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A fast rate of return

With half of today's gadgets brought back to stores in perfect working order, manufacturers are aiming to simplify.

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Trudy Schuett's top-of-the-line car stereo is so complicated that she hasn't figured out how to change the radio station. She only learned how to work the CD player when her minister, riding in the passenger seat, started pushing buttons and stumbled on the right combination. And forget setting the car clock - she has more important things to do than pull out the owner's manual and hunt for the instructions. She also has an MP3 player she doesn't use, and a digital camera that sits mostly idle because she has to relearn how it works each time she wants to use it.

"I am not an idiot or a technophobe," insists Mrs. Schuett, a resident of Yuma, Ariz., who says some of the useless gadgets belong to her husband or were given to her as gifts. "I have had a computer since the mid-'80s and have been online since 1995. I maintain and repair my own computer system."

More and more, Americans are being caught in a dilemma: They love electronic gadgets with lots of bells and whistles. But they're also frustrated when they get their new toys home and find out they aren't easy to install or operate. Half the products returned to stores are in good working order, but customers can't figure out how they work, says a recent study conducted at the Technical University of Eindhoven in the Netherlands. On average, American consumers will try for just 20 minutes to get a new gadget to work before giving up, the study adds.

As a result, the world continues to be filled with poorly designed products, doomed to either gather dust in a bottom drawer or be returned to the store.

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