Gaming Chair Brands Are Lying To You But Nobody Cares

It’s been about 6 months since I pointed out – in no uncertain terms – that Secret Labs, a popular brand of gaming chair, were taking the piss a little. I took the liberty of contacting them directly and pointing out that their listed MSRP and bold claims of how much money you save by “cutting out the middleman” were poppycock. Once they understood what I was saying, they simply ignored me. I reported them to the ASA for this practise, the ASA agreed with me, but six months later they’re still pulling the same old shit. “What shit,” you might ask, and “is it really that bad?” Well, yes and no to the latter and I’ll explain the former in a moment. Notably 6 months later I’ve found that Ewinracing are competing for top spot with Secret Lab for Shittiest Marketing Bullshit Of The Year Award and I wonder if all my moaning about unfair, exploitative marketing techniques is even worth the effort.

My beef with Secret Labs is twofold. First and foremost is their practise of posting a fake MSRP and then using this imaginary figure to claim you’re saving money by buying direct from them. The precise language they use to justify this claim at time of writing is “Being a Direct-to-Consumer brand, we’re able to transfer the savings from the avoidable middlemen costs to you when you buy direct!”

The trouble is, the MSRP is required to be the price at which an item is generally sold. In this case Secret Labs are making up an MSRP that has no relationship to the real world price of their chair. Indeed by selling the chair generally at a lower price, and offering discounts on top of that lower price, they are establishing the lower price as the “generally sold at” baseline and, since they are the manufacturer, that implicitly becomes the stated retail price. Their higher “MSRP” prices don’t gel with the rest of the market, and their “OMG ur saving money” prices are pretty much on par with competing brands. Competing brands who sell through resellers. Competing brands who sell direct and don’t make bold claims about how much you’re saving. The fact of the matter is, the only person benefiting by buying direct from Secret Labs is Secret Labs. Products are designed with margin, and margin accommodates some amount that can be passed on to the reseller.

So how does this work? I might make something for £5, sell it directly to you for £10 and meet a reseller half way at £7.50. That way a reseller – in theory – can cover their costs and make a little margin of their own by getting my product onto a store you commonly use, or into your country ready for quick, hassle-free shipping.

In the case of Secret Labs they’re making something for £5, selling it for £10 and claiming it’s worth £15. They offer absolutely no evidence to back up this claim. Indeed the concrete evidence for your “MSRP” being not-a-bunch-of-bullshit is you actually selling the product generally for the stated MSRP and people willingly paying that much for it, keeping you in business. That’s not the case here. Secret Labs are lying to you, tempting you with fallacious discounts that are based on imaginary numbers that nobody has ever paid, or ever will pay, for their products. That’s kinda shitty.

But that’s not it. I am reliably informed both by friends and uh- yeah Secret Labs own website (they’re really this brazen)- that their 5-year extended warranty is gated by the requirement to tweet a “great shot of your set up” that has to be “viewed and approved” by them. A superficial read of UK marketing guidelines suggests this must be disclosed as an ad. Do they make you aware of this requirement. Ha. Hell no. And you can bet your bottom dollar that most people will tweet something nice, since they’ve just received their new chair and don’t want to miss out on that sweet ass warranty. Ppssst if your chair is going to go wrong due to a manufacturing fault, it’ll probably do so inside of 2 years. You can bet they’d be charging real actual money for an extended warranty if this wasn’t the case.

For those of us whose stock in trade is posting nice things about products on social media, this sort of nonsense deeply undermines the trust we rely upon for anyone to take us seriously. Places like Twitter are already a cesspool of sponsored nonsense, and I’d like you to know on no uncertain terms that if someone tries to goad me into agreeing to say something nice about their product in exchange for a sample… I’ll tell them to piss off.

And that’s a nice segue to my new friend. Ewinracing. I really wanted to like them, recommend them and offer my followers a budget option for chairs because their products looked good and they seemed to be keen to gain traction by offering pretty much constant 20% discounts – a practise that doesn’t put them far out of Secret Labs league in retrospect. I’m told their service was good and their delivery speedy. So why do they want to undermine that? Beats me. But they clearly do.

Ewinracing first reached out to me back in July 2020. Their initial email was normally the sort I’d pass up and ignore, since it was a little stilted and weird, but I gave them the benefit of the doubt:

It’s Sally from Ewinracing International Corp, a professional gaming chair company (https://www.ewinracing.com). Writing to ask if there is any chance to cooperate with you.
Browsed information about you on Google and glad to know that you are highly professional in reviews. So I felt that you are the one that we are looking for to work with.
We are curious if you would be interested in reviewing our gaming chairs?

