Watsons Malaysia Isn’t Safe for Shopping or Social Media – a Shanghai Scrap investigation.

[aka the triumphant return of Shanghai Scrap, shopping avenger.]

Last week I badly wanted a bottle of Panadol (a product my US readers would know as Tylenol, ie acetaminphen), so I went down to my local Watsons (specifically, the Amcorp Mall location in Petaling Jaya) – the largest “personal care” chain aka “drug store” chain in Asia – and bought a bottle. When I arrived home and prepared to open it, I noticed something very, very troubling – the safety seal on the box had been cut open and then re-sealed. See photo below.


Now, that’s a safety violation of the first order. In the US, for example, it’s a violation of FDA guidelines – and I assume that’s the case the world over, including in Malaysia. The idea, of course, is to protect consumers from anyone who might – for whatever reason – tamper with the medicine inside (regulations inspired by the Chicago Tylenol murders of 1982). Out of curiosity, I opened the opened box, anyway (because I had a really, really bad headache). And inside it went from bad to worse: the bottle lacked a safety seal. In other words, thanks to Watsons, this package of Panadol was unsafe; anybody could’ve altered the contents.

So I returned to Watsons and – before taking the bottle to the counter – checked the other boxes of Panadol on the shelves.  Sure enough the seals on those had been broken, too! When I asked the clerk how they could allow insecure meds to be sold on their shelves, I received the abrupt reply that Watsons opened the boxes so that they could insert security tabs that set off an alarm if they’re not deactivated at the register. I pointed out that in doing so they were violating the seal (and the safety) that GSK (Panadol’s manufacturer) had built into the packaging. In response, I was offered a refund. No apologies, much less promises to respect the safety that GSK built into the packaging of its products. Just a refund, and an attitude that can be best described as “now get the @#$% out of our store.”

So, first off –  I won’t be buying Panadol or any other product from Watsons, again – and neither should you, dear reader, if you value your health.

But it gets worse. Later that night, hoping to draw some attention to this unsafe matter, I tweeted this episode at what I believed to be Watson’s Malaysia’s twitter account, and included a photo of the violated box. Surprisingly, Watson’s quickly responded by accusing me of “provoking.” Below, a screen grab of Watson’s response to my unsafe bottle, as well as its response to a random twitter user who jumped in on my behalf:

the tweets

In fairness, the account in question is not verified. Also, it only has 92 followers (unlike the Watsons Malaysia Facebook account, which has 615,919). So how can I be sure it’s actually a Watsons account, and not a parody account? By asking! Specifically, I reached out to Watsons Malaysia via phone, email (a Watsons phone operators gave me the address of a press contact at the company), Facebook, and Twitter with the same question – is @watsonsmalaysia a company-run twitter account? Presumably, if the account wasn’t affiliated with Watsons, the company would’ve been quick to tell me so. Instead, they’re ignoring me. That is, no response to any of my inquiries – precisely the kind of behavior I expect from somebody who doesn’t believe there’s any reason to explain anything (such as the stubborn druggists at … Watsons Malaysia).

Meanwhile, the @watsonsmalaysia twitter account continues to spew out advertising tweets simultaneous to their posting on the company Facebook account. Needless to say, that’s not the kind of behavior that a parody account would generally engage in. So, on balance, I think we’re dealing with a real account. But I’m open to persuasion, and if somebody from Watsons would like to reach out to me with an alternative explanation, well, you have my contact info.

In any case, the real story here isn’t social media. It’s that at least one branch of Asia’s largest “personal care” chain is altering the packaging of a widely used drug in a way that makes it unsafe to consumers. That they’ve chosen to ignore good faith efforts to remedy this failure is all the evidence anybody should need to decide that Watsons doesn’t much care about consumer safety. Shopper beware, and spend your money elsewhere.

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