Planned obsolescence is the practice of designing products in such a way that it becomes obsolete or unusable after a certain period of time. The primary objective of planned obsolescence is to encourage customers to buy a new product instead of continuing with the old one. This is done to boost sales and reduce the time period between two consecutive purchases. Planned obsolescence is often prevalent in industry segments that have a monopoly or oligopoly. It is less prevalent in highly competitive industry segments, as there’s the risk that customers might choose a different brand.
When it began?
One of the earliest recorded accounts of planned obsolescence was in 1920s, when automobile market had reached saturation in United States. It was at this time that General Motors decided to introduce design changes in existing models. The plan was to convince customers that they need to buy the new version of the car they had. The strategy worked, as the automotive industry in US at that time was an oligopoly. With its planned obsolescence strategy, General Motors raced ahead of Ford and became the dominant player.
Latest cases of planned obsolescence
In the current scenario, planned obsolescence is widely seen among electronic items such as mobile phones, laptops, television and related accessories. Some companies have even been fined for practicing planned obsolescence, which is considered an anti-consumer strategy. In Italy, Apple was fined €10m and Samsung €5m for following planned obsolescence strategies for their mobile phones. In the US, a number of class-action lawsuits have been filed against Apple for using planned obsolescence strategies.
Types of planned obsolescence
- Contrived durability: This is the practice of deliberately reducing the life span of a product. It is achieved by using substandard components or layouts that produce excessive wear and tear.
- Limited option for repairs: Some companies make their products in such a way that it becomes difficult to repair them. Even when done at an authorized service center, a high cost of repair is quoted. This is done to nudge the customer to buy a new product.
- Inbuilt batteries: Some products like mobile phones, laptops, etc. come with inbuilt batteries that cannot be replaced by the user. With replacement requiring a visit to the service center and high cost of battery, customers are nudged into buying a new product.
- Perceived obsolescence: In this strategy, manufacturers create the perception that the old product is no longer fashionable or no longer a status symbol.
- Programmed obsolescence: Some products are designed to stop working after a specified period of time. Special software programs are used to make a component or product unusable.
What can you do as a consumer?
If you have noticed your old phone slowing down or printer cartridge giving error, it can be a potential case of planned obsolescence. When it comes to planned obsolescence, consumers usually have limited options to deal with it. While some consumers have filed legal cases against manufacturers, following the same route may not be possible for every consumer. The best you can do is switch to a new brand or ask a local expert/mechanic to solve your problem. Reading customer reviews can give you an idea about brands that offer durable products, build to last a long time.