So I responded back, chipper and eager to try and subtly guide them toward making the sort of chair I long for in my “racing” setup:

Ahoy Sally,

Pleased to e-meet you.

I’ve had a browse of your chairs, and also noticed that you have an EU store which is great.

Did you have any particular chairs in mind? Right now it looks like a majority of the EU store lineup is sold out. I have to say, above all else I like your fabric finish Champion Series CPG, but couldn’t find this in the EU at all. My personal preference is for single-colour or understated designs.

Do you produce any chairs with lockable-rotation gas-lift pistons or lockable casters? When trying to use gaming chairs for racing sims, these are the two biggest issues I’ve come across- ie: the chair tends to rotate or roll back when using foot pedals.

P.S. should this image say “Time to GRAB your favourite chair”? – https://www.ewinracing.eu/c/34-category_default/flash-xl-size-series.jpg

Cheers

I’m looking at you re lockable chairs, Noblechairs, you’re my only hope at this point. I’ve burned all the other bridges. Ha.

I received silence in response to this email, however I did notice that the typo in the promo graphic that I pointed out had been fixed. Perhaps they’d received my email? Not one to let a lead run dry, I followed up:

Ahoy-

Haven’t heard from you for a couple of weeks- noticed the masthead had been corrected, however “Home” and “Knight series” still say “GRAD.”

If this is a restock sale, does that mean new chairs are in the pipeline? I’d be very interested to know what’s in store.

I’d also like to – once again – throw in my request for lockable casters and gas-lift rotation. I don’t see anyone on the market doing this yet outside of posture correction or disability accommodation – ie: https://www.backcs.co.uk/chair-swivel-lock/

When attempting to use a regular swivel gaming chair with a racing wheel the chair rotating and rolling back is super frustrating, and not everyone wants a second chair (or has the space) to fix this problem.

Cheers

Again. Silence. This doesn’t mean much. When you’re a brand and you scattergun a bunch of tech blogs with an initial contact, you’ll no-doubt be up to the eyeballs in replies to sort through. In typical fashioned I’d asked for something that wasn’t for sale and ventured some Real Actual Relevant Questions. Journalism, eh? At least I kinda try.

Fast forward to December and I’d recommended Ewinracing to a friend in good faith. I still wanted to try their products for myself to make sure I wasn’t selling people garbage, though, so I followed up in the most me way possible (christ I hate saying “looping back to my first email”) with:

?

Success! Sally got back to me, and this is where things started going south for both of us. Hooo, foreshadowing. I’m like one of those damned long-form YouTubers with foreshadow diarrhea.

Hello Ahoy,

Good news this Softweave Fabric chair is available on our EU store https://www.ewinracing.eu/champion-series/34-e-win-europe-champion-series-cpg-ergonomic-office-gaming-chair-with-free-cushions.html
The gas-lift rotation is lockable while the casters were not, but we will consider it.
Actually the chair will not rotate if you do not make it to.

Regarding such cooperation, usually we will offer one of our gaming chairs, a code with 20% off for your readers, and a 5% commission.
In exchange, we would like a written review with two backlinks, one video review, a side-bar banner (at least a three-month one), a text link below the banner,
and social media promotions, if possible.
We hope to maintain a long-term relationship with you, when we have new design or style, we will offer you our new chair and hope you could review it.
If you have any idea, please let me know. I’d love to discuss and cooperate with you.

Do you think the above is okay for you? If you find anything unacceptable for you, please let me know. All the rules are open to discuss and we believe we can settle out the final details!

Thanks,
Sally

Okay… I’m called Phil, not Ahoy but… I can see the resemblance.

The absolute bible of things Ewinracing requested I do upon the receipt of a single, low-end gaming chair immediately set off the alarm bells. I’ve been in this game for a couple of decades and virtually nobody asks anything of me, ever. I mean it. Conditions like this are so utterly, totally rare that my mind kind-of blew a fuse at this point. But! I don’t begrudge a brand with limited budget at lest trying to make the most of their marketing spend, nothing here was outright alarming and they weren’t trying to put me on-script or do anything nefarious.

Still, I’m too lazy for all this bullshit and I’m not afraid to say so.

Aha! Thanks for getting back to me. I know stuff is chaos at the moment.

I can do a text review and a flurry of excited tweets- which is more or less the extent of my brand. I do very occasional videos – more frequently direct to Twitter – but text is my forte- someone’s got to cater to the people who just want to read! ?

I don’t run ads, since my site content is already basically ads… I’d end up showing ads along side the ads so you can ads while you ads.

Broadly I appreciate where your coming from wrt to getting the most from your marketing spend but I’m far too old, jaded and lazy to touch anything with strings attached. I have a very candid approach to product reviews and any sign of brand intervention tarnishes my legitimacy.

