Friday, 26 December 2014

A rose by any other name would not smell as sweet

(First Published in New Era Newspaper - 1 October 2014)


I am a very recently married man and am still living the honeymoon. However, the other day I had to stop and think about something that I have only noticed since I got married. I remember when I was growing up, my grandmother had a fridge that seemed to be there from the time I was in primary school till I left for university. That fridge played a part of my life (and those of my siblings and cousins) for at least fifteen years. Recently I was buying furniture for our home and noticed that the life span of the appliances seemed very short compared to what I remember.
This complaint is quite common especially about fridges, washing machines and even the smaller appliances like kettles and toasters. Thus, my grandmother’s fridge which was bought more than 30 years ago is still in working condition, while the average life of modern fridges is not more than 5 years.
Many times consumers blame manufacturers because they believe the manufacturer will make faulty products, product with short life spans, etc. so that the consumer will buy another product thus making them more money.
Recently I read an argument that gave me a completely different perspective. In the article the writer argues that this statement by consumers would mean that “manufacturers intentionally work against the interest of the consumer. While the observations of consumers correspond with reality, their explanation of this phenomenon is wrong. I want to stress that the producers of consumer appliances are unjustly blamed.”
After reading the article, and doing some more market research, I have to agree with the writer. Many consumers are of the opinion that the manufacturers of goods will make the product that is “best for us”. This thinking means we believe as consumers that the goods we buy will last longer, be of higher quality and possibly be of lower price.

Obviously this cannot be the truth. After all, the many Chinese products are aimed at the low quality market and many customers buy these products even though there is often no “money-back” or other guarantees. So we must understand that the market (manufacturers, retailers, etc.) produce and sell products that consumer are willing to pay for, and try to do this as efficiently as possible to allow them to make the maximum return.
In plain English, manufacturers are asking themselves two main questions, namely, “What exactly do consumers want?” and “What do they pay for?” before they make the products.
What most manufacturers will tell you is that they will do market surveys / research and from this decide what it is consumers want. From personal experience as an enumerator (collector of information for surveys), I know that most people lie about what they want and what they actually buy. For example, we all want a car that is low on fuel and easy to maintain. However, when we buy, we will probably buy the car that we find good-looking on the inside and gives us the “wooma” when we drive.
Thus we must conclude that producers are trying to understand how we make our decisions about what we buy – in other words what values we as customers give to particular qualities such as price, functions available, durability, etc.

This means that as consumers we are more likely to buy a cheap, good-looking fridge that might not have the long-life we pretend to want. So whose fault will it be that the fridge I buy now does not last as long as the fridge my grandmother bought?

So next time you buy an appliance, consider your purchase as an important choice that needs due diligence. Compare the price, the functions you want it to perform, and for how long you want the product to last. It will be worth your time and effort in the long run.

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