Planned Obsolescence: A Plan or a Plot?
When I was a boy, growing up in the mid-west, I remember hearing my father remarking about the many products he bought, "The salesman told me we'll never have to buy another one, it'll last a lifetime."
Looking back on those days, soft drink glass bottles were heavier, car bumpers were so strong we could walk on them and never make a dent.
It seemed everything was built to last.
Now, in 2016, it seems like everything is built to fail.
A crash in a new 2016 automobile at 5 miles per hour is equivalent to a house payment or more in repairs . Depending on when you bought your house.
Our Disposable Society
We have disposable razors, plastic coke bottles, disposable diapers (well, that's OK), disposable cameras, burner phones, and a host of other items too lengthy to list here.
When did it suddenly become OK with the public to buy more and more of the same product and failure or breakage is an accepted norm?
For some products it's easy to see that planned obsolescence is inevitable. I can understand why we might want to buy a product because of certain improvements or additions.
For example, many people junked their good old dependable glass tube televisions for the new and improved flat screen versions. (See photo above)
Computers, laptops and cell phones are obsolete as soon as they're loaded into the car.
Four Forms Of Obsolescence
- Technological Obsolescence - Technological obsolescence is another word for the computer industry. Computer companies are forced to introduce new products as rapidly as possible to stay ahead of the competition.
- Postponed Obsolescence - Do you think Bill Gates and the folks over at Microsoft know what Windows 2020 looks like? Most people would probably say yes. Do the automakers in Detroit know what features will be on the 2020 cars? Again most people would say yes. Why are they looking so far ahead? They know you have developed an appetite for more power, and more speed, and more convenience. They dole it out in piecemeal, always dangling the carrot just out of reach.
- Physical Obsolescence - Physical obsolescence occurs when the very design of a product determines its lifespan. Car batteries, toasters, tires, nylon stockings and light bulbs are perfect examples.
- Style Obsolescence - This is most common in the fashion industry. Making a perfectly good piece of clothing seem out of date and forcing the customer to replace it with current goods. Fashion has often been criticized because of the waste of buying products that are not really needed. The fashion industry would counter with, "People want change." Could we please bring back hip huggers?
Obsolescence Can Raise The Price
In some cases, products are changed and/or discontinued, in order to justify a higher (more profitable) price.
New and Improved often demands a higher shelf value.
Customers understand that the only constant in the world is change.
We're a world that demands better and better ways of doing things.
If there were no Henry Ford, it would have been someone else. Sooner or later we would have had the automobile. Sooner or later we would fly.
Sooner or later we’ll have driverless cars. Oh wait …
To have obsolescence due to innovation is one thing. To deliberately design a product to fail and sell that product to an unsuspecting public is a serious abuse of consumer trust.
Some Final Thoughts
Planned obsolescence weakens the bond between customer and business and makes the customer more distrusting of business.
If you create a product, make the best product possible. Remember the lesson Japan gave to Detroit several years ago? What was the result?
Better American cars out of Detroit — And better products for all of us from those businesses who saw that lesson taught.