Limited Warranty or Guarantee?
A money-back guarantee from an international airline?
In an industry where CRM stands for "Customer Relationship Mayhem," this is a breakthrough concept!
Yet there it was in Scott McCartney’s "Middle Seat" blog in The Wall Street Journal and on the OpenSkies Airlines Web site.
Okay, the "Terms and Conditions" contained 598 words in unreadable, light-gray mouse-type crafted by lawyers. And to get a refund, a disgruntled passenger had to write a letter describing the unhappy circumstances that prompted the refund request.
But the typical direct marketing shyster would not pony up $1400 plus fees and taxes in the vague hope of getting $700 back. This is a serious offer made to serious travelers, with little danger of frivolous claims by typical direct marketing bandits.
Every since I became aware of the term "limited warranty," I've hated it.
"Limited" turns the entire concept into an oxymoron. Here is doublespeak cooked up by lawyers bent on covering the butts of marketers that produce and sell crap and are paranoid about getting sued. Search for "limited warranty" on Google, and here is a sampling of definitions:
If damage occurs to Buyer's material as a result of Pacific Coast Composites negligence in processing, Pacific Coast Composites sole liability is only that of the amount of charges made for damaged material by PCC(1). Claims by buyer must be made within 60 days from date shipment.
The supplier warrants that the media on which the computer software is supplied is free from material defects for 90 days from the date of delivery. ...
Seller did not manufacture this product. Seller's only warranty is to furnish the warranty made available to buyer by seller's manufacturer for any item proved defective in material or workmanship. ...
This Web site is provided on an " as is," "as available" basis without warranties of any kind, express or implied, including, but not limited to, those of TITLE, MERCHANTABILITY, FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE or NON-INFRINGEMENT or any warranty arising from a course of dealing, usage, or ...
A limited warranty is a warranty that imposes certain limitations, and is therefore not a full warranty.
The Product sold will conform to the description of the Product set forth in the Contract, subject, however, to all qualifications and limitations set forth in the Contract. ...
Seller warrants that the goods shall be free from defects in material and workmanship. This warranty shall not apply in the event of defects caused by: (i) physical abuse of the goods or any component or acts of vandalism by any persons other than Seller, its employees, agents, or subcontractors ...
Back when we did a lot of traveling, I spent a ton of money on top-of-the-line Tumi luggage for myself and my wife, Peggy. One day as I was checking in at an airport, the pull-out handle on my Tumi rolling suitcase got stuck in the open position and would not retract, no matter how I jiggled or pushed. I suffered this ungainly thing throughout the trip and chucked it out when I got home, vowing never to own a Tumi product again.
Was I being unfair? Last week I visited the Tumi Web site, where I found the limited warranty for its suitcases, handbags, wallets and accessories runs 1,272 words. Normally I would reproduce a document central to this story in the Flash player at right, but the words are in light gray mouse-type, and there are too many of them. Here’s the link if you want to wade through it: www.tumi.com/about/warranty.jsp
Tumi products range from $150 to $1,050. They are sold at Tumi stores, as well as top retailers—Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s, Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus, etc. This is high-end merchandise for up-market people.
Basically, Tumi’s "limited warranty" covers the product for 5 years. In year one, with certain exclusions, it will cover all cost of repairs (including shipment to and from Tumi) or give a replacement. In years two-through-five (with certain exclusions) owner pays for shipment to Tumi (or takes it in for repair) and Tumi pays. Thereafter, you’re on your own.
Here is a fluorescent paragraph in the Tumi copy that would raise red flags in the mind of any customer or prospect who takes a moment to analyze it:
This warranty gives you certain rights, and you may also have other rights, which vary from state to state. Some states do not allow the exclusion or limitation of incidental or consequential damages, so the above limitation or exclusion may not apply to you.
When lawyers remind buyers that they have "certain rights," they're throwing down the gantlet and creating an adversarial relationship. The customer is not Tumi’s partner, but a potential enemy. Clearly Tumi management is made up of wimpy idiots who've allowed themselves to be steamrollered by fearful lawyers.
"If lawyers had their say," said my old boss Walter Weintz, "they wouldn’t allow anybody to mail anything—ever!"
Scrap "Limited Warranty" and use an Ole-Fashioned Guarantee
My advice to marketers: scrap the "limited warranty."
It can be a deal killer.
The L.L. Bean Model
At the beginning of the 20th century, L.L. Bean put the following notice on the wall of his store in Freeport, Maine:
I DO NOT CONSIDER A SALE
COMPLETE UNTIL THE GOODS ARE
WORN OUT AND CUSTOMER
—L.L. BEAN, 1916
Today the L.L. Bean catalog carries the following notice:
You Have Our Word®
Our products are guaranteed to give 100% satisfaction in every way. Return anything purchased from us at any time if it proves otherwise. We do not want you to have anything from L.L Bean that is not completely satisfactory.
Lands’ End Follows Suit
Lands’ End has become a direct competitor of L.L. Bean, and its guarantee of satisfaction is equally encompassing:
The Lands’ End guarantee has always been an unconditional one. It reads: "If you’re not satisfied with any item, simply return it to us at any time for an exchange or refund of its purchase price." We mean every word of it. Whenever. Always. But to make sure this is perfectly clear, we’ve decided to simplify it further. Guaranteed. Period.®
In the Flash player at right, you can see what happened when the buyer of a $19,000 London taxi wanted his money back from Lands’ End one year after purchase.
The Unconditional Guarantee is not Limited to High-End Catalogers
Lunch at Zeke’s sandwich shop on 5th Street here in Philly is always accompanied by a small packet of Herr’s potato chips, which are locally manufactured. You can see the Herr’s guarantee in the Flash player at right.
The long and short of it: I am comfortable buying from L.L. Bean and Lands’ End, and I'm convinced the folks at Herr’s believe in themselves and their product and want to know if they’ve screwed up so they can make things right.
Tumi and others who use the "limited warranty?" A bunch of paranoid sad sacks whose products and attitudes are suspect.