Up Front 02/14

It’s pretty obvious that many businesses, especially in the technology sector, can’t survive for long if they sell products that last forever. There often appears to be an unwritten rule that built-in obsolescence—the practise of deliberately limiting the life of a product—is the only way for some companies to achieve the growth that their investors demand. It got to the stage a while ago that when I needed to make a large purchase, whether a computer, a washing machine or even a telephone, I looked at the manufacturer’s warranty and divided the cost by the amount of months covered by their guarantee. That way I could be pleasantly surprised if something lasted substantially longer than the period covered. This does of course mean that I’m more likely to buy products where the manufacturer offers a longer warranty, especially since for many years we have been warned off purchasing extended warranties as being of low value and simply a way for employees to gain an extra bonus or commission. So I was amused last week when a friend told me about an experience he had at a national electrical store in a nearby town. Deciding to purchase a laptop, and in a bit of a hurry, he told one of the store assistants that he would like to buy a particular model. When the assistant returned from the stock room with the laptop my friend offered his credit card and the assistant began his ‘would you like to purchase the extended warranty’ spiel.  After listening to a robotic explanation about all the things that could go wrong with the machine, my friend waited for a pause and said no thank you, he would just like to purchase the laptop without the extended warranty. Obviously disappointed, the assistant then responded aggressively and said that he couldn’t sell the laptop without finishing his sales pitch. Finding this too ridiculous to believe my friend decided to leave, pointing out that he just wanted to buy the product as advertised in the store. Inevitably he later purchased a laptop online. With retail struggling to compete with online sales it strikes me as very short-sighted to make a customer experience so difficult.  FB