Question Mark IconAs I was pulling towels, socks and underwear out of my dryer this morning I noticed that the panel, right by the brand name, read “Infinite Temperature“. A bold claim. I’m no theoretical physicist, but I do like the topic – read a few books, watched a few documentaries. My family has two chemists in it, we like tend to science – I just lack the desire to get too deep. One thing I do know is that infinity is really just a concept. I won’t even bother to look this claim up, to prove my laziness on whether I really care to know for sure, but in reality I think infinity is pretty much impossible. I think the term that gets stuck in my head is “finite universe” – that there is a edge to reality, and only so much to go around. Which, is just, like, one theory man.

Now, this Infinite Temperature claim got me thinking – why would they make such a claim? My first thought was; Why does it say that on the panel? The dryer is already here, in the basement, why are they trying to sell me on this idea now? Mind you, it’s not my dryer, I didn’t buy it, a family member did. But I did realize, these things are on display in the store. Walk in, they are all lined up – each year their control panels get more fancy, the logos more pronounced, the buttons more sleek – they sell appliances much like they sell cars. Minus the test drive. But does anyone believe the dryer is possible of getting to infinite temperatures? Did the chemist in my family fall for this – or were they sold, as I hope, on another more realistic feature?

These questions led me to ask myself – has the Internet, and online shopping, made us smarter consumers? Can Maytag really get away with making such a claim now considering it is trivial for someone to fact check a salesman’s claim with their cellphone right there on the spot? Not everyone is carrying an Internet-capable phone, and even those who do don’t always pull up Wikipedia when they are out shopping to check practical physics and the limitations of the universe. Some people must fall for this.

Well Golly Darling, This Dryer Can Reach Infinite Temperatures!
Do you offer in-store financing sir?

I only have to mention, before going further, the irony that the dryer itself isn’t that good. It takes a few full runs to keep things from getting moldy – though the vent hose is about a mile long, and everyone is too lazy to fix it.

The question remains – are consumers smarter now? Or rather – are they buying smarter, wasting less money? With crowd-sourcing tools like online reviews, the spread of general knowledge, sites like The Consumerist, Rip-Off Report and the myriad of others – do they make more informed opinions and fall less and less for sales-speak and a wink?

I would like to hope so. Anyone with a iPhone or Android can scan a barcode in-store and instantly get more information on the product, reviews and competing prices. There are certainly times when you need an item right now and there are some things that we really don’t want to bother with getting shipped to the door. I imagine as a people we still like to get our appliances from a local store – I’d think in most cases the cost savings from an online appliance competitor is eaten up in freight fees (UPS will not bring a dryer into your home). Thinking of all the computer parts I’ve purchased over the years however, or small consumer electronics, I can only imagine that competition from such girth of retailers a has made it harder and harder to push up prices more than an item is worth.

Beyond competition there are those elements I discussed above – reviews and access to more consumer publications (blogs) and forums. There are brands I simply turn my nose up at because I have heard enough people complain in forums that they rarely work as intended or at times could be outright dangerous to operate. When I am researching something to buy or just doing some “online window shopping” I inevitably end up at Amazon even if I know I won’t buy from them. Their user reviews of products tend to be the best – beyond just books. I wouldn’t buy an electric razor without seeing what the crowd says at Amazon first.

Typically you’ll see how many people have issues and can seriously weigh the strengths and weaknesses of a product (as well as some humor and creative writing). As far as computer parts and accessories go, the same is true with Newegg, even if I know my local Target has the best price on that particular computer mouse. And in the case of Newegg, the companies are now paying attention and will respond publicly to consumer complaints of outright product failure. It’s nice to see if a company steps up when someone cry’s “Lemon!” (and they fix it). And this is starting to show that more than ever the companies are tuned in to what consumers are saying – it seems the day is almost gone that a company can put out a product they know to be complete crap and get away with it.

In the case of razors (or rather, trimmers) I had a unique experience. Years ago someone gave me a gift of a fine Remington beard trimmer. It worked great, never pulled hairs and was an essential part of my grooming routine. I don’t have the skin to shave or the patience, so it was a thoughtful gift and I loved it, loved it, loved it. After years of charging past it’s recommended time and maybe being dropped in water once or twice it gave up the ghost. Shopping around in the usual stores was a failure. I couldn’t find it anywhere. In a pinch, on vacation, when it died, I reluctantly bought what the local mega-drugstore had to offer. It was 103 degrees and humid on that fine Florida day, and I needed a shave. Badly.

The trimmer I bought, from a respectable brand, was atrocious. It pulled hairs, took three times as long to do the job and left my face feeling somewhat raw. The results looked like a blind man who maintains his own lawn. After putting up with it for a week or two, and it’s very short lifespan I went to Google with the model number of my previous trimmer. To my horror they stopped making it and replaced it, with what the Amazon sages claimed, was an inferior product. Eventually I found an online retailer similar to good ol’ Big Lots and ordered one up from their discontinued section of wares. The box was beaten and dusty, but things were back to the way I like them. As a Virgo, I despise change, much like Rainman.

In that time Philips Consumer Electronics had purchased or merged with Remington and eventually reintroduced my beloved trimmer. The one I purchased from a cobwebbed warehouse had failed, due to my mishandling, and I was almost giddy to see they had acquiesced to consumer demand. The color is different, but it’s my favorite item again.

Surely a boring and long story about a product that seems silly – but to me, and it seems others, it is not. The masses were upset, they wanted their product back. I searched and searched and there was no substitute – the online wisdom was this cheap trimmer was the best you could really get and the alternatives were not worth settling for. The company capitulated, as smart companies do, and revived the product – all the while I had used the wisdom of the crowd to stay away from the poor Wahl and even Philips alternatives. I wasn’t going to be tricked again by limited selections and claims on packaging. Despite what the competitors said, they did not offer “The Best Trimming Experience Money Could Buy” (not an exact quote… of course). This was years ago, before Twitter and Facebook – before people were as connected as they are now. Consumers are not shy about simply saying “AVOID!” when they feel ripped off. Today, it’s all getting better for us, it seems.

Hopefully we all stop falling for infinite claims that are impossible to achieve. Which reminds me – are my clothes dry yet – and I could use a trim, sigh, again.