Why we buy low quality

Firstly, I want to apologize for the very long radio silence since my last post. My responsibilities at work have escalated to unsustainable levels over the past year and I had to put this project on the sidelines in order to avoid burnout. Luckily, this issue has now been sorted out with my boss and 2014 promises to be more balanced, implying a more reliable continuation of the One in a Billion project.

So, let’s get straight back into this vitally important discussion about consumption patterns – the most direct way in which you and I can influence the world. Unfortunately, things have been going very much in the wrong direction over the past couple of decades. The video below is probably the best documentary on this very worrying topic of planned obsolescence.

As often mentioned on this blog, the environment in which we live determines our actions. It therefore becomes obvious that, if we live in an environment where our stuff breaks all the time, we automatically end up buying more stuff. Then, as we have to buy more and more new stuff and our finances become increasingly stretched, we become more price-sensitive and end up buying even lower quality stuff. This is a very dangerous vicious cycle.

An important factor in this cycle is the pricetag on the item. A lightbulb that will last for twenty years might be only three times more expensive than one that lasts for only a year or two, but we have been conditioned to ignore the vast difference in quality and only look at the purchasing price.

This culture is reinforced by the increasing popularity of massive low-price stores. See this article for example which states that the drive towards low-price-low-quality consumables is causing a rapid rise in the number of items bought per person. Apparently, the average American now buys more than one item of clothing every single week and a new TV every 2.5 years. Wow…

Other things such as consumer electronics are sold on a combination of planned and perceived obsolescence. Perceived obsolescence is when an item is trashed because it went out of fashion and is very common for things such as cell phones. As an example, Americans keep their phones for an average of less than two years, thereby trashing more than 100 million perfectly functional phones every year.

Naturally, it is in the best interests of the producer to release a new version with a few more functions every year in order to sell more product, but the actual value added to the consumer and to society by these extra functions (most of which are scarcely used) is highly questionable. As long as consumers keep buying, however, this will continue, allowing producers to increasingly compromise on quality.

So, the first step to changing consumption patterns is therefore very simple: understand the concepts of planned and perceived obsolescence. Once this is properly understood, corrective actions start flowing quite naturally. Here is another video to help drive this understanding home.

Filed under: Consumption patterns – Better instead of more

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