Today’s consumers are inundated with choices. It’s challenging for consumers to decide which brand will offer the best products or services based on their unique needs.
In addition to the overabundance of consumer goods, many brands will release updated versions of their products annually. Once a new product hits the market, older products are rendered obsolete. Brands are aware of this consumer perspective, which is now contributing to a culture of planned obsolescence.
Below, we’ll take a deeper look at planned obsolescence, types of planned obsolescence, some common examples of this trend and what it means for you as a consumer.
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What is Planned Obsolescence?
Planned obsolescence is a popular tactic brands will use to sell products with an artificial expiration date. In other words, brands will plan, design and build new products that will become less functional, attractive or usable over time.
One of the main reasons why brands will use a planned obsolescence strategy is to convince consumers that they need the latest version of whatever product they sell.
Consider how often you upgrade to the latest smartphone or feel the urge to buy a new car for your daily commute. Your current phone or car may work and look fine, but there’s this nagging feeling that you need to spend your hard-earned money on the next best thing.
Brands will deliberately make products perishable or leverage marketing tactics to make it seem like their older products are of lower quality. This can help a brand boost sales of their new products, which may cost more, generate revenue and build a loyal customer base.
Types of Planned Obsolescence
Brands will implement one of four types of planned obsolescence in their business model. Here are the four types and what they entail.
Contrived durability is a strategy where a product’s life span is artificially shortened by making it generally less durable. For example, a company may use cheap, low-quality materials to create products. Hence, consumers need to spend more money to replace them more frequently.
Another type of planned obsolescence is when a company requires consumers to make software updates to their devices. This may be due to poor performance or issues of incompatibility. Either way, consumers may need to spend more to purchase the newest item with the latest software version.
One of the most common types of planned obsolescence is perceived obsolescence. In this scenario, a brand will use clever marketing tactics to convince its customers that they need the newest product. They will try to upsell the new product by speaking negatively about the old product. A lot of these cases occur in fashion and consumer electronics.
Prevention of Repair
Lastly, limiting consumers’ ability to repair products they’ve already paid for is another way brands will implement planned obsolescence. Some companies claim that they cannot offer parts for repair because they’re considered proprietary or unique and valuable to the company.
4 Planned Obsolescence Examples
What are some of modern consumerism’s most well-known examples of planned obsolescence?
In 2021, major tech company Apple was hit with a lawsuit over planned obsolescence in some of their products, including the iPhone 6, 6S and 6S Plus.
The lawsuit alleges that Apple purposefully slows down its older iPhone models to negatively impact speed and performance, requiring customers to purchase a new iPhone. Apple has faced multiple lawsuits and received bad press regarding its iPhone battery health.
Printers go on sale often and are fairly affordable for the average consumer. However, replacing an ink cartridge can sometimes cost more than the printer. Some ink cartridges cannot be replaced, and some even have smart chips to disable printing if ink levels are low.
Fast Fashion/Low-Quality Clothing
Shein, Fashion Nova, Zara and H&M are a few examples of fast fashion brands practicing planned obsolescence. These clothing companies use low-quality materials for their products to sell them at a lower price.
However, consumers typically cannot use these clothes for long periods, making them unsustainable. As a result, consumers buy clothing from these brands more often than if they spend more money on high-quality clothing.
Imagine if you only had to buy one lightbulb per lamp in your home that lasts for years. This wouldn’t be the most profitable scenario for manufacturers, would it? Some companies will make their lightbulbs last for shorter periods, so consumers need to replace them more frequently.
Fighting Planned Obsolescence With the Right to Repair
Unfortunately, there are no laws that make planned obsolescence illegal. Tech, consumer electronics, clothing and car manufacturers can use this business strategy to increase sales and keep customers spending their money.
However, companies that use planned obsolescence are often considered to be unethical. Many companies will choose profit over having a good moral compass. Some companies would not survive without planned obsolescence.
It wouldn’t be out of the ordinary for a company to force employees to sign a nondisclosure agreement (NDA) to prevent them from whistleblowing. With an NDA, employees would be unable to spread negative information about a company’s planned obsolescence strategy.
To fight planned obsolescence schemes, the Right to Repair movement has emerged. This movement would require companies to offer customers the right to repair any purchased items. A tech company, for example, would be required by law to provide customers with opportunities and instructions to fix their items to avoid buying a new product altogether.
Be Aware of Planned Obsolescence
As a consumer, you want to ensure you spend your money wisely. Rather than pay for cheap, low-quality products with a short life span, consider spending a bit more for better-quality ones that will last longer.
Understand that planned obsolescence is something that brands will continue doing. Still, you have the opportunity to choose brands that keep their customers’ interests in mind when designing and selling products.
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