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Part 1: Defective products and a pattern of consumer abuse

The holiday shopping season is here, which means many people will buying the latest electronic games, along with cameras, cellphones and other gadgets. Many consumers, wanting to be the first among their friends to acquire the latest electronic device, will go to extraordinary lengths to buy a cellphone or computer on the day it launches. Even if the product later goes down in price later or has a few bugs, they say it's worth it.

But is it?

Consumers often assume that a product has been rigorously tested in laboratories and consumer groups before it's launched, but the truth is, the early-adopters often serve as product-testers themselves, while companies feel no need to inform or compensate them.

To cite one example, the magazine Game Informer reported in 2009 that the failure rate for the Xbox 360, which launched in 2005, was estimated at over 50 percent. There are many more instances of defective products not as well-known as that one. Many of these products are highly advertised, but due to lack of testing, even the manufacturers are unaware of the many fatal flaws that plague them, such as freezes, hardware overheating and eventually, a failure to work altogether. Hundreds of products - from laptops to video game consoles to batteries - are recalled every year.

We may wonder why a company would skip the testing of product or test insufficiently. The pressures of the marketplace might be one reason. The faster a product launches, the sooner it starts making money. Competition is intense between companies, and a delayed product launch could give a competitor a market advantage. Early adopters, by definition, don't have the benefit of the informal reviews of other consumers, warning them the product they're buying might be a dud.

Consumers might be tempted to give companies the benefit of the doubt. After all, a company has a reputation to uphold, so perhaps the problems are inadvertent and isolated. The truth is that in many cases, the relationship between consumers and companies reflects a pattern of abuse, with the consumer believing promises by the company that they've changed, but in reality never getting the respect they deserve. Part Two in this series will look at how that happens.

Source:, "Broken, Bound, Gagged: Customers Silenced About Defective Products" Noreen Seebacher, Nov. 25, 2013

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