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18 November 2022

Information about repairability and reliability lacking at big-box retailers

Consumer NZ conducted a mystery shop and found a lack of information about the repairability and reliability of smartphones and laptops at big-box retailers.

The mystery shoppers hit four retailers – Harvey Norman, Noel Leeming, PB Tech and Warehouse Stationery (most were in The Warehouse stores). They asked the salespeople for advice about a product’s common faults, what happens if it broke outside the warranty period, whether it could be repaired, and where it could be repaired.

“During our mystery shop, most salespeople were evasive about common faults with devices,” said Consumer’s head of testing, Dr Paul Smith.

“Our own data shows faults are much more prevalent than the salespeople indicated. There’s currently no way of knowing whether a product will be reliable or easily repairable.

“We are calling for a product repairability label so consumers have unbiased information upfront when shopping for new tech,” Dr Smith said. “A repairability label would tell you how easy a product is to repair before you buy it.

“Laptops and smartphones are pricey items. Shoppers should be able to make an informed purchase, with confidence their device will perform reliably and last a reasonable length of time.”

Faults all too common

A 2021 tech reliability survey by Consumer found 13% of smartphone users experienced a fault with their phone within five years of purchase – and 44% of the faults happened within the first year. For 51% of faulty phones, the problem was major or catastrophic.

Nearly one in five laptops bought in the previous five years had developed a fault, according to the survey. Of those faults, 44% appeared within the first 12 months of purchase. Three-quarters of the faults were reported as major or catastrophic.

How long a product should last, according to salespeople

Mystery shoppers were told smartphones could last anywhere from one to seven years, and forking out for a high-end device was the road to long-lasting satisfaction.

A salesperson at PB Tech told the shopper an Oppo phone would last about 12 months, but at this price ($257), it would have done its job.

Another PB Tech salesperson said an Apple iPhone 13 could last between five and six years. Samsung was also recommended as a durable choice; the salesperson said they’d had a Samsung S6 since 2015, and it was still going strong.

Noel Leeming’s salesperson said the Samsung Galaxy A32 had a shorter life expectancy: “[It would last] probably a couple of years … unless you go for something, like, really high end.”

A mystery shopper at Warehouse Stationery was told a Samsung Galaxy would last “easily three years” unless it’s used for video games, which would bring its life expectancy down to just six months.

Similarly, the average life of a laptop ranged from “a few years” through to five. The Apple MacBook was sold as the most durable option at Noel Leeming, with a five-year lifespan.

“PB Tech deserves an honorable mention for naming laptop faults,” Dr Smith said. “Our mystery shopper was told batteries, fraying power cords and internal graphics cards could be problems.”

Repairability labelling

“Unrepairable products hit our pockets and our planet hard,” Dr Smith said. “New Zealand is the only country in the OECD without e-waste regulations. We need things to change. If we can shop based on how long products will last and how repairable they are, manufacturers and retailers will be forced to lift their game.”

Consumer is calling for a repairability label so shoppers can easily access independent and verified information to help them make well-informed choices.

Sign Consumer's Right to Repair petition to add your voice to its call for a repairability label. You can sign the petition and read about Consumer’s other Right to Repair work on its campaign page.

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