Out with the old and in with the new… but does our impatience for the latest thing contradict our desire for reliable products we can trust, asks our chief executive Peter Vicary-Smith
We’ve all seen children on Christmas morning barely finish unwrapping one present before they tear into another. It sometimes seems that this is how manufacturers see the consumer.
‘Look,’ they say. ‘Here’s something newer and shinier than the one you already own!’, as if the very words ‘new’ and ‘latest thing’ are a kind of magic dust you can sprinkle on a product to instantly make it better.
So the latest washing machine, for example, will offer a dazzling array of new programs – when our research shows that, in reality, most people stick to just a few that do the job of getting their clothes clean.
Repeat sales strategies
Using dubious strategies to generate repeat sales is nothing new.
Back in the 1920s, manufacturers in the ‘Phoebus Cartel’ colluded to artificially limit the life of light bulbs; and the phrase ‘planned obsolescence’ was commonly used in the 1950s.
American industrial designer Brooks Stevens called it: ‘Instilling in the buyer the desire to own something a little newer, a little better, a little sooner than is necessary.’
Today, it’s a phrase some manufacturers have clearly taken to heart as they try to provoke constant impatience for the latest thing. And often this contradicts our own desire for reliable products that we can trust.
It’s no accident that our reliability surveys are among the most popular articles in our magazine.
Many of us will have felt the frustration of owning a phone that suddenly and mysteriously seems to stop working as soon as it’s out of warranty. Or owning a laptop that within a few years is virtually useless because it can’t be updated to the latest operating system.
Our tech team has even flagged problems with so-called smart TVs losing access to popular services, such as BBC iPlayer, and new TVs launching without them being available at all.
Genuine innovation is to be welcomed, but it cannot be a case of just thrusting new products onto the market and abandoning interest in and support for the ones that are already in our homes.
Our latest survey reveals the brands that manage to combine strong reliability with excellent products. And, encouragingly, you don’t have to pay the highest price to get the most reliable brand.
As for the rest… all products have a natural lifespan, but is it too much to ask that a product lasts longer than it takes to recycle the Christmas wrapping paper?
What innovations have you come across that have become unusable before their time?