Does Planned Obsolescence Destroy Value?

I wrote in my article on the new normal that Phil Kotler suggested that marketing focus on the more useful and the more necessary than on selling more. In the new normal, I suggested planned obsolescence should be examined, and perhaps more repairs and re-use. Why should a cell phone last two years and cost so much? Product obsolescence destroys value for consumers and the environment and creates value for manufacturers.

The smartphone manufacturers stop supporting two year old models. Planning includes poor quality components or software that can fail in 2 years, not providing upgrades; and worse still making hardware changes to attract switching like a better camera. My camera works well on my Oneplus 5 and my friends say it is great. But now I am tempted by the camera of the Oneplus 8. Software failure happens on printers also. So apart from contrived durability, we also have prevention of repairs, both value destroyers.

Other examples are:

Light bulb manufacturers spent years to get light bulbs to fail after 1000 hours.

Having irreplaceable batteries that die after a year or so.

Not being able to re-fill an ink cartridge, or showing a cartridge needs replacement triggered by a microchip or a light sensor forcing premature replacement.

College text books, nylon stockings, fashion items, video games are all planned to become replaceable.

Durability is another word used for planned obsolescence…durability of toys, of clothes.

Another example is luxury items that take advantage of customer desire and affordability strategized by planned obsolescence. Customers will opt to pay a substantial premium for products that often have finer craftsmanship, greater durability, and resale value. That takes us to another extreme: last forever and pay a premium.

But what happens to the luxury buyer, when the manufacturer starts to put the product and the name in the mass market. It makes the luxury buyer want to buy something else which is exclusive! This is perceived obsolescence!

The auto industry also practices phased obsolescence, as you all know, coming up with new models.

Tesla, by updating software is reducing obsolescence.

Coca-Cola is an example of keeping to the same model (despite new Coke)

Lastly, product obsolescence is wasteful, it increases landfill, and it uses more resources. Post Covid can we have more re-use and create value. It goes against what Kotler is suggesting (in the Journal of Creating Value), sell more useful and more necessary and NOT MORE.

Thus buy durable brands in the first place. Add extended warranties that cover products should they fail. Buy products where spares such as batteries are easily available. Look for retailers who repair and recycle old products safely. Buy used products that will last.

France has a law against planned obsolescence and went after iPhone and Apple, who admitted software slowed down older models! They also said older batteries slowed down the phones.

Can new manufacturers or existing one disrupt this practice by coming up with durable long lasting products and create more value?


Gautam Mahajan, President, Customer Value Foundation
Founder Editor, Journal of Creating Value
New Delhi 110065 +91 98100 60368
Twitter @ValueCreationJ
Author of Value CreationTotal Customer Value ManagementCustomer Value InvestmentHow Creating Customer Value Makes you a Great ExecutiveThe Value ImperativeValue Dominant Logic
Come to the Third Global Conference on Creating Value, Oct 20-21, 2020 in Paris France.
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