Thursday, July 30, 2009

Planned Obsolescence and The Idea of Product Quality

by Julia Buckley
The older I get, the more I’m willing to stand up for myself and demand what is owed me. This often requires the writing of an indignant letter or e-mail, some of which get results. I’m trying to pass this idea on to my children: that quality is something they should demand, because when people stop demanding the best, America will stop producing the best. (You can insert your own comment about the auto industry here).

For example, my sons saved their money a couple of years ago and bought a $380 X Box 360 Game System. I was horrified by the amount of money this cost, but I was more horrified by the fact that it stopped working a year and a half later. Worse yet, my sons were resigned to their fates. The oldest one shrugged. “My friend told me this happens all the time,” he said of the three flashing lights that, in Game World, kids call “the ring of death.” “Once you get the ring of death, the system is broken and you have to get a new X Box.”

I was indignant. “What? You spent almost 400 dollars and you’re not going to demand that they fix your product? Don’t you realize that for that money, they should be providing something that works forever?”

They shrugged again. “These games break down, Mom.”

So Mom went online, to the X Box site. Like all giant companies, X Box would prefer not to talk to you on the phone or via e-mail. They have lists of FAQs that you can consult to try to help you along the road to repair. If you MUST call them, they warn in their fine print, the repair will cost more. That’s right: they will charge you more if you call them on the phone.

I understand the notion of planned obsolescence, but what about customer service? Is that obsolete? Should someone sell a product in mass quantities if they can’t back up the quality of that product?

My sons and I did not call X Box, but we printed off a UPS label and went to our UPS Store. There, the woman who helped us nodded at our package. “Looks like an X Box return, huh?”

“Yeah. Do you get a lot of these?”

She shrugged. “Only two or three a day, now. But back when the new model came out and people were waiting in the parking lots of Best Buy and Target to get their hands on them, we were getting about thirty returns a day. They had to produce them so fast they couldn’t control the quality.”

Huh. Even the UPS lady knew that X Box did not, for all its expensiveness, provide a product that lasted.

I spent fourteen dollars on packing materials so that my sons could send back their faulty unit with its ring of death. I hope that this is the last we will have to spend on this product, but X Box warns on their website (do not call them) that it could be free, or it could be 99 dollars, depending on your warranty. Nothing in between.

I have no respect for a company that charges exorbitant prices for faulty products. I hope my sons learn a little lesson every time I refuse to accept defeat and demand my money’s worth. They live in a society that tells them they can dispose of everything, or buy a new one of everything, but they also have a mother who will not (and cannot) live that way.

My husband and I, with our ancient wisdom, tell them that we can recall a time when you bought a product–-a telephone, a washing machine, a television–-and it lasted a lifetime (that is, our parents still have working products that they bought forty years ago). We assure our children that this is how every product should be. They nod at us with their knowing expressions. With the eternal optimism of youth, they believe that money will never be a problem for them, so it won’t really matter how many times they have to buy something. They intend to have plenty of expendable cash.

I think I felt the same way as a young person, but it’s a dangerous attitude for children to adopt, especially in the current financial climate. Even the greatest salary won’t help them much if money suddenly loses its value.

X Box allows people to check the status of their repairs (of course) online. I’ll encourage my sons to keep on top of this in order to make them feel their ownership and to develop a corresponding demand for product quality. I hope it will make them look at their purchases differently in the future.

(Image link here)


Keith Raffel said...

Great rant, Julia!

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

I've sent back in our 360 three times for Microsoft to fix. The ring of death showed up all 3 times. We forked over the $90 each time for them to basically give us new hardware (we kept the hard drive at home). At least there was a 3 month warranty attached to each new box. Sigh. I feel for was a real pain.

Mystery Writing is Murder

Lisa Bork said...

Thanks for the warning. My son has been asking for one.

Both quality and customer service are getting harder and harder to find. It's sad...and frustrating.

Julia Buckley said...

Thanks, Keith. :)

Elizabeth, we forgot to take out our hard drive. Are we in trouble?

Lisa, the boys enjoy it, and when it's working it has amazing picture quality. That being said . . .

Alan Orloff said...

Yeah, the ring of death showed up here, too.

But only once, so I guess I should count us lucky.

And Julia, our UPS guy also knew exactly what it was.

G.M. Malliet said...

This is why I prefer books for entertainment. They don't break. If they do, I can glue the binding back on myself.

Nothing is more frustrating than technology cheaply manufactured.

Julia Buckley said...

Alan, I had no idea how common this was. :0

GM, I'm with you. And my kids don't read enough, in my opinion.

Jess Lourey said...

Argh, Julia, how frustrating! Good for you for fighting the good fight. My kids only get twigs and water to play with from here on out.

Julia Buckley said...

Jess, I wouldn't have bought this for my children--but you know how it is when they save their own money.

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

Great and informative post, Julia. I still have a couple of small appliances my mother bought me when I moved into my own apt. 35 years ago. And they still get a lot of use. But the appliances I've bought in the last decade have had to be replaced every year or two. My mixer/blender may be baby puke yellow and my crockpot orange, but they WORK. Meanwhile, I've had 3 toasters in 5 years.

Julia Buckley said...

Sue Ann, I have the same problem with toasters! Why would they be so fragile? All the have to do is brown bread.

I like the idea of yellow and orange appliances. :) Nowadays they're trying to make everything look retro, but without the quality and for way more money.

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Julia...Well, they'll probably just send you another hard drive. Your kids might be mad because their progress on game levels will be lost..


Julia Buckley said...

Well, that could be a good thing. There were some games where they'd gotten as far as they could go.

I didn't think you had kids old enough to play X box. You look like a youth in your photos. :)