Purchasing a new item – particularly a large item – is an interesting dance between customer and salesperson. You obviously want to be happy with your purchase, and the salesperson therefore wants to assure you that you will be happy when you get it home.
And that assurance is doubly important if you’re trying to maintain a decluttered, more simple lifestyle. Having to buy, re-buy, dispose of, fix, repair, and generally lament not having made a good purchase is expensive money-wise, time-wise, and emotional resource-wise.
So our question is, is that assurance valid?
Robert Buys A Mattress
A little ways back I bought a mattress, and it came with a “happiness guarantee” as part of the in-home trial.
I pushed, poked, and prodded the salesperson until I got all the terms of that in-home trial. The gist of it is that as long as the mattress isn’t stained or damaged, they’ll either take it back or exchange it for another mattress within the first 100 days. There’s a $80 delivery/pickup fee associated with the return/exchange, which makes sense since they have to send guys out with a truck to pick the thing up.
I was okay with that, so we made the purchase.
But it makes me think about how often we look at the words “guarantee” and don’t do the pushing, poking, and prodding to figure out what’s going on. We see “guarantee”, and we assume that our bases are covered.
That’s not always the case.
Robert Goes To The Locksmith
Consider the time I went out at lunch with a friend, and our boss told us to stop by the locksmith and get a set of building keys cut. We headed into the locksmith shop, handed over our keys, and waited while he did the key cutting. As an offhand remark, my friend said “and if we have any problems we just bring them back so you can fix them, right?”
The locksmith said “no, we don’t re-work keys.”
We were caught so off-guard that we paused for a bit before replying, “you mean you don’t guarantee your work at all?”
“Oh, we guarantee our work,” the locksmith said.
“But you just said that if we have problems we’re on our own. How is that a guarantee?” we probed.
“We guarantee they’ll work,” the locksmith repeated.
Five minutes of back and forth, and the locksmith kept insisting that there absolutely was a guarantee, but that he was completely uninterested in seeing us again if the keys didn’t work.
The reality is, that shop has no guarantee. If the key doesn’t work (it’s rare, but it definitely happens!), and their policy is that they won’t fix the problem, that’s a worthless guarantee.
But we see “guarantee”, and we assume that the word means something.
The Reality Of Guarantees
The reality is, a guarantee is only worth as much as the consequences it specifies. And depending on what those consequences are, the guarantee can either be absolutely fabulous or completely worthless.
If I make a guarantee that a key I sell you will work, and I tell you that if you have any problems with your key in the first year you can bring it back and I’ll either repair, replace, or otherwise make it right, that’s a useful guarantee.
If AT&T guarantees me that they’ll provide me with reliable Internet service for $30 per month, and if my service is out for 24 hours or more they’ll refund me a prorated portion of my monthly fee, that’s a completely crappy guarantee. It means if my Internet is out for two whole days I’ll only get a $2 credit on my next bill.
And then there are the guarantees that aren’t even guarantees at all, or are so arcanely-specified that they might as well not exist.
As an example, almost ten years ago I had a web hosting company explain to me that their “uptime guarantee” wouldn’t be honored after an extended outage because the server had, in fact, been “up” the whole time – it just hadn’t been connected to the Internet. Powered on? Yup. Accessible from the Internet? Nope.
Or the guarantee on a Snickers bar. If you’re unhappy with it, they’ll refund your $0.70 – if you send the rest of the bar, wrapper and all, back to them at your own expense (certainly over $0.70 in postage!)
So what do we do? Poke, prod, and question!
Some Useful Questions
When you’re being offered a guarantee, there are some useful questions to ask.
- What is it that they guarantee, specifically?
- In what situation(s) do they guarantee it?
- Are there any exclusions?
- Is there anything you have to do (ship something, bring something back) to make that happen?
- What happens if they don’t hold up their end of the bargain?
And once you know where they stand, there’s one more question to ask yourself – “is this acceptable to me?”
Because that’s really all that matters.
A Guaranteed Wrap-Up
Guarantees can be a thorny mess, but questioning properly and understanding what you’re getting into will at least make sure you understand what’s being promised – which will (hopefully!) help prevent you from making a large purchase that you regret.
And that’s the question of the day. Have there been any situations where you’ve probed a bit and found a guarantee to not be what you expected? Did you catch it before or after you purchased? And did it turn into a problem?
Let me know your thoughts in the comments!