5 May 2020

When your PR services appear to be like the devices you sell: refurbished

Chris O’Brian, quoting refurbished gadgets company Back Market’s cofounder, Thibaud Hug de Larauze, on Venture Beat, following a new round of venture capital funding:

We want customers to find a very fast and easy solution to either repair or swap the product,” Hug de Larauze said. Ultimately, you want people to say there is no point in buying new because refurbished is just as good. And it’s better on price, it’s better on quality, it’s the same level of warranty, and it’s better in terms of ecological impact.”

Good for Back Market to succeed, good for them to raise money, I believe they deserved it just for the clever company name and the smart marketing campaigns I have seen in Paris last winter, so congratulations are in order.

But a few things are bugging me in this quote.

If the ultimate goal of the company really is that people” buy a refurbished device instead of a new one, they will very soon have a problem: if nobody buys new products, the refurbished market might become very, very difficult. I understand the ambition of the company, I understand the wish to grow big and grow fast, but using the word ultimately” here is just weird when you operate in the second-hand market.

Second, how can a refurbished device be better on quality? Better on price I get it obviously — this is the main selling point of a refurbished device — but quality? If Hug de Larauze had said same quality” or comparable quality” I would have let it go (even if it is also wrong), but better” is an overstatement to say the least, or maybe it is a crude edit made by Venture Beat. Better quality than regular used” devices, I could understand, but better quality than a new device is just ridiculous.

I won’t go deep into the whole better ecological impact” part, because it is obviously much more complicated than what three words can say. If they replace the battery in the devices they sell, meaning ordering new batteries and getting rid of the old ones — arguably the worst part of a computing device environmentally speaking — the extra carbon costs of transport needed to refurbish” the device and ship the batteries, and the new steps of packaging may eventually temper quite a bit this better ecological impact” argument, shamelessly qualified as infinitely greener” on the French website. I think it may be eventually better, but, since they provide no data or study on their website (unless I missed it), I can only assume.

Also interesting that in France, some warranties only last six month instead of the twelve months you get when you buy a new device, so not really the same level of warranty” either.

I hope Back Market is more careful with the quality of the devices they sell than they seem to be with their PR agency, otherwise many buyers will end up looking for better value instead of better price next time they buy a new phone, as they should.

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