The ‘right to repair’ opportunity hiding in plain sight

Image credit: Haroonsami [CC-BY-SA-4.0]

In March 2021, it was widely reported that both the EU and UK would be implementing new ‘right to repair’ legislation this summer, which compels manufacturers of certain domestic appliances to support their customers in repairing these products when they go wrong. Currently, there are many obstacles to repairing even relatively small faults which often leave consumers with no option but to purchase a brand new model.

Right to repair has a number of far-reaching implications, as indicated by the prolonged battle between state governments and companies in the United States, where this approach was first introduced. The motivation there seems to have been initially based around the financial costs to consumers and the anti-competitive nature of forcing them to use authorised repair companies.

In contrast, in the EU, the legislation has been promoted as a way of reducing the amount of waste, especially electronic waste, produced each year. Among other undesirable environmental impacts, this represents a colossal loss of the critical and increasingly scarce chemical elements used in modern electronics. Even when these materials are reclaimed, the methods are often costly and energy-intensive.

Manufacturers who are concerned about potential financial losses due to extended product lifetimes and the ‘deregulation’ of their servicing businesses would do well to consider the flip side of not supporting the new legislation and effectively willing it to fail. It’s often been shown that consumers, especially in the younger demographic, are attaching more and more importance to the values of the brands they purchase. A company that demonstrates a responsible attitude to the consumption of resources and supports its customers in getting the most value out of their products is likely to benefit significantly in the long-term from the brand loyalty that this attracts.

One key way that manufacturers can demonstrate their commitment to the right to repair is by providing suitable information to help those who wish to fix devices themselves. Much of this might already exist but is usually hard to come by as it is only available to authorised partners in the form of service manuals, for example. However, not all this information will be suitable to assist the new breed of home repairers, so adapting the content to suit its new purpose would instantly confirm that the company lives by its values.

Furthermore, this information need not, and probably should not, all be in the written form. The rise of online instruction videos created by professionals and enthusiasts shows that, in many cases, people learn more readily from film than from a document. It very much depends on the nature of the task, but the creation of short, clear videos showing how to perform basic repairs and ongoing maintenance is another way that companies can nail their colours to the mast of this new approach to doing business.

Industry has been saying for years that sustainability is the way of the future. Right to repair gives them a chance to put their money where their mouth is and prove that this wasn’t empty rhetoric. Providing the right information to those who need it will be an essential and highly visible part of making the legislation a success.

Customers, past and future, will be watching…

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