I’ve already recommended your chairs – sight unseen – to a friend since you had some pretty keen pricing and they had a very tight budget. They’ve made a purchase and it’ll be interesting to see how that pans out!

Also your commission rates are pretty good, but I prefer to avoid perverse incentives. Though I respect this is a good way to track sales and know how a partnership is working for you!

I guess the TLDR is- throw me a chair and I’ll get excited about it and write & tweet things, but I can’t get any more complicated than that. It’s not a you thing, it’s a me thing ? it’d be nice to try your products so I can recommend with impunity but I’ll understand if this doesn’t work for you!

P.S. it’s been a tough year- I hope you have an awesome December, however you choose to celebrate, and a happy new year!

I was clear to point out that I really don’t care if they take it or leave it, but it’s important to set boundaries early in a relationship to avoid nasty surprises later.

Ewinracing were, surprisingly, decidedly more receptive to my cavalier response than I’d hoped. They’re clearly trying to work with me here, and I appreciate that. I don’t really know if they’re misguided or malicious, but I think – without throwing them too far under the bus – this story has some interesting teachable moments that I’d like to share anyway.

Hello Phil,

We can go with a gaming chair, a written review and tweets. Just hope two keywords and dofollow backlinks will be added in the article. Is this ok with you?
The 20% off code gadgetoid works now on our sites, and here’s the track link to add in the review https://bit.ly/3qT0fOW
Thank you very much for recommending us. We can see it if they use your code placing the code:-)

All the best,
Sally

Nothing untoward here, they capitulated on all points and all their really want is a “dofollow” link (I don’t “nofollow” my links, and I’ll probably ignore you if you send me email asking me to as if I’ve got time to be screwing with 5 year old blog posts to satisfy your shitty SEO agencies fantasies that anything they do makes a difference) which expands to https://www.ewinracing.eu/?utm_source=Review&utm_medium=gadgetoid. In fact, here it is right here https://www.ewinracing.eu/?utm_source=Review&utm_medium=gadgetoid. Go buy a chair if you like the look of them- I mean it looks like they make good chairs as good prices and marketing is all a landslide of awful anyway, so are they really so bad?

Well. Things take a Dramatic Turn For The Worst.

Hello,

I hope you are having a good start into the week!
The keywords are E-WIN gaming office chairs and best gaming chairs, link respectively to https://bit.ly/3qT0fOW and https://bit.ly/34a3VSM
We will send this item https://www.ewinracing.eu/champion-series/34-e-win-europe-champion-series-cpg-ergonomic-office-gaming-chair-with-free-cushions.html
The green Calling Series is sold out for now unfortunately.

Mind if recommend us on our FaceBook https://www.facebook.com/EwinRacing/reviews/?ref=page_internal upfront like what our partner did,

Typically after that we will send the chair out.

Thanks,

Sally

Whoa there, Sally. You’ve just asked me to do the blogger equivalent of asking a chef to lick the crumbs out of a toaster. First off, Facebook? Are you trying to sell a gaming chair to my mum? Second. Seriously? All your “partners” are pawns in your sight-unseen, Facebook astro-turfing efforts? No. Nope. NOOO! Stahp. I am *not* going to be railroaded into making positive comments about your chairs before I’ve clapped arse on one. Uh.. I mean sat arse. Sat. Sheesh “arse” looks weird when I read it back.

Let me put the brakes on here and say- I see you. Tweeps on Twitter who are doing video reviews of Ewinracing chairs. If you participated in this bullshit I’m not happy. You’re pissing my credibility, and yours, up the wall for an in with an underdog gaming chair brand. I know the game is hard. I’ve played it long enough. It might not pay *my* bills but it ain’t worth your dignity. Also, why the hell do you even have a Facebook account?

Suffice to say this put me on the offensive and I did an angry on Twitter.

And another angry melodramatic back at Ewinracing for having the gall to spring this on me.

Hoookay I’m gonna have to stop you there.

Normally the other conditions would have sent the alarm bells ringing, but I don’t begrudge a company trying to get the most out of their ad-spend.

Asking for a recommendation on Facebook, sight unseen is outright fraud though and I’m afraid I can’t touch that with a ten foot barge pole. This is absolutely against ASA standards in the U.K. and if they weren’t such a toothless waste of space it’d get you in hot water sooner or later. If not land your “partners” in trouble with the U.K. authorities.

You could have the best chairs in the world at this point- but your Astro-turfing Facebook with positive comments means I can’t say a word about them without bringing up your shady marketing for context and I’m pretty sure you’re not gonna sign off on that.

