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Choice calls for star rating at point of sale so buyers know how long products will last

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Consumer group Choice has called for a star rating system to tell people at the point of sale how long their purchase will last, with 88% of Australians found to be in support of such a plan.

The Productivity Commission is reviewing the right to repair in Australia, and in June released a draft report outlining proposed changes to make it easier for Australians to get products repaired.

The commission recommended the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) provide durability ratings on products like TVs and washing machines to give consumers an idea for how long a product should last. In its response to the draft report released on Friday, Choice said it needed to go one step further, and people needed to be told at the point of sale.

“Guidance from regulators will be a good tool but is unlikely to be present and easily usable when consumers need the information most,” Choice said. “The best outcome for consumers is that information is available at the point of sale about how long a product should reasonably last (ie a reasonable estimate of how long they can access a remedy under the consumer guarantees).”

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Choice recommended the durability rating also be on the box of a product itself, like a sticker similar to energy or water ratings on fridges and washing machines today.

“If used well, disclosure is shown to increase competition and provide a reference point for a consumer when they make a complaint. To be effective, any information about durability should be prominent and consistent between products and brands to facilitate comparisons.”

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A survey of more than 1,000 people in Australia conducted by Dynata on Choice’s behalf found 88% of people would find a star system for durability useful, with 87% in favour of information being included on how long spare parts will be available for.

The survey also showed 86% of responders wanted information about how long software updates will be available for. Software-enforced obsolescence was one issue Choice said the commission should examine. Many of Choice’s members raised issues with companies like Apple ceasing to support older generations of Macbooks and iPhones after a certain amount of time.

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“Apple no longer provides updates to software so my iMac is no longer safe and cannot be upgraded,” one member said. “Otherwise it works perfectly well but is too vulnerable to keep using … not good enough. Have to buy new instead of updating.”

Another issue raised by Choice members was how difficult it was to get devices repaired under warranty when living in regional parts of Australia.

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One member in regional Victoria said they were forced to unplug their eight year old dishwasher, load it on to a trailer and drive 40 minutes away because no one would travel to inspect it. Only once they got to a repairer they were told the cost for repair would be close to the price for a new dishwasher.

“That meant we had to pick the dishwasher up, dispose of it ourselves, and purchase a new dishwasher.”

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Choice’s survey of its members found 42% of people didn’t seek to get a broken product repaired due to the cost involved, with 29% stating they didn’t have the skills to repair it, and 28% saying the product was cheap to replace.

A total of 48% preferred to have a product replaced after failure, but Choice found people’s desire to have a product repaired depended on what the product was. People were more likely to want a washing machine fixed (30%) than a microwave (16%) or TV (19%).

The Productivity Commission will provide its final report to government in October.