Why Don’t They Make Things Like They Used To?

Ever get the feeling that you’re being forced to buy a new smartphone because yours is becoming more slower and more unusable?

Why is it cheaper to buy a whole new washing machine rather than fix one tiny part?

If your intuition is smelling a skunk, your absolutely right.  You’re being played by some pretty nasty marketing techniques that are afoot these days.

Its true, they don’t make things like they used to because of:

  • Mega-monopolies
  • Adequate demand but mediocre competition
  • Rising cost of raw materials
  • Exchange rate hikes/tariffs
  • Quality Control costs extra up front
  • Tempting profits from cheap offshore manufacturers
  • Lack of experienced craftsmen
  • Lower moral standards in business 
  • Weaker work ethic
  • Shorter life-cycles means more profits

So, don’t diss the old timers who gripe that, “They don’t make things like they used to.”  They’ve got a good point. 

Yeah, I know there were plenty of really crappy things in their time too like lower life expectancy, poor healthcare and unreliable cars.  Still, plenty of products have slipped far below par since grampy’s days.

Did you know that many of the products you use are actually engineered to wear out prematurely?

Did you know some are even programmed to die?

You’re the victim of something called “planned obsolescence”

I dedicated this site to combatting unethical and wasteful practices like planned obsolescence by empowering folks like you to make informed buying decisions on long-lasting products. 

Think of WellRigged.com as a buyers guide to the most durable products on the planet.

By Gum! It’s high time that we reward honest companies who have remained committed to producing durable top quality products.  

There is a significant ground-swell of consumers waking up and saying, “Were not gonna take it!” to all these shady marketing techniques. 

Now, Ladies and Gentlemen, please fasten your seatbelts. We are expecting some turbulence as we begin our descent into the nasty stormy under-world of evil marketing tactics.

7 Reasons Companies Compromise Quality

To begin with, here are some general reasons why companies these days are so willing to lower their quality standards.


Here in Canada I pay around $180/month for two smart phones (10GB data total).  I know, its outrageous but its a prison..a cold frozen prison with bad cell phone plans.

When I went to Africa last month  I  only payed 3$ for a sim card and 50$ for unlimited data. 

 Hello? How is it possible that one of poorest countries on earth can provide better mobile service than a G7 country?

Its because the Canadian wireless market has been cornered by two companies (Bell and Rogers) and they’ve clearly agreed not to lower prices for their mutual benefit. It’s price fixing pure and simple. 

Beware: often what seems to be plenty of competition in actuality just a bunch subsidiary companies owned by one or two huge conglomerates. It’s super-easy for them to corner the markets and manipulate prices, services and quality.

Monopolies usually mean crappy products and services. 

Adequate Demand but Mediocre Competition

Even when there are other companies serving a market, product quality can remain poor because the companies themselves are fat and lazy.  They get this way when there’s more than enough demand to go around.  

The Japanese showed up in America with their high-quality little Toyotas and Hondas and ruined the party for US car makers.  Ford  and GM engineers suddenly had to stop showing up to work in their pajamas.

They’ve put their big boy pants on now, but not before being thoroughly spanked.

Rising Cost of Raw Materials

Juice doubles in price overnight when oranges freeze in Florida.  The consumer decides if it worth paying.  In other markets, it’s not that easy when raw material prices go up.  The temptation is very strong to put less into their product in order to stay competitively priced.

Exchange Rates and Lower Purchasing Power.

When the Chinese Yuan gains against the US Dollar, outsourcers look to cut corners by buying downgraded products. 

It’s not that China can’t produce quality products.  It’s the almost irresistible opportunity for outsourcers to reap higher profit margins by downgrading their standards just a bit more.

There are absolutely massive merchant conventions in China where outsourcers and dollar store tycoons buy crap up by the container load, ship them to North America and make dollars bills out of pennies. The opportunity is just too tantalizing for many companies to pass up.

Quality Control Costs More Up Front

Higher quality products mean more training for workers,  slower production, more staff, and higher costs related to fixing defects.

Lack of Experienced Workers

The average college graduate today will hold 12-15 jobs in their lifetime.  The day of the lifetime jobs are over.  Workers don’t get to perfect their craft in one place for 40 years.  That has a huge effect on quality.

The CEO of Earnest Wright Scissors (beautiful hand-crafted scissors by the way) recently pointed out to me that lifetime craftsmen used to be paid very poorly.  Now they are sought after like gold. 

Eroding Moral Standards

“If it’s right for me..it’s right.”  “Truth is whatever I feel it is.” Sorry, that’s pure bull and the fruit of it leads to chaos.  Air-headed mantras like this make very mooshy foundations for company standards let alone a society.

Let’s face it. Common decency, honesty and moral integrity has found harder ground these days. 

CEO’s are grimacing an awful lot more in interview rooms these days as a new generation of socially awkward, entitled college grads come prancing in seeking jobs. 

A Weaker Work Ethic

I know it’s a broad generalization, but this generation(in the west especially) lacks the patience, stamina and grit that our grandparents and great grandparents had when they weathered the Great Depression and WW2.  That hardiness translates to valuing durability and quality.

