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 user 2005-09-01 at 11:27:00 am Views: 77
  • #12799

    HP and the death of brand equity

    My daughter’s HP inkjet printer died last month.
    It wasn’t a big deal – it was a low-end HP 3535 printer that came “free” with the PC I bought.

    If you understand the economics of cheap inkjet printers, you’ll know
    that manufacturers like HP, Epson or Canon don’t make money off the
    hardware, but make a killing on the ink. In fact, ink cartridges that
    go with a new printer account for more than half the sticker price.

    This modern-day version of the Kodak model (cheap cameras but
    constantly replenished film) has worked for years, but from a
    consumer’s standpoint, it just beats the crap out of a brand name.

    When I was a kid, a commercial for Zenith TVs showed one being thrown
    off a plane. With the help of a parachute, the TV landed roughly on a
    field but survived.

    None of this pride in product durability survives today.

    The HP 3535 conked out just a few months after the warranty ran out. I
    took it to the HP service center in Makati because the company had
    closed its branch in Quezon City, which was much closer to where I work
    and live.

    The people in the service center were helpful, professional and
    courteous, but one look at the place convinced me that they were in an
    environment that wasn’t designed to keep the customer happy.

    Looking bored, some 18 customers sat around waiting in a room no more
    than 25 square feet. A few lackadaisically watched “Blackhawk Down” on
    a TV while five HP personnel manned the counter.

    I took a number and found I was in for a long wait.

    An HP person helpfully suggested I have lunch first and come back,
    which I did. When I returned, my number had already been called, so I
    had to wait until they could squeeze me in.

    I used the time to listen to what some technicians were saying.

    One explained apologetically to a woman who had driven all the way from
    Alabang that the printer she lugged in was no longer supported. Another
    explained to a customer that repairing his printer would be more
    expensive than buying a new one because diagnostic services alone would
    cost P1,600. There would be a long wait, too, as the part had to be
    shipped in from Singapore.

    When my turn came up, I found that my problem wasn’t as serious: the power adapter was just dead.

    Replacing it would cost P1,086 and I wouldn’t have to wait too long for
    the part. I did have to wait 15 minutes more while the technician
    filled up forms on his notebook PC.

    Did any of this make me glad I was an HP customer, even by accident?


    I remember a time when the brand HP stood for product quality and
    durability. A time when their scientific calculators were prized
    possessions. Even my first inkjet printer lasted years.

    What happened?

    It’s easy to blame low-cost production and fierce competition, but
    these do not excuse a lack of pride in product quality and concern for

    What signal does a company like HP send when it tells a customer he
    might as well buy a new printer than fix the old one? Or when it closes
    all its service centers except the ones in Makati and Cebu? And when
    customers must wait, not just hours in a service center, but maybe
    weeks for parts to arrive from Singapore?