Cheap doesn’t always mean inferior

As with most allotment plot holders, I strive for economy.  If I can’t salvage or recycle, I look for the most cost-effective price.  Sometimes, that can be false economy – such as with cheap tools, as I blogged recently.

That’s not always the case though – I’ve bought trays costing 20p each that were of significantly better quality than ‘branded’ trays costing ten times more.  The branded ones lasted only a single use, while the ‘cheap’ ones are still going strong, 3 years on.

So cheap doesn’t always mean inferior – but there’s almost always a pitfall somewhere.  Most ‘bargain’ products tend to come from places like China, where manufacturing costs are significantly lower.  If the product in question calls for technical documentation, this is typically where you’ll encounter a problem.


Foreign manuals are frequently poorly translated, often comically so.  There’s even a word for it – ‘Engrish’.  I’ve even come across some that are obvious copies of competitor manuals (note to guilty manufacturers – remove the brand name whose manual you copied!).

Whilst being a typical male I will avoid it if possible, occasionally we have to admit defeat and read the instructions.  However, badly translated manuals can be worse than none at all. A poor translation often means you’re instructed to do the entire opposite to what you should be doing.

Clear as Mud!

There seems to be a trend with these manuals. Almost always credit-card sized, poorly printed and use typography that make 70’s styling look modern.  If you’re lucky, it will include a photo or two – but it will inevitably be black and white and of little use.  Oh, and make sure you have a magnifying glass handy – you’ll need it to read the minuscule writing, no matter how good your vision is!

What I find puzzling however is why such manufacturers don’t simply use illustrated manuals instead. Ikea famously do, and for the most part they work well.  For most manufacturers, typically selling their products throughout the world, this would seem to be the most logical way of avoiding translation grief.  For the sake of what I imagine to be mere pennies per product extra, investing in a decent illustrator, and quality printing, would transform the impression and usability of a product.

Much easier to follow – and no translation needed!

Such a move would benefit not only the consumer, but also the manufacturer.  Online reviews consistently mention poor instructions for such products, meaning they rank lower as a result.

Alternatives when you’re struggling

I’ve found that many products are manufactured ‘unbranded’ and then repackaged with branding added.  The product itself is, seemingly, identical.  As an example, I recently purchased a rotavator sold under at least 2 different brand names. Fortunately for me, the ‘other’ brand created their own manual which was far superior.  As it was available for download on their website, I used that for reference, rather than the one I received.

When all else fails, I often find myself heading to YouTube for a video demonstration.  Usually filmed by someone far more capable of deciphering instructions than myself, these have saved me on numerous occasions.





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