Consumer NZ is calling out the high cost of repairing tech and the lack of spare parts available in New Zealand.
During a mystery shop at big-box retailers, salespeople were asked about repair options for smartphones and laptops. The mystery shoppers found repairs could be eye-wateringly expensive, would take a long time or, in some cases, were just not practical.
The watchdog has launched a petition calling for a repairability label, so shoppers have accurate and unbiased repairability information before they make a purchase. France successfully rolled out repairability scoring in 2021.
New Zealanders throw out about 97,000 tonnes of unwanted or broken electrical waste each year – one of the highest per-capita amounts in the OECD.
“Manufacturers have tied up the repair game to restrict competition,” said Consumer’s product test manager, Dr Paul Smith. “This has made it too expensive and time consuming for shoppers to repair faulty devices.
“We own the products, so it should be up to us whether we repair, and where the repairs are done too. These decisions should not be taken out of our hands.”
Some manufacturers are restricting spare parts and instruction manuals, claiming this practice reduces ‘poor-quality’ repairs.
“We know some manufacturers will void a warranty altogether if a consumer decides to repair the device themselves, or if they use an unaccredited repairer,” Dr Smith said. “Oppo and Acer fall firmly in this camp.
“These warranty conditions don’t restrict your rights under consumer law if the repairer hasn’t damaged the device. The Consumer Guarantees Act doesn’t require repairs to be done by authorised repairers.”
Outside a product’s warranty period, the owner may have to stump up a significant sum if they choose to have their device repaired. When shopping for Oppo and Samsung phones at Noel Leeming, the mystery shopper was told spare parts could be $500.
At Noel Leeming, a bond of $55 is required upfront to assess a smartphone for faults – even if the device is under warranty. The bond is fully refundable if the device is found to have a manufacturing fault.
“Having to fork out to get a smartphone fault assessed is just one more barrier to repairability,” said Dr Smith.
When a fault develops during a product’s warranty period, generally it is sent back to the manufacturer for repair. However, it was not clear to the mystery shoppers exactly where products were sent. If a device is sent to a far-flung repairer, the owner could be left without their phone or laptop for a long time.
“As an example, Microsoft doesn’t have any authorised repairers in New Zealand and won’t tell Consumer where its facility for repairing faulty items is,” said Dr Smith.
“We think, by not having any accredited repairers in New Zealand, Microsoft could contravene the Consumer Guarantees Act.
“Given the circumstances, we understand why people choose to get an instant replacement device, rather than wait for an item to be assessed and repaired. When you’ve paid for a product, you should have access to the service it provides.”
We mystery shopped four retailers – Harvey Norman, Noel Leeming, PB Tech and Warehouse Stationery (located in The Warehouse stores) – for smartphones and laptops between April and August 2022. We asked the salespeople whether there were common faults with the devices, what happened if it broke outside of the warranty period, whether the phone was repairable, and where it could be repaired.
We shopped for big-brand smartphones: Apple iPhone, Oppo, Samsung, Nokia and Vodafone (various models) at each store. We also shopped for big-brand laptops: Apple MacBook, Dell, HP, Lenovo, Acer and Microsoft (various models) at each store. Shoppers may have inquired about two devices in one shop.
Not all manufacturers engage in these questionable practices. A spokesperson for HP told Consumer it has online videos for people wanting to undertake DIY repairs and genuine parts are available to buy online. HP has three service centres across New Zealand, and PB Tech is also an authorised repairer for HP devices.*