This may come as a shock, but some of the most trusted brands to which you’re loyal are selling you things that are designed to break or otherwise become useless after a period of time. There’s a name for this shady practice — planned or intentional obsolescence — and it’s rampant in retail. I call it: the intentional obsolescence scam.
That’s right — you’re buying duds, and you don’t even know it.
Virtually no product category is exempt, including tools, textiles and technology. And you’re probably thinking, why would my favorite brand intentionally sell me something with a limited lifespan? For one, simple capitalistic reason: They want to make more money off you.
Here are five methods manufacturers use to take advantage of intentional obsolescence:
Low Quality Goods
One way Walmart keeps prices low is by focusing on quantity, rather than quality. Let’s use metal flatware as an example. It’s going to tarnish and even rust well before you’ve gotten a reasonable amount of usage out of it because it’s made from cheap materials.
Kitchen tools, too, are another area where the low cost of the item is attractive, but in the long run will cost you more than a more durable, immediately more expensive item because it will have to be replaced sooner. I have experience with Walmart brand flatware and kitchen tools — like their baseline can opener, which retails for about $5. I’m here to tell you that it’s in your time and money’s best interest to loosen your purse strings and spring for names that have proven their durability instead of the Walmart brand. The latter will break far sooner than the former because the materials used are not high quality.
Pro Tip: Avoid the least expensive item at all cost. Choose something more mid-range, with quality materials and a reasonable life span.
Most of us know what a monopoly is — cornering a market with a good or service — and it’s a restricted practice in the United States. An oligopoly, on the other hand, is a market structure in which few firms dominate. Neither is ideal for the consumer. After all, limited buyer options are why people complain about their phone, Internet and cable services. But wouldn’t you know that if you want faster Internet, your local provider can grant you access to it for an increased fee. Funny how that works.
Pro Tip: Don’t let your local service providers call the shots. Take back your tech-dependence by researching and choosing the specific services that make the most sense you’re your needs and your budget.
Here’s another intentional obsolescence scam. While you may think you’re buying a quality product that will last many years, the retailer knows differently. It’s a classic case of pulling the wool over someone’s eyes, and that someone is you.You may be thinking, “I’m not dumb enough to fall for that trap!” Au contraire. You have in the past — and you still do today — because of brand loyalty. Some brands know that you’re not going anywhere else to buy certain items, which means that they can offer whatever quality product they want. You get what you pay for — except that’s not always a good thing.
Pro Tip: If you’re continually replacing a certain item more frequently than you think you should, start questioning the brand. Perhaps it’s time to break free from the shackles of brand loyalty and try other suppliers.
There’s not too much you can do about technological advances, and it’s not entirely industry’s fault that advancements make certain products obsolete in a short amount of time. Unfortunately, this facet of intentional obsolescence is a product of our times. However, the burden falls entirely on the consumer. In other words: if you want the latest and greatest, you have to pay for it. And in many cases these days it’s not long after you purchased the previous model.
Pro Tip: Reevaluate what technologies you need in your life. Is it necessary to have the works, or can you get by with limited access? If the latter is possible, you can shave a good chunk of change off your expenses.
Frequent Version Updates
Needing something and wanting something are on opposite ends of the intentional obsolescence spectrum. On one end, producers are making limited lifespan products that you need like that cheap can opener I mentioned earlier. On the other, producers are making products that you want — make that must have. And there’s nobody better at this game than Apple. Anybody with an iPhone 12, which was released in 2020, will tell you that they didn’t need an iPhone 13 (2021), or iPhone 14 (2022). Rather, they wanted it — and Apple took their desire all the way to the bank.
Pro Tip: Don’t allow yourself to be hypnotized by every new gizmo and gadget that hits the market. If what you already have suits your needs, skip the version update until new technology makes an update worth your while.
Photo Credit: Abode of Chaos