Saturday, October 22, 2005

They Don't Make 'Em Like They Used To …

When I was younger, products were built to last. Dad bought a car - it would just keep on going. Mum bought a hoover - it would out-live the family dog. According to my relatives, our 'Gramophone' still works - valves and all.

Should it be necessary to return a faulty or broken item back to the shop, short of performing oral sex for you, the manager of the shop would do all that he could - the customer came first. A replacement was found and the item exchanged.

A guarantee was a guarantee, not a sheet of paper covered in miniscule print that manufacturers and retailers could hide behind. It was there to protect the consumer. Not any more.

These days, if a product stops working, before you can finish your explanation to the assistant, an rigid index finger runs down the sheet, "I think you'll find that it states here that the item is not covered under the guarantee for that, so I'm afraid you're f**ked".

"Hang on, I spent 'x' amount here on a product which is guaranteed for a year. Furthermore, I spent another fifth of the total price on an extended 3-year guarantee including accidental damage insurance!"

With the same index finger, the assistant invariably re-seats his glasses onto the bridge of his nose, while making some kind of snorting noise at the same time.

Let me explain the reason behind all this;

In March of 2004, I bought a Sigma 14mm f2.8 wide angle lens, along with an extended guarantee.

That’s the fella, there.

It's pretty good, though it's not a Canon but a cheaper variant. I have spent many happy hours squeezing into tight corners and getting good results. Yesterday, I was covering an old book fair for an American agency. Wonderful stuff to be seen - bibles, dictionaries etc, from as far back as the 1500's. The Americans love this old stuff and are fascinated by its price.

I was just saying goodbye to Pascal Gillebaud and his fine collection of leather-bound treasures, when my camera bag (which was hanging off my left shoulder) swung round and my 14mm lens fell out.

It landed face down on the concrete floor, 630g of metal and glass making a terrible ‘clang’. The hard metal protector ring took the full force - as it‘s designed to do. The glass didn't smash and the only visible damage was the bent metal ring. I shook it. No tell-tale rattle. Pascal called for some pliers. He reshaped the ring, and smiling, handed the lens back to me. I fixed it to the camera and took a look through the viewfinder. No obvious cracks in the glass surfaces but the focus ring didn't work - neither on auto nor manual settings. I now knew what a short-sighted person has to contend with when misplacing the necessary eye-wear.

Photo shoot over.

Off to the dealer.

"I think you'll find that it states here …" the shop assistant regurgitated.

I argued the case of the accident insurance I had paid on the extended warranty.

"… that the item is not covered under the guarantee for that" he replied.

"What do you mean it’s not covered if I drop it? On my planet, that’s called accidental damage, you moron! How else can I possibly damage it? Do I have to shove it up a traffic warden’s rectum and sing your favourite Cole Porter number, while dressed in a tutu for it to qualify?"

"It'll have to go back to Sigma, they'll take a look at it and give you a price to fix it."

But what about my all-singing-all-dancing extended guarantee with accidental damage insurance policy?

"Not under the current terms and conditions laid out here mate."


So, what did I actually pay for in the first place? Service? Peace of mind? Over the years I've spent 12,000 Euros in that dealership.

I would be without my beloved wide angle for 3 weeks and, according to the dealer, it might cost anything up to 520 Euros (with tax) to fix. To buy an new lens would be 1400 Euros but, thankfully, they had a nearly-new 14mm for 780 Euros. I had to bite the bullet. So to save 3 weeks of fretting and the difference of 260 Euros, I bought the nearly-new.

So what does the guarantee actually guarantee? It guarantees that I will, at some point, receive an outrageous excuse from a shop who (basically) conned me when I bought the product in the first place and they then pull the safety net away from a valued customer. 'Customer'? That’s another thing … more like 'irritant'. And whatever happened to 'we'll lend you a replacement while yours is at the menders?' ... gone, like a scalded cat, over the horizon and never to be seen again.

As far as these long-winded, small printed nasties are concerned, should a ‘Dwarf Blue’ (the world’s smallest butterfly with a wingspan of only ½") land on the product and break it, at that point the guarantee will come into play and you just might have found the winning combination to their ‘secret’ guarantee clause.

When the broken 14mm comes back from Sigma, trust me, that traffic warden isn't going to get much of a head start …




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