Nowadays the majority of the products quickly become out-of-date and the consumers need to buy the newer versions of such products. Many economists believe that the companies intentionally design their products in such a way that after a certain period of time they have to be replaced. Some popular examples are: clothes, computer software, cell phones, printer cartridges, light bulbs, etc. (Howard, n.d.).
The following issues have been identified in the articles by Howard (n.d.) and The Economist (2009):
Frequent confusion of two concepts – “obsolescence” and “consumerism”.
Reasons for obsolescence: technical insignificance, social preferences, value engineering, increase of revenues, etc.
Factors upon which obsolescence depends: the value that the new version brings to the client, frequency of updates, fashionable life vs. technical functionality, a kind of product (standardized or luxury product, clothes, home electronics, etc.).
Unsustainability of obsolescence.
The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines consumerism as “the belief that it is good for people to spend a lot of money on goods and services” and obsolescence as “the condition of no longer being used or useful: the condition of being obsolete” (Merriam Webster Dictionary, n.d.). Consumerism is partly based on the replacement of the obsolete products with the newer versions. Therefore, some companies plan in advance the limited durability of a product that would be beneficial for them. They plan that in the future their customers will need to buy their products or services as the replacement for the older products (The Economist, 2009).
There are a large number of reasons why some products become not useful anymore. For instance, technical insignificance and changing social preferences may unintentionally cause the product’s obsolescence (Howard, n.d.). Moreover, the planned obsolescence may be sometimes required due to the “value engineering”. If the products were made from high-quality and expensive materials, nobody would buy them (Howard, n.d.).
Nevertheless, planned obsolescence is usually used by the companies in order to increase the sales of the products and make it difficult to repair or replace the products with the older versions. For example, software companies offer many updates of their products and as the result older versions cannot function properly or constrain the users from the complete functionality of the products (The Economist, 2009).
Strategy of planned obsolescence must be carefully used, because if there are too many updates, the consumers will not be convinced enough that the new products have a better value (The Economist, 2009). So they will stay with the older version or switch to a manufacturer that sells the products with longer durability.
In many industries, due to the technical progress the obsolescence depends on the fashionable life and design rather than the functionality (The Economist, 2009). People do not buy clothes because of the poor quality. They buy clothes because the fashion trends change every season. One more example is the cars. Nowadays, most cars have excellent quality and can be used for long periods of time. In order to increase the cars’ obsolescence, the companies put emphasis on the design and reduction of the “fashionable life” (The Economist, 2009).
Finally, obsolescence is not an issue for the companies that sell luxury products (The Economist, 2009). Such products usually have very long durability and are sold for the other reasons rather than just functionality. Moreover, their price may increase with the time because they are exclusive.
The companies should be careful when applying planned obsolescence to their products. They should assess the consumers’ paying capacity and the competitors’ products in order to benefit from the in-built obsolescence. What is more, socially responsible companies should think about sustainability of the products. Obsolescence requires excessive use of resources that leads to the increased CO2 emissions and pollution (Howard, n.d.).
Howard, B. (n.d.). Planned Obsolescence: 8 Products Designed to Fail. Popular Mechanics.
Retrieved from http://www.popularmechanics.com/technology/g202/planned-
Obsolescence. (n.d.) In Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary. Retrieved from
Consumerism. (n.d.) in In Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary. Retrieved from
The Economist. (23 May 2009). Planned obsolescence. Retrieved from