec Galaxus environment, you may know that we had a similar problem with a Swiss company on Galaxus a while ago. At the time, a distributor of beauty products came to attention with fake reviews and other ominous business practices. There too, with the help of the Community, we were able to ensure more transparency and remove fake reviews from our shop. Thank you, dear Community – keep up the attentiveness!Header image: Livia Gamper
Testing devices and gadgets is my thing. Some experiments lead to interesting insights, others to demolished phones. I’m hooked on series and can’t imagine life without Netflix. In summer, you’ll find me soaking up the sun by the lake or at a music festival.