Slowly Sipping Coffee

What ever happened to quality?

I often feel that what has put me in more of an anti-consumerism mind frame as I get older is horrible customer service, and cheaply made products that break too easily.  I just abhor spending my hard-earned money on crappy products bought from a store with a crappy attitude. I used to think that maybe I was just cheap and that’s why I didn’t want to buy new stuff, but now I realize its because I actually value my money.

For instance, on his last visit, my dad showed me a wrench that was my grandfather’s back when he was a mechanic in WWII. We compared that wrench to the same gauge wrench made by the same manufacturer – but 50 years later and the difference in quality was beyond shocking!  Comparing them side-by-side, the new wrench seemed like something our 3-year-old should play. It had been slimmed down and so much metal had been taken out of the design over the years, that it looked like a weight loss before and after comparison.  It was eye-opening to see the effect of decades and decades of a company cutting corners on a product to increase profit.  It just saddens me that nowadays the quality of 90% of what we buy is so shoddy, but we still just keep paying, mostly for lack of other choices.  And, I’m guessing that another factor that weighs into all this is that if items last forever, then companies can only sell to us once – but if items are wear out quickly – well, then they have repeat consumers in another year or two. We’ve turned into a disposable society.

Another perfect example is our cordless drill.  We bought a new one when we got set up after grad school, since we were outfitting a house, and we tried to not cheap out and go with a quality product. It lasted less than 3 years before it died. Sure, the company will fix it if we pay shipping to them, and return shipping, and pay for the parts that are broken. When we got the estimates for shipping alone, the repair would have to be less than $30 for it not to be cheaper to buy a new drill set. Ridiculous!

I sometimes think that manufacturers are focusing on battling the natural trend of inflation by cheapening the project, rather than increasing price.  Like how they made yogurt and ice cream containers smaller, so they could sell less product at the same price.  Or how jeans manufacturers started making the fabric thinner, but still charging the same price.  This decrease in the quality of clothing really bothers me.  I noticed that my jeans would tear or wear through more quickly. My favorite clothes stores were now selling clothes that would tear or lose their shape after just a season or two of wear.  Even the shoes I was buying were worse quality (and I do not skimp on shoes – so these are relatively high-end shoes).  Elastic breaking, leather stitching snapping after a few months on $130 shoes!

This cheapening of products just turns me off of consumerism.  I can’t stand throwing away my money anymore, and I would gladly buy some new shoes, if I knew that they would last me for years to come.  But, alas, instead I just squirrel away my money, and walk around in shoes that are 7 years old, and I can’t bear to give up, because I know they are irreplaceable.

What is sad, is that I could go on for pages and pages about all the items I’ve bought, and not at discount prices, that have disappointed me in terms of quality… I look around my house, and can just feel the disappointment in my heart with the amount of money I’ve lost on items where I honestly thought I was buying quality.  No wonder I’ve become a jaded consumer, as everywhere I look I see products that I would be ashamed to sell, if that were my business.

I wish I knew where to buy higher quality items that would last for years.  I’ve tried shopping at higher end boutiques, specialty stores, and the like, and mostly I just end up paying top dollar for a sub par product.  Sometimes the best items come from second-hand shops or a garage sale.

Does anyone else feel the same way? Do you have any secret sources of quality items you want to share?

8 thoughts on “What ever happened to quality?

  1. Mrs. Maroon

    I can’t really add anything of substance because you have covered it all so well. It pains me to see what our society has become. All in the name to save, or make, a buck here or there. I don’t know the answer. And I don’t think we can really change it. There are just too many idiots in the country willing to throw away their money on sub-standard products over and over again, but then wonder why they don’t have any money. I choose to not fit into that crowd, but am not sure how to acquire the things that I actually really do need… Perhaps handmade??

    1. Mrs SSC Post author

      I do try and make some hand-made items when I have time, but I will never be able to make a good pair of jeans. What is sad is I was making microwave rice neck wraps for my parents and friends for Christmas, and I bought some really adorable flannel – and the flannel was such poor quality it kept tearing at the seams no matter how I reinforced it with stitching (I mean I could’ve triple reinforced it somehow, but that is ridiculous). So even hand made items still need quality materials… sigh. It is so sad, I just picture the dumps filling up with all the ‘disposable’ items we buy that only last a year or so.

  2. Emily @ Simple Cheap Mom

    I usually buy cheap. As cheap as possible. I figure the quality difference between generic and brand name most of the time is just a label. The difference between brand name and designer to me is usually just advertising.

    When I try to buy quality, I’m usually disappointed (I’m thinking of my new pans I bought last year that I was super excited about, but have still started scratching even though we never use metal, etc. etc.)

    There are some items, like walking shoes, where I’d like to splurge and buy a pair that will last. But when I add up the price of the shoes, then the cost of getting them resold, new laces, etc. etc. I usually decide to just get a cheap pair that will only last one season.

    It does make me sad, but usually I don’t see the value in the extra quality. My only consolation is that I don’t buy much.

    1. Mrs SSC Post author

      I am on the fence about what to do – right now I am dealing with this latest revelation by not buying anything… which can’t last forever. You do have a good point about just buying cheap and having low expectations.

  3. Tawcan

    What you said is especially true when it comes to electronics. All the manufacturers are cutting corners in an effort to save some money. Furthermore because technology advances so quickly it now makes so little sense to repair when it’s cheaper to buy something brand new. When is the last time you heard someone repairs their TV? In a way this is introducing so much more trash than necessary.

    1. Mrs SSC Post author

      No kidding with the electronics! I have seen several Ipads fizzle within weeks of their one-year warranty expiring. Same with cell phones. My parents had a broken TV, and when they took it in for an estimate, it was just shy of what replacing it would cost, so they replaced it. Part of me wishes I had a crystal ball, because I am curious how long this ‘disposable’ trend will last. Lately, when I go to buy new items, I try hard to find an item so that I can ‘buy it for life’.

  4. Wise Uncle Bob

    Mrs. SSC, it is true that the goods are becoming crappier every day. It pisses me off that I can’t pay more and receive better quality. But honestly saying more and more products are becoming cheaper than they used to be if you take in the account inflation. The electronics is the extreme example. I believe that the main reason producers to cut corners is not to increase their profits or sell us more regularly but just to survive in the unforgiving modern reality. The competition increased a lot due to the globalisation. A lot of people adopted an extreme consumerist mentality always wanting something new while going for the lowest price. People like us who wants to buy rarely but only high quality are very small percentage of the total population. For most of the producers it makes no financial sense to fulfill our desire. This is the economic reality right now. But I am sure that this lowering of the quality can’t go forever because it is unsustainable. Step by step the people will start to avoid the crappiest products thus forcing the manufacturers to increase the quality. I see some signs of this in the plastic Chinese made toys. Most of them are total crap so more and more parents avoid them. Another example is with the cars. They became more reliable, because the consumers required this by willing to pay more for cars with a proven track record of reliability. So, there is a hope. All we can do is to continue avoiding the total crap and constantly trying to find better products, while preaching to our friends to follow our philosophy instead of looking only the price. I try to do this for years.

    1. Mrs SSC Post author

      You make a great point… people like us looking for high quality, very durable products that won’t be replaces for the newest product every few years are definitely in the minority these days. I find myself looking at handmade products more often than before – or even ones made by smaller companies which are trying to build a reputation for quality. Maybe smaller, boutique stores will have a comeback for people searching for quality!

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