www.ideastorm.com

Customers offer their suggestions for how to make products better or more useful.

Many of the entries are pleas that firms give up some market power, such as people wishing for more transparent prices and people wishing that Windows wasn't bundled with PC purchases.  Some people don't like trialware.

Other people wish for standardized power cables for laptops.

Why don't they just ask for checks in the mail?

I thank Melody Hildebrandt for the pointer.

Comments

Well, you can buy Ubuntu with Dell products now (I just bought a machine that came bundled with Ubuntu), so that is one issue that has been solved to a degree.

anon
Once you have the laptop you're locked in to buying proprietary (or cloned) AC adapters. On computers and TVs the profit is in the cables/accessories.

"Why don't they just ask for checks in the mail?"

Who's "they"? The consumers or the companies?

I don't get the sarcasm "why don't they just ask for checks in the mail." Perhaps you live in a world that looks like perfect competition where the simple answer is that if you don't like it, just take your business elsewhere. The world I live in is full of poor choices provided to consumers with the only reliable alternative not to purchase at all - take a look at health insurance policies, cellphone plans, plumbing fixtures,... Ultimately, the choices will only improve if consumers exert more pressure and/or competitive choices increase. But to defend the status quo on the basis that competition is currently sufficient to protect consumers (after all, this is the best of all possible worlds) reflects someone out of touch with actually being a consumer.

Although your derision of the customers is coming from a libertarian perspective, this post actually provides a nice rationale for government regulation.

No, Mike, what I'm saying is that the examples mentioned all hurt consumers to some extent. The libertarian perspective seems to be, "tough, deal with it, that's free markets." While the power cords example is rather trivial, the lack of transparent prices is not (part of the credit card bill passed earlier this year). By providing a list of cases where consumers get hurt and implying that that's just the way it is, I would argue is actually a good case for regulation.

@ Mike Giberson

I'm not dave, but I'll make a suggestion. Real-life markets can sustain multiple equilibria. There's one equilibrium where every laptop manufacturer uses a different adapters (and therefore compatibility with another given adapter is negligibly useful at the margin), and another equilibrium where all laptops use similar adapters (and therefore incompatibility renders it much less useful). You can observe this with (for example) the recent switch among mobile phone manufacturers to mini-USB as a standardized adapter. Either everyone standardizes, or no one does.

The idea here is to nudge the market from one equilibrium to another; the costs are small but the benefit is potentially large. The market will eventually resolve itself, but in the meanwhile substantial waste is generated, since the adapters that don't get adopted as standard then have to be discarded. The market eventually picks between mobile phone adapters and HD-DVD vs. Bluray and Betamax vs. VHS, but when it does there's still going to be tons of Betamaxes and HD-DVDs being discarded, and consumers unnecessarily holding back until the market makes up its damn mind (and it doesn't necessarily settle on the superior choice, just a choice).

Also - think like a game theorist; standardisation reduces total costs to society, but isn't done until enforcement becomes cost-effective. Non-government parties can only dangle carrots to discourage defection, while the government can dangle carrots and wave sticks. There is obviously a potential for government action to do good earlier and cheaper than the market. The Masonomic case is that generally government action doesn't live up to its potential, but you can't deny that the potential exists.

My techy dork side makes me unable to believe anyone, using operating systems like Ubuntu, actually buys from computer manufacturers like Dell (as opposed to having a Frankenstein).

Ryan Vann,

Well, I did. Dell has stated that roughly 1/3rd of their mini 9s are being sold as Ubuntu machines. I bought a mini 10.

At least if you explicitly ask for a cheque, most companies will send you vouchers.

The checks in the mail comment makes for a good chuckle, but it's kind of simplistic. For even modestly competitive markets, companies like Dell may choose to offer more consumer surplus if they think it'll increase sales and profits sufficiently. Think of it like brainstorming. An idea may end up being daffy, but why spend all that time agonizing over it and self-censoring? Just write it up and let someone else with better information see it. If nothing else, it probably feels better to get it off your chest.

Seward, If you just use itunes as a music manager (rather than buying from them) try Amarok and Quod Libet.

Some manufacturers do sell OS free laptops, especially in Asia. I got a Lenovo 3000 without and OS. Of course the here (in Sri Lanka) I have to explain to the retailer that I do not want pirated Windows installed on it.

Sometimes people do ask for checks in the mail - the wacky rebate system of discounts that often comes with electronic goods.

The electronics industry can also standardise of its own initiative, such as USB.

It's worth noting that market power is more "power" than market; if it's used too offensively then consumers and regulators _will_ fight back in the exercise of power. There's nothing about market coercion that makes it better than other forms of coercion.

Then there's the externalities, like landfilled phone chargers. If a company is
making a profit by dumping an externality, it's entirely reasonable to either pu
sh that back onto them or ask that it be eliminated.

Seward,

"Actually, I thought you were hatin' on Dell. My mistake."

No, I was mostly envoking the myth that all techs build there own machines. Sounds like the mini is a decent computer though (thinking of getting my girlfriend one to take to class). As for the iTunes gripe, that isn't a bad thing in my estimation. I think iTunes is incredibly overrated, if not a POS software. Of course, there aren't many media player options for Ubuntu.

Graeme,

Yeah, I buy from them and I use the service to manage the gazillion podcasts I listen too. Plus my wife loves iTunes, so I have to keep it around for her windows machine.

Rob,

You can buy generic versions of cables however; I've done it for the Dell laptop (my last Windows machine) I am typing on right now. It was, if I recall, considerably cheaper than what Dell was willing to sell me one for. IMHO there always seems to be a way around the proprietary stuff that Dell, HP, etc. do. The only exception to that might be Apple (it has been so long since I've owned an Apple I really can't say one way or another).

The award might actually go to the engineer within the company that chose a standardization. Maybe Apple would fund the prize.

It's pretty good.

Comments for this post are closed