An old farmer wryly pointed out to me recently, 

“Boys these days are useless workers, and it’s all because farmers stopped making square bales.”   

Farm hands no longer have to heave thousands of bales of hay in the blistering heat and dust all summer long.  The tractors do all of that now.

I chuckled. I as a teen, I heaved 32,000 bales of hay each summer then milked cows in the afternoons.  It’s was a pretty brutal boot camp for a 15 year-old but I got hired right away for plenty of jobs just because folks knew that “farm boys knew how to work.”

What is Planned Obsolescence Anyway?

Planned obsolescence is just fancy economists’ talk for the wide-spread shady practice of actually designing a product to die or become outdated more prematurely.

It’s illegal in France and should be in North America too.

The idea behind this wasteful and unethical practice (you guessed it) is money.   Money-grubbing companies everywhere are milking the naive masses for their hard-earned money and they’re not even blushing.

Planned obsolescence is best done by subtly conditioning consumers into believing that the “normal” lifespan of a product is actually shorter than it really is. Theoretically, that translates to a higher rate of returning customers.  Can you say Chaachinng?

Planned obsolescence has gone viral in the marketplace and its infection goes far deeper than most think.

The Origins of the Virus

Let’s rip the band-aid off this unpleasant mess by examining how planned obsolescence came to be in America.

The Light Bulb Mafia

As far back as the 1920’s some “creative thinkers” from a number of light bulb companies got together to solve a problem. Their bulbs were lasting too long and they needed new customers. 

They had a “light bulb” moment an all agreed to re-engineer their light bulbs so they would burned out after no more than 1000 hrs. 

Suddenly business was booming again. Imagine that!. With dollar signs in their eyes, the slippery slope of “planned obsolescence” had begun.  

The “Model Year Redesign”

1923 Chevrolet: one of the first examples of model year updates

Around the same time car makers had pretty much saturated the market and sales were slumping.   So, Chevy decided to borrow a tactic from the bicycle industry and coax return customers by offering “model year redesigns.” 

The thing is…they weren’t true redesigns at all.   They were exactly the same car with a few different bends in the sheet metal. 

Not much has changed since then, eh? 

Still, they succeeded in psychologically persuading consumers that their old car was obsolete. 

(FYI: that’s exactly what they do with lawn tractors these days)  Its called “perceived obsolescence” and it’s no better than painting a pig purple and selling it as a new and improved breed.

Ah, Bernard..such a charming fellow

Bernard London
Bernard London

Things got even more sketchy during the Great Depression. In 1932, some real estate guy named Bernard London proposed a new law to help end the great depression. 

He thought it would be great if the government forced expiry dates on all products! 

Well weren’t you a charmer Bernard!

He reasoned that if consumers were forced to spend their money it would revive the economy. 

We still get whiffs of this insanity in the pharmaceutical industry’s habit of scaring people into buying new bottles of pain killers if their bottle says it’s six months expired.

Mutations of the Planned Obsolescence Virus

Much like a virus, planned obsolescence has morphed into several different strains over time: some more noxious than others.

Contrived Durability

That’s when a manufacturer purposefully designs a product to last a shorter period of time.  Usually, they do this by designing certain parts with an inferior quality or a purposeful weak point calculated to fail after a pre-determined amount of normal wear and tear.

Perceived Obsolescence

That’s what Chevrolet introduced with their 1920 “redesign” it’s the “your car is crap….look how old it is! What an embarassment!” 

The consumer is psychologically convinced that their old product is obsolete even though it is still fully functional. Tech, fashion, and car makers are the big offenders here.

Systemic Obsolescence: 

That’s when companies (especially tech) make products obsolete by pushing software upgrades harder than drug dealers.   They know full-well that the updates are too heavy for the technology but they force feed it anyway. 

Ever notice your older phone slow down after an “update?”  That’s Systematic Obsolescence at work. 

Programed Obsolescence: 

This is the most devilish one of all. It’s like Systematic Obsolescence on steroids and it’s when companies purposefully break their own products at the press of a button or the end of a timed cycle.

Remember Apple’s iPhone “throttling” scandal?  They literally programmed iPhones to slow down(throttle) over time on purpose!   

Apple was, of course, all coy and puppy-eyed about it, saying they were “just trying to save battery power on older iPhones.”    Yeah, sure Apple. 

Unfortunately, Apple has a really bad track record when it comes to planned obsolescence.   They can do it especially well because of their closed eco-system of gadgets and apps. 

It’s an interesting paradox, because Apple products generally have very good build quality. 

HP got in huge crap a while back when it was discovered that they were literally programming their ink cartridges to quit the moment they hit specific page counts. 

It didn’t matter if the cartridges were still half full of ink! 

Greedy pigs!  Don’t think we’re going to just forget what you did HP!  A company’s character doesn’t change overnight, You were just sad you got caught HP.

The Evil Marketers’ Tickle-Trunk of Dirty Tricks

Install Non-Replaceable batteries:

This is a fave. They often glue them in or put the batteries in sealed compartments.  They will also purposefully use non-standard size batteries that are unavailable to the consumer market. 

