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Life: Throwaway singles

Much has been made recently over the way in which some everyday household items, including vacuum cleaners, cookers and the like, are still in use by many people, especially those of more mature years, after innumerable years of service since they were originally bought.

‘There is nothing wrong with it and it works perfectly’, is the riposte to any comments about replacing said item with something more up-to-date. It’s a valid point. When my Mother died, I had the unenviable job of dealing with all her affairs including everything in her home. My Aunt wondered why anybody was still interested in her TV as it was so old. As it happens, my Mother rented it and had done so for decades. When my Aunt made her remark I replied that as it was rented, despite its age it would be on somebody’s books somewhere and since my Mother had diligently paid the rent on it every month for years (even though the name of the firm she rented it from changed several times), it needed to be returned to the rental company. This ancient TV however, colour, contrast and all, worked perfectly. Just as it has done from the day my Mother took delivery of it. So since it did work so well, why should Mum have a new one? Why ‘must’ she?

Apple have been in the news regarding a sudden (and to Apple, a startling) fall in the number of people rushing to buy the latest version of their phone. Various reasons have been cited for this reduction in custom but the most telling is that significant numbers of people have realised that they have been shelling out large amounts of cash every year for a new product that doesn’t have much in the way of an advance on what they already have.

Put another way, why have so many people paid a large sum of money to replace something that already works well and does the job they want it to?

Apple of course are a modern-day example of something that has been prevalent for a number of years, namely that manufacturers of anything don’t want us to hang on to what we have (even if it does work); they want us to keep on buying their latest product.

Which leads to another question, yet one that has not, at least until very recently, been asked by anybody – why is it that so many of today’s products, whatever they are, never last very long before breaking down?

The answer is very simple; in days gone by, things were indeed built to last. One of the testimonies of any company was the durability of its product. You were buying reliability. The curious part to this is that, with a smaller population and a more limited amount to spend, once somebody had bought something, that was it – that somebody was, potentially at least, no longer a customer as they never needed to buy their something again since it would work for life. Even with a manufacturer’s guarantee for a year, once that had expired, it never mattered because the product would just go on and on doing what it had been designed and built for.

So manufacturers took durability out of their designs. Things today still have a guarantee with them, usually for one year so if anything does go wrong with it within that time, it can be replaced and at no cost to the buyer. After 366 days however, its another matter. The manufacturer no longer has an obligation to replace anything and they don’t want to; they want you to buy the latest version and since what you have has gone on the blink, you don’t have much choice. And this is the real curiosity; since the population is so much bigger today and broadly speaking, more money can be accessed one way or another to spend on things, why do manufacturers not take the long-term view and build things that will last?

They don’t because there is no ‘new’ money in it. Yet this stance, like their products, has a lifetime. As Apple are discovering, people eventually wake up to being taken for granted and if there is one thing that is a guarantee, it is that.

Any business that takes its customers for granted is on a slippery slope and while there is merit in developing and advancing one’s product – indeed one must – there is also merit in maintaining what one already has and supporting it with continuous after-sales service so that the customer who buys something can rely not only on the product itself but also the company that made it.

There is another aspect to this; what does one do with all those old phones, fridges, cookers, vacuum cleaners and so on once they are done with (whether they work or not)? As the world is rapidly discovering, all that junk has to go somewhere and we are running out of ways to dispose of things. So we have to build things that will indeed last. If we have to adopt a ‘green’ everything lifestyle, then we must also change the way in which we buy something new every year simply because its there and throw away the old. The single use plastic bag has had its day fortunately and it is time to do away with the single-year product as well.

© Kevan James 2019.

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