Observer's Notes

The ideas of a thoughtful college student (Updated Whenever)

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    I'm Brian. This is my blog. I write about things that I think about, since verbalizing it helps me put things in more concrete terms. So here you'll find my occasional thoughts.
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In which Brian is frustrated by shoddy electronics

Posted by Brian on July 5, 2009

Am I the only one who’s noticed in recent years that electronics simply aren’t made well anymore? Every time I find myself contemplating purchasing something electronics-related, I don’t find myself asking if something will go wrong with; I find myself asking when and how something will go wrong with it.

A quick list of things that have gone wrong in the last six months:

  • Kodak M863 digital camera – This one prompted this note. It just decided to stop turning on one day. Now I have to send it to be repaired.
  • Xbox 360 – Couldn’t transfer data as customer service said I could. Ended up having to wipe my hard drive to get rid of corrupted files. Never did solve this problem.
  • Printer/Power strip – Not sure what the problem is here, but the printer just randomly doesn’t turn on sometimes.
  • Computer – I don’t even want to talk about this one. My old laptop had a million problems, all of which were resolved when I bought a Mac.
  • Television – Internal bulb is faulty. This one resulted in a class-action lawsuit and a check every few months for a new bulb.

It’s not just me, either. According to the website EMS Now, an electronics manufacturing industry e-magazine:

“Reports of the quality shortcomings of electronic products are starting to appear. The Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter ran an article on 27 September 2007 stating that “because of electronics, new cars have more flaws than before,” and that according to Volvo, “electronics are the automotive Achilles’ heel.”

I’m sure all of you could share similar horror stories with some product or another. This confuses me. I have my gripes with free-market economic systems, to be sure. But one thing I do love about the free market is that consumers have the power to reward companies who make good products by buying only good products. If a company makes a product that is useful, well-made and reliable, the consumers have the power to support that company’s product, thus encouraging other companies to match or exceed that quality. In the same way, consumers have the power to discourage poor products by choosing not to buy poor products. In theory, this leads to higher-quality products available to consumers, since poorly-made products aren’t profitable to companies.

But, clearly, that’s not happening. So where’s the hitch in the system? Part of it is definitely with the companies that make these faulty products. As much as we’d like to believe that companies are motivated to make good products, if all or most companies make bad products then there’s no incentive. Most major electronics manufacturers have outsourced parts, manufacturing, and labor to countries with less strict labor laws. The result of this is that they can afford to make crappy products. Well-made products, though ideal for consumers, are often more expensive for companies to produce. It’s cheaper for them to use cheap parts assembled as quickly as possible, and rely on sale volume and savings elsewhere to make up for return and repair costs. If one company had decided to adopt this practice, that probably could be corrected. However, this is an industry-wide practice that results in lower quality products across the board.

But it’s not all the fault of the manufacturers. Let’s face it, we as consumers are not blameless. I’ve been happy with my Kodak camera so far. I’ve had it just under a year, and it’s just stopped working. So being a responsible consumer, the right thing for me to do would be to stop buying Kodak products and get a camera that’s well-made…right?

Well, that’s exactly what I’m not doing. Instead I’m cashing in on the warranty and sending it in for repair. The culture of consumerism says that we want high-quality products for rock-bottom prices. That’s just not possible. And given a choice, we’ll always go for the cheaper product that’s going to need to be replaced in a year. We don’t invest in electronics, they’re just another disposable object. This encourages companies to make poorly-made products, because making high-quality products cost more, and they have to pass that cost on to consumers; a cost consumers aren’t willing to pay. We’d rather just buy a new one when the old one breaks. It’s consumerism. The companies know what we’re willing to buy, and that’s not expensive products.

What do you guys think? Is the recent trend of low-quality electronics the fault of companies or consumers?


One Response to “In which Brian is frustrated by shoddy electronics”

  1. Wendy said

    Consumers 100%. It’s not just electronics – EVERYTHING is made in shoddy quality nowadays, from food to fashion to houses. Everything falls apart, simply because companies have figured out that people will buy any old shit, and STILL turn a profit. I remember when I was a kid, we would save up and buy expensive electronics because it would last at least a decade. Now, you’re lucky to get 5 years out of any whitegood.

    XBox is the shoddiest piece of electronic to hit the markets ever, I think. When it came out, 1 month warranty. We’ve been through 3 XBoxes in 2 years, and the last broken one is it, I think.

    Companies have no pride in what they manufacture – let’s face it, it’s all bottom line and making money as far as they’re concerned, which is fine. But I happen to be in the minority happy to fork over good money for a good product: just a shame that good money still buys you crap, albeit slightly better than crap crap.


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