Consumers: If It Ain't Broke, Fix It Anyway

March 8, 2006
As consumers in greater numbers head to the local retailer to finally make that leap into HD, coupled with a divisive and confusing format war underway to control the next DVD universe, there comes this item that might give pause:

A whopping one-half of all "malfunctioning products" returned to stores by consumers are actually in good working order, but customers cannot figure out how to operate the devices the way they are intended, according to a study at the Technical University of Eindhoven in the Netherlands.

Product complaints and subsequent returns are often caused by poor design (most notably in consumer electronics), yet apparently a lot of manufacturers and retailers frequently dismiss the public's frustrations as simply a nuisance, said Elke den Ouden, a Dutch scientist who wrote her thesis on the problem.

She especially noted that the myriad of electronic devices which have inundated the marketplace in recent years -- such as MP3 players, home media centers including HD hardware and wireless audio systems -- are often too complex to assemble, or just too darn confusing, for even the brightest consumers to properly install. Lack of patience is what often leads to abrupt product returns. Den Ouden said the average American consumer will struggle for typically 20 minutes to get a seemingly complex device working, before quitting. She reportedly gave some new CE products (from several different manufacturers) to a group of managers from Philips, and asked the professionals to try the products out over a weekend. She said many of the managers returned on Monday frustrated because they, too, could not get the devices to work properly.

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