When a crucial household appliance goes wrong, many of us face a dilemma.
Do you replace it or repair it? If it is the former, do you buy new or maybe seek out pre-owned or reconditioned? And if new is the answer, how do you wade through the myriad choices?
“If buying a refurbished product,” says Ian Golding, an international customer experience trainer and adviser, “ensure you have absolute clarity of terms and conditions first – is there a warranty and guarantee?
“What does the warranty and guarantee cover? How can you return an item if you are not comfortable with its condition?”
The latter, naturally, also follows for new items.
For some the decision is driven by budget – for others it is a question of basic domestic economics versus not adding to landfill crowded with retired products; including some that may have been repairable.
In my family's case, it was the car vacuum cleaner that opened the debate. After four years service, the 1,600-watt Samsung stopped suction.
Surely it could be fixed, since the motor was still working. But herein lay a problem.
In the UK, many towns have a local shop that can diagnose a fault and either repair for a modest fee or harvest for parts, sometimes in exchange for a discounted replacement.
Our enquiries led to a “man that fixes stuff” in Dubai. Without examining the vacuum he quoted Dh150 to Dh200.
Weighed against the cost of new, and of equivalent spec – Dh175 at the time on Souq – the decision was obvious.
This presents its own dilemma for the green-minded, of course, as new products often mean importation and additional carbon footprint; regardless of whether the replacement is more efficient than its predecessor.
Even if you do repair, this may prove a temporary fix, delaying the inevitable day when you have to buy a replacement.
And when buying new, be careful, says Mr Golding.
“If you have any doubt whatsoever, do not buy the product. I would always recommend gathering information first – then leaving the store to consider what you have been given. Give yourself the chance to check what you’ve been told is fair and accurate.
“If you are in store and receiving assistance from a salesperson, make sure you take note of their name – if you have a complaint this makes it easier to investigate.”
Of course, things are generally more reassuring if buying new rather than attempting to repair – or perhaps buying “pre-loved” from a departing expat via Dubizzle.
Mohamad El Yassir, MEA regional managing director of Whirlpool Corporation, a US multinational manufacturer and marketer of home appliances, believes it is down to individual evaluation.
"Whirlpool has proven to manufacture appliances that are durable enough to live up to the expectations of our consumers," he says. "However, appliances, as [with] any product, have a life cycle after which consumers have the option to either repair or replace, based on preferences, budgets etc.
One rule does not fit all.
“Each consumer, depending on his/her expectations of the product, will either keep the product and repair it or go for a new one.
“We believe [that] in such a fast moving pace of life, where technologies are evolving every day, consumers tend to replace with new ones that were developed to meet their needs nowadays. It is personal preferences and situations that will determine [whether to] repair or replace.”
One thing UAE retailers usually do well is selling us something new. There are regular deals out there, such as during the annual Dubai Shopping Festival, the 2018 edition of which ended last month. There is often no shortage of in-store advice while scouting big domestic purchases.
While kitting out our apartment amid the Ramadan sales season, we outlined our needs to an enthusiastic salesman at Carrefour who showcased options fitting our criteria of efficiency, reliability and price.
Presented with familiar brands, we checked his recommendations against tests done by UK consumer magazine and website Which? It confirmed the salesman's good guidance. "Online review websites are vital to getting to the truth of whether a brand is honest and makes things easy for you when things go wrong," says Mr Golding.
He has a 20-year global career in consulting large brands, training staff to ensure they deliver best possible experience, and was recently in Dubai for the Gulf CX Awards.
“Unfortunately not all UAE retailers feature on the better global review sites like Trustpilot and Viewpoints, but a quick look at their social media pages will reveal how customers rate them,” says Mr Golding.
Many major manufacturers are seeking to make their appliances better for the environment and our electricity and water bills.
Star ratings are displayed on most products, taking the pain out of research – but doing your homework rather than rushing is still advisable.
Consumers have the option to spend maybe a little more and achieve a greater star rating – meaning their new equipment could recoup the initial extra outlay in the long run by saving on energy use. And there’s always the temptation to simply splash out on the most advanced products.
Whirlpool Corporation, for instance, is this year rolling out 20 "smart" appliances, including an oven, washer and dryer that can communicate with and be controlled via an app on Apple Watch.
Of course, the firm is not alone in offering smart home appliances. Companies like LG and Samsung have been working on connected refrigerators and ovens for a few years now. Some, like LG's SmartThinQ fridge, let you check their status through your phone so you can make sure things are working properly and that you have enough ice. Others, like Samsung's Family Hub fridge, have their own touch screen and can function as a communication centre for your home, and even have cameras inside so you see what you're low on while you are out shopping.
“In today’s market, an offline refrigerator or oven, the product is the best it’s ever going to be on the day you buy it and put it in your home,” Chris McGugan, general manager of Innovation and Kenmore at the US department store chain Sears, told Digital Trends website in October. Add an internet connection, he said, and Whirlpool, Kenmore, GE Appliances, and others could deliver a software update that offers a new feature.
“UAE consumers have proven very sophisticated, and hungry to adapt to new technologies,” says Mr El Yassir, whose company incorporates the Ariston, Indesit and Maytag brands.
"Most are well travelled and, hence, quite experimentative when it comes to choices at home. Many new products arrive in the UAE before anywhere else in the world. However, the UAE is still a very diverse community with a lot of unique tastes and preferences based on diversity in backgrounds. Preferences in the UAE and MEA are different from Europe, especially when it comes to home appliances – family sizes are different, sizes of apartments etc. What sells in Europe doesn't necessarily sell in this region."
The sensible thing to do is research. In the internet era, discovering how shortlisted appliances rated in testing is easier than ever.
Then there’s aftercare to consider, says Mr Golding.
“Consumers expect, and should receive, an aftercare experience that delivers three vital ingredients: honesty; simplicity and ease,” he says.
“Make sure you ask for the aftercare service to be explained, to see it in writing – don’t just take the salesperson’s word for it. Don’t feel pressured to buy until you are completely happy.
“We should be able to trust the company we bought it from to stick to their promises, addressing the problem quickly and with no fuss. Home appliances are usually essential daily use items, so it can be quite disruptive if the item you expected to work doesn’t.”
The old adage is that you get what you pay for. So, buying pre-owned or cheapest new product could prove a false economy.
One reason major brands are often major is not just marketing, but reliability. And that comes at a cost. For example, Whirpool Corporation says it spends about $1 billion on research and development annually.
“Home appliances are not products consumers purchase with a mindset to change in the next year – these were manufactured to survive long enough, depending on frequency of usage, ways of usage [and so forth],” says Mr El Yassir.
"We have not only been manufacturing appliances for more than 10 decades, we have passed our legacy to brands we have acquired. As a company, we have an accumulated knowledge and expertise of many well-known appliance brands."
So, ultimately it can come down to where you buy. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, the best deals can be online.
“Purchasing an appliance is, in theory, easier than ever,” adds Mr Golding.
“Whether you want to buy online or in store, we have more ability to check things out first than at any point in history. Ultimately these are standardised items, so it doesn’t matter where you get them from – the product is the same.
“Remember, an online store doesn’t have the operating costs of a retail chain, so can often be the cheaper option.
"Online retailers are setting high standards of aftercare and are well worth considering. Amazon is amazing; they often replace an item before they've received the faulty one back – very few retailers do that," says Mr Golding.
“Firms are increasingly conscious that customers have more choice – and it’s more often service, not price, that makes the biggest difference.”