Make sure parts are Expensive and Hard to Find

Phillips electric razors do last a long time, but if you ever want to change the blades forget about it!

They are as expensive as a new razor!  That makes me spitting mad!

Make products Difficult or Impossible to Repair.

Can you say “tamper-proof” screws? Plastic welds/seals and permanently glued components are all ways to make product repair almost impossible. 

Fuse Cheaper Components with Larger more Expensive Ones.

Design components in such a way that parts that commonly fail are integrated with much more expensive components thereby rendering a repair uneconomical.   It’s a great way to discourage the consumer into giving up and buying new again.

This a very common tactic in the appliance industry.  Some front loading washing machines were designed so that the bearings which occasionally need replacing was sealed permanently into the drum.  That meant the owner had to replace the whole stainless steel drum with the bearing.

Engineered Weakness at Stress Points

Use plastic tabs instead of metal, less reinforcement, lighter materials and lower grade circuit boards.  Don’t forget to limit ventilation so electronics which eventually leads to thermal fatiguing, overheating and frying.

How to Fight Back Against Planned Obsolescence and Evil Marketers

No need to be a Hippie activist with a sitar

So obviously, I hate planned obsolescence.  

I think most agree, but how do we break free of all of this.

Take heart, you don’t need to be a complete granola activist singing you’re protests on a street corner with a sitar. 

Do Solid Research On Products and Their Sources

Thankfully, people are much more savvy shoppers these days.   They read reviews and do lots of online research. All the previous generation had was “Consumer’s Reports” magazine from the grocery aisle check out.

There’s a good chance you’re already good at researching if you’ve read this far.

Unfortunately, finding decent honest reviews focused on long lasting products is actually quite hard.  That’s on reason I created WellRigged.com

(Disclosure: Yes, I do make small commissions on some of my recommendations-(hey I need to eat too), but many of the best products that I’ve recommend don’t earn me a cent.  My work speaks for itself)

But if you still think I’m biased,  I highly recommend Reddit’s sub:BuyItForLife. It’s the most unbiased forum I have found on top quality products anywhere on the internet.

Remember: Competition is Good

The good news is that planned obsolescence really struggles in an atmosphere of stiff competition.  For example, you’ve got a way better chance of getting good quality noise -canceling headphones these days because the market is red hot.

Consumers reward quality companies with increased market-share during heavy competition.  Japanese car-makers are the largest in the world for good reason: quality products.

Get Ready to Pay More

What did you expect?  Of course quality costs more.  It’s easy to talk principles until you bleed a little for them.  Take heart, in return, you get years of buyer’s satisfaction. 

You’ll also be supporting honest, hard working people and businesses who share your convictions while starving the money-grubbing evil people.

I believe rewarding companies that produce durable products with my business is the best way to fight back against planned obsolescence.

Try Delayed Gratification

Hold off on whim purchases. I can’t tell you how many times, I’ve saved making a huge mistake by holding off on a whim purchase of cheap crap.  A little further time and research showed me my folly I had almost fallen for crafty marketing.

Smart, methodical, and target shopping means you can snipe  killer deals on top quality merch.  It’s a nice feeling.

Handle the Product

Quality is not always perceived by sight but by weight and feel.  If you can’t hold the product at least follow honest reviewers who actually own the products they review. Good up-close photos help alot.  Youtube reviews are great for getting up close looks too.   

Lobby Government

The Europeans are definetly leading the way here

France, in particular, will slap a 100,000 Euro fine on any company found to be planning the death of their own products by either design or after-market service.

They’ve also imposed a mandatory 2 year warranty on all products and companies must also indicate the expected lifespan of their product on all packaging. 

They’ve even tackled waste in the food industry.  Super markets are not allowed to throw “expired” food away.  They must make it available first.  How awesome is that?

Vive La France! We need some more of that on this side of the pond.

Stuff like that doesn’t happen overnight folks, it takes the concerted voice of voters saying, “We’re gonna take this.” 

So, write letters to government and petition the heck out of them.

Leverage Social Media

Nothing shames a company out of their shady practices than shining a public spotlight on their sleazy ways.  Snap pics of crappy products/services and post them to social media with catchy titles.  We all know how one viral post or #hashtag can change everything.

Final Thoughts

Well, we’re on final approach folks. Let me land this plane by acknowledging that not all products can or should last forever. However, the benefits of building and buying more durable products are enormous. 

We could reduce untold mountains of waste, increases pride of ownership, consumer satisfaction and reward honest businesses that are struggling.  

On top of all this, quality products foster more trust in the marketplace, and I’m sure we’d all agree we need more of that these days.

For more on planned obsolescence I found a great article over at the University of British Colombia.

What other factors contribute to low quality products? Comment below.

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Don Longworth

Don was born and raised in sub-saharan Africa. Now based in Canada, his extensive experience in non-profit work has served him well over multiple deployments in Africa. Don's experiences have made him a practical "to-the-point" type person. He is a no-frills, low-key guy who appreciates quality and simplicity.

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