Thanks, but no! Drop me a line if you wash your hands of this stuff.

Whaddya know, they capitulated on this one too?

Honestly it’d be great if we can get recommended on FaceBook from partners, but not a huge priority. Is there any way this tweet can be deleted https://twitter.com/Gadgetoid/status/1338752638771400705

Yeah. I’m sure it’s great if partners lie for you in order to receive a “free” chair, but let me toss out a couple of hard truths to you right here.

1. You’re building a brand on rocky ground by gaming a third party platform that’s not well known for being particularly amused by this stuff, or having a great appeals process.
2. Ain’t nothing in life is free. When I take on a product to review I also take on an implicit promise to spend a not insignificant amount of my time testing, writing and tweeting about it. Let’s be real here- I’m a programmer by trade who does this stuff for the love of tech. There’s basically nothing you could send me for free that wouldn’t cost me its MSRP in time. Yes- even the £3500 Alienware m15 R3 that Dell chucked my way because I gush about their products 24/7 is a liability on my time.

Tech writers know this. They are typically compensated for the time they spend writing about a product. Me? I don’t run ads, I don’t take paid placements, and most of the more valuable things I write about are sent on a loan basis (because manufacturers want to get the most out of their ad spend). If you think the carrot of a £200 chair is going to motivate me to do anything much… well, I’m sorry, you’re effectively just offering me unpaid work.

I sign off with a final email to Sally. I’m still willing to work with Ewinracing and I’d really like them to ease off on the shady bullshit because they seem to have good products, good traction and there’s a real need out there for a strong, reliable low-budget offering.

My closing comments really highlight how I feel about these practicses better than I could elaborate here. You’re pissing on my doorstep, and I’m not amused.

Having people submit up-front recommendations in order to receive a product they haven’t even tried yet is a pretty egregious violation of UK advertising standards which potentially places both your neck and mine on the chopping block. I’d strongly recommend against this practise in future since it means you’re building a brand on risk and liability.

As far as I can tell from a glance, your products are good and your service seems to be pretty decent too. I don’t understand why you *need* to resort to underhanded marketing techniques in order to get the recognition you may – perhaps- deserve.

I won’t delete the Tweet, but you probably shouldn’t worry- as you’ve no doubt found from partners willing to capitulate to your conditions… nobody really cares about this stuff. It’s a shame, because these practices erode trust in consumer testimony and destroy the credibility of people like me trying to be genuine about a brand in a sea of astro-turfers who either lack principles or are too fresh in the game to burn bridges over – let’s face it- a pretty remote hill to die on.

Only recently I found Secret Labs Chairs requiring people to Tweet about their brand in exchange for a 5 year guarantee. … hey, don’t get any ideas here, okay? They also do some dodgy stuff with their fake “MSRP” values. For the record I much prefer your approach of always offering some kind of discount- even though it’s more-or-less the same trick.

Long story short- I’d love to test your product on its own merits, report my findings, and even talk about your marketing framed in the bigger picture of how common these practices have become.There’s no better story for a brand than “reviewer said we did bad, but loved our product anyway.”

Anyway, either way I hope you have a good week! Cheers.

So far, no response. I can’t say I blame them. Like I said- nobody cares. I’m pretty small fry in the grand scheme of things, and no amount of noise I make is going to move the needle. They really are better washing their hands of me than pursuing this any further. I can respect that.

I don’t begrudge these brands their place in the market. I just wish they’d play fair. It’s worth noting that Secret Labs originated in Singapore and Ewinracing, or “Danyang Ewin Race Supplies Manufacture Co. Ltd” are based in, well, Danyang, China. It’s a small wonder they’re running roughshod over European manufacturers and couldn’t give two hoots about our advertising regulations. This doesn’t mean their product are bad by a country mile, but it does explain why the ASA might have some difficulty imposing their will upon them.

To Ewinracing and Secret Labs. Stop it. You can do better, and you don’t need to build this marketing house of cards if your products and service are noteworthy.

To everyone else- I hope this has been enlightening in some way shape or form, and that you view social testimony, Facebook recommendations and even tech blogs (like mine) through the lens of skepticism. After all, most of us are reticent to “bite the hand that feeds us” since it’s a tough, uphill climb to gain any notoriety and credibility in this space. How many reviews are coloured by an unconscious desire not to anger a manufacturer? Indeed we’ve even seen angry manufacturers try to silence criticism in the tech review space. Most aren’t that stupid or brazen. Or maybe most writers capitulate because their livelihood is on the line?

Me? I’m a miserable old sod who does this for shits and giggles. As much as I’d love a free chair, writing this has been cathartic and – dare I say – fun?