You Are At: AllSands Home > Money > Planned obsolescence
We've all done it at sometime in our lives- we've bought the latest gadget advertised on television or recommended by friends. We take it home, set it up, enjoy its company for a few weeks, then discover to our horror that another product has replaced it at the stores; one that is cheaper, faster, stronger and better looking than that monstrosity in our living rooms. To add insult to injury, we find that we can't get additional supplies for our '400 pound canary', because the technology is now old news. Whether it was a videotape player, a computer or a videogame player, we have all been victims of 'planned obsolescence' at some time or another.

But how can the average consumer protect him or herself from being burned again in the marketplace? Consumer education is the key to getting what you really want without fear of obsolescence. Here are some things to consider before making a major purchase in today's volatile and ever-changing consumer market.

1. What is the reputation of the company introducing the new product? Some companies pride themselves on being the first to introduce a new technology to the public, but are routinely overshadowed by future companies who release their own version of the gadget. In general, you are better off waiting for the second wave of manufacturers to introduce their versions before making a major purchase of a brand new technology. The marketing division depends on a select group of relatively wealthy risk-takers who insist on having the first of its kind. Since these customers have the resources, the prices are naturally higher during the initial introduction period. Unless money is no object, you are better off waiting until the company has finished selling off the first generation of gadgets to the most eager consumers.

2. What are the major consumer magazines saying about the product's future? Consumer Reports and others like it have probably already gotten an advanced peek into that new videoplayer, and can form intelligent guesses about its potential. If you hear rumors about a new motion picture player designed to replace DVDs, be skeptical until the professional reviewers have had a chance to evaluate the technology. Be especially cautious when considering a product that purports to replace a recent technological breakthrough, like DVDs or fast computer processors. The company may have jumped the gun, and you'll end up with an expensive doorstop or speedbump.

3. Are there enough sources for accessories and repairs? When BetaMax and VHS videotape formats were still battling for dominance, one clue to the eventual winner was the lack of BetaMax videotapes available for rental or purchase. Without entering the fray directly, the videotape companies were still able to influence the eventual outcome. The same thing happened with the Apple/IBM computer competition- consumers were not able to purchase nearly as many Apple-formatted games and applications, so the Apple computer became a distant second in sales and popularity. The company was forced to rethink its entire strategy, and only recently regained enough consumer confidence to succeed against IBM-compatible technology. Before you buy that new videogame player, look around for stores that sell game cartridges. If you have a difficult time finding supplies, you may want to put off that purchase. Industries like computers and videogame players are notoriously competitive, so expect to own an obsolete piece of equipment every two years or so.

4.Is this product following a trend, or ahead of the curve? Fashion items are notoriously fickle, and many clothes go out of style a half-hour after leaving the store, it seems. Before investing in a pair of parachute pants or a leisure suit, ask yourself if you are buying these clothes because they are practical or because you want to appear 'hip'. While it is true that some fashions come back into vogue after 20 or 30 years, like bell-bottomed jeans or mini-skirts, most of the time a fashion disaster stays a disaster. If you do buy an item based on its 'trendiness', expect a short shelf life. Most items that go obsolete before their time were only slight improvements on what was already available. Look for products that are significant improvements over existing ones. Compact Discs succeeded against tape cassettes because they offered many improvements, not just one cosmetic element. If two competing technologies are introduced at the same time, you're better off waiting until one has claimed dominance. When DVDs were first introduced, there were two competing ideas- one was a permanent medium where a movie could be watched at will, while another limited viewing to a set number. Guess which concept survived.