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Cost / Benefit Analysis

August 31, 2012

Last weekend I took my daughter clothes shopping at our local multinational department store. Five pairs of socks and panties, a skirt, tights, a camisole, a pair of shoes, and a few shirts later I’d spent a hundred dollars – and felt I’d gotten off easy.

When we got home she pranced around in her new outfits while I sat and removed labels and cut out tags. One item – I think it was the skirt – came with a tiny plastic Ziploc bag containing a strand of white thread and a button. ‘How nice’, I thought, ‘they provided an extra button in case this one falls off’.

But over the next few days, as that little bag sat around on the ledge between the kitchen and the dining room, I started wondering. Is there a hidden message in that extra button? Are they expecting the original one to fall off?

It reminds me of the scene in the beginning of Fight Club, where Ed Norton’s character is explaining his job to a lady on the plane. “Take the number of vehicles in the field, A, multiply by the probable rate of failure, B, multiply by the average out-of-court settlement, C. A times B times C equals X. If X is less than the cost of a recall, we don’t do one.”

In the case of the button, it must be cheaper for the department store to include an extra button with their product than to deal with broken, returned, merchandise. But there’s more to it than that. It must also be cheaper to include that extra button than to create quality merchandise in the first place. And that, my friends, is pathetic.

How many people use that extra button? How many stash it away in a convenient yet memorable place against the day their child runs inside crying over a missing button? Chances are, very few. And yet, since the department store did provide it, chances are the consumer isn’t going to return the product either. In effect that button represents a guilt trip.

Consumers shouldn’t have to fix their purchases; they should be made to last, and if they don’t the distributor should be ready and willing to replace it. Well, instead of stashing that bag I’m stashing my receipt, and I urge you all to do the same. As for the button and thread, it will make a great cat toy. I might as well use it for something; after all, I paid for it.

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From → Rants

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