I don’t like buying appliances. They are expensive, perform simple tasks, and add zero incremental pleasure to my life. But something interesting has happened in the last couple years. For example, I just had a refrigerator stop keeping cold things cold and frozen things frozen. My wife and I have never bought a refrigerator together in our 29 years of marriage, except for the $50 used fridge for a rental house. She says that does not count.
All our other fridges have come with the homes we purchased. That includes our current fridge, whose doors lost the ability to birth water and ice about five years ago. My wife’s plan had this fridge going to a rental property and we’d put a new one in our primary residence. My research indicates I can get another cold-things-cold/frozen-things-frozen appliance, used, for about $100. To take my mind off the $100 solution, she takes me back in time, to when we bought our latest washer and dryer, which she knows changed our lives. She performs this exercise as well as my parents did when I was a kid.
When my parents wanted to take me on a vacation, my dad opened the Encyclopedia Britannica and showed me pictures of the Grand Canyon. Then he said with a dramatic voice, “Now shut your eyes and imagine you’re there on a rocky outcropping at the Grand Canyon, mounted on a horse. And right behind you are your mom and sister. Can you see it, a trail ride at the Grand Canyon!?!?” I only went for my dad’s vacation mind-meld twice; the Taj Majal vacation was no better than the Grand Canyon.
Back to the new washer/dryer experience. My wife had a good point. Because I remember being told that all the buttons and dials would impose a feeling of complete control, and its new front-load design would use less water and have larger capacity, (meaning fewer loads would be required and less detergent flowing through our sewers), resulting in fewer two-headed frogs being added to America’s river system. I was suddenly an environmental activist, with my buttons and dials controlling time and temperature for the newly engineered front-loading cleaning apparatus. This reverse time travel did open my mind to the purchase of a refrigerator, which I should have known would happen sooner or later. So the desire to purchase was no surprise, once put into this context. What was surprising to me was the discovery of what translated as value beyond the obvious. Yes, you have exterior finish, door orientation, size, and other basics. Then there is the LCD screen where you can load pictures, obsoleting your magnets that hold pictures of your cousin’s graduation, your niece’s newborn, and the kids standing next to the world’s largest prairie dog. This feature did not wow me since it does not simultaneously post to Facebook.
But what did wow me was the ability of the fridge door to dispense water without holding the receptacle, glass, or cup. Push a button and it senses the receptacle’s volume and dispenses that amount of water automatically. When finished, it plays a musical jingle, as if to announce its successful completion in a happy-calliope sort of way that tastes like cotton candy. The door also has the ability to dispense specific volumes of water. Select the number of ounces and walk away, but no jingle at the conclusion, which left me feeling a bit empty and less than satisfied. Was I getting emotional about what my refrigerator could do for me? I thought it was just cold-things-cold and frozen-things-frozen? A friend who writes jingles for a living, Neiman, insists I was connecting with my appliance through the jingle, which is what you would expect a jingle writer to say. But it was the benefit, or more pointedly, the way the benefit is delivered, that has bonded me to my new stainless steel deliverer of measured water. Why did it not come with a voice, Neiman and I wondered, like say Hal 9000, confident and all-knowing as opposed to the ambivalent Siri. Jingle writers think about such things.
Other consumer trends are paving the way for us. And yes, there are a couple of manufacturers working on some of these elements in order to endear consumers to our world of sleep-dispensing. Like Select Comfort, who is probably doing more in this space and doing a nice job, in my opinion. But what else can be done? If we are to garner more of the consumers’ discretionary income in the competitive landscape of durable goods, then we’ll have to do more than just come up with a catchy jingle, even though Neiman strongly disagrees.