I was recently passing time browsing at Boots while my wife tried to spend some of her birthday vouchers. Unfortunately I found myself infuriated at the price of a Philips shaver on display at Â£219 which reminded me just how ridiculously low washing machine prices have sunk.
What an outrageous price for such a small item. It’s only a shaver, it just shaves. My own shaver cost a ridiculous Â£99 and is the same as this one except it doesn’t have a fancy swivel head and an LCD display. I know I’ve probably been too critical about cheap white goods over the years but here’s why I think these shavers are outrageously expensive.
The reason is, I’m comparing them with washing machines, which for years have been one of the few products that hardly ever go up in price – only down (which can’t be fully accounted for by advances in technology or substantially increased volumes of sales). For example, at John Lewis, for (at least) the last 12 months you’ve been able to buy a Tricity AW1001 (1000 spin) washing machine for only Â£199 with free delivery AND a 2 year guarantee. This isn’t a discounted price it’s the “proper” price.
Something is definitely wrong. Think about it. On one hand you have a little shaver about 6 inches long, weighing very little because there’s not much inside it. It only has a little DC motor, a few electronics and shaving blades yet it costs Â£219. On the other hand you have a great big washing machine so heavy you can’t pick it up. It has a large metal cabinet, a tub, a stainless steel drum with bearings and seals. Then it has a large mains voltage motor, a water pump, heater, thermostat, control PCB running computer software, a door interlock, and lots of other parts.
You could fit many dozens of shavers in the same space that a washing machine takes up either for shipping, transporting or display in a shop, yet this washing machine is not only cheaper, it’s got a 2 year guarantee, and, someone will even deliver it to your house free of charge. Not only that, if it breaks down within the 2 year guarantee period the manufacturer has to pay an expensive engineer to come out to your home and repair it. The water pump alone is bigger than the shaver. How can the washing machine possibly be Â£20 cheaper? (There are many other washing machines between Â£200 and Â£250)
I can’t express enough how warped and mixed up this is to me. My opinion is that the shaver is vastly overpriced, but the market clearly stands it. However, the washing machine is seriously under-priced because the washing machine market is over-saturated with competition. It’s also viewed as a distress purchase by the public – a necessary-evil type of purchase, which further limits the amount people are prepared to pay.
The reason I make this comparison is that it concentrates the mind on how unrealistically cheap many washing machines now are. I really don’t know how so many manufacturers of washing machines are still in business when the product they produce is apparently valued so little that they can’t even sell them at a fair price and have to conspire to sell them at way below sensible prices. At Â£199 the washing machine is not going to get repaired. Most people will dump it the first time it breaks down. Even the manufacturer’s repair agents will charge Â£97 (inc. VAT) to repair it out of warranty and that’s if it didn’t need any spare parts. They can’t just keep churning them out in their millions forever, they are overfilling our landfill sites.
We’ve had throwaway products for many years and I don’t mind admitting that it never bothered me before. Advances in manufacturing that enables production of very cheap products inevitably means they will never be economical to repair but it just didn’t seem too bad when I was throwing away small items. Now that the not-worth-repairing problem has started to include big things like washing machines and fridges it doesn’t seem right any more. Maybe it’s now time to consider making it illegal to produce certain products that can’t be economically repaired? Where is all this leading?