July 21, 2009
Dyson and planned obsolescence
Posted by Usha Rodrigues

I don't buy things very often.  When I do, I trust they'll last forever.

Our household is the opposite of the early adopter.  We're of the "if it works, why replace it?" and "we've lived  years without it--who needs it?" school.  So we were, until last week, one of those weird households without a flatscreen television.  I bought my old faithful, a 25" Samsung, when I moved out to Madison for grad school in 1995, and it worked just fine, thank you very much.

You know how this story goes. Things fall apart, much as I might rage, rage against it.  Our Samsung started emitting these strange crackling noises and the picture would jump.  A neighbor christened it "Zappy."  It still took us about 6 months to replace, despite hazard to hearth and home.  It was the tyranny of choices: plasma or HD?  How many Herz?  Wall-mount or buy furniture?   Confronting each question compounded the helpless consumer feeling of being forced to buy something when you'd really rather just keep what you had.

Which brings me to Dyson.  We live with 2 big dogs, along with assorted guest dogs.  (Today, for example, we're petsitting a third and have a fourth over to entertain the third).  So we have hair issues.  We also have a fancy Dyson vacuum that works great.  Except, apparently, when one inadvertently gets too close to one's daughter's tiny little frog t-shirt. 

As with the TV, I waited for quite a while to take action. It might fix itself, right?  Maybe it just needed a break.  And who to call?  The phone book offered an array of small electronics repair shops, but all sounded vaguely shady.  AAA Ability Appliance Repair? Mr. Appliance?

Finally my husband suggested calling the number on the vacuum.  OK, I thought, they can at least direct us to an authorized shop.  Multi-tasker that I am, I was getting ready for work as I dialed.  But after only 1 minute of Muzak, I was talking to a live person.  Who was asking me to--what?  Go to the vacuum?  Find a coin and flip it over and take off the bottom plate?  Turn it on and test the suction?  He didn't think we were going to be able to fix this over the phone, did he?  Didn't he know I was getting ready for work?

It took about 20 minutes, but I got the vacuum apart, and he diagnosed the problem.  The vacuum was still under warranty, and so he sent the replacement parts out to us free of charge.  Done.

What surprised me most was how empowered I felt by the experience.  I'd actually fixed the problem, without going to a shop or having to buy a new one.  But it strikes me that it's hard to advertise a selling point like Dyson's customer service.  When buying the New Shiny Thing that will make your life better, you don't want to hear about it breaking down. Just like my Virginia realtor scoffed when I listed, among our house's many wonderful features, that its basement didn't flood in Hurricane Isabel when everyone else's did.  That particular asset didn't make it into the brochure, but it will sure make the occupants happy one rainy day. 

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