What is the Future of Consumer Electronics Repair?
Personal electronics are being discarded faster now than a decade ago. The United Nations predicts that e-waste volume will swell by around 75 million metric tonnes by 2030.
The report says consumer electronics is the world’s most rapidly growing domestic waste stream, and highlights the lack of repair access as a contributing factor.
Solving the latter can solve the e-waste problem to a great extent.
The time a device is used by its first owner needs to be longer, and repair helps. Plus, this period no longer represents the useful lifetime of the device. Refurb and reuse of tech, especially daily drivers, is now more common.
And manufacturers too are paying attention to these changes. Increasing numbers of companies offer buyback options and prefer to retrieve the devices they sell. Apple and Samsung have both launched self-repair programs (the success of which is still to be seen). Companies like Framework and Fairphone offer smarter alternatives if consumers want devices that can be repaired and upgraded with ease.
Global legislation is also moving in the same direction. So exactly what is the future of repair of personal technology?
The Current State of Consumer Electronics Repair
By about 2019, almost half of all US states are considering bills that would address the right to repair as part of consumer protection laws.
In 2021, President Joe Biden signed an executive order that requires the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to come up with new rules to limit manufacturers’ power to restrict “independent” repair shops and DIYers. A year later, New York passed the first right-to-repair bill for electronics, though there were existing laws in other states that covered the likes of automobiles and medical devices.
In the European Union, right-to-repair rules require electronics manufacturers to ensure their products are repairable for at least a decade.
The EU ruling has provisions for importers as well as hardware creators, mandating that they make essential repair parts available for as many as ten years following the last introduction of a given hardware model to the EU market. Manufacturers also have to provide spare parts for a set time frame following the removal of their products from the marketplace.
Legislation and improving profitability in repair and refurb has resulted in a bigger role for small and medium-sized businesses in electronics servicing. Plus, digital-first companies like iFixit and advocate groups like Repair.org are ensuring consumers are aware of the benefits of repair; both environmental and financial.
What Repair Businesses Need to Solve
In both the EU and the US, repair businesses face several unique challenges. In addition to having to comply with a range of new consumer protection laws, they also have to:
● Increase public awareness of repair options (and rights).
● Quote repair services before actually knowing the cost of completing a repair, which may include paying for shipping, parts, labor, and testing, to name a few.
● Fight legal action in jurisdictions where the laws haven’t caught up.
● Comply with environmental regulations regarding the disposal of associated repair items, such as parts that can’t be salvaged and must be replaced.
● In the case of companies that adopt a mixed-service business model, such as repair firms that buy old devices to refurbish and sell, satisfy regulations governing resellers and importers.
● Manage the cost of acquiring compatible replacement parts, which may be easier for companies in the EU or those that have already built strong relationships with suppliers in Asian manufacturing hotspots such as Shenzhen.
The Solution is Integrated Platforms
The COVID-19 pandemic increased demand from consumers for repair; the value of electronics service and repair is still on the rise.
It’s clear that extending the useful lifetime of devices through smarter after sales management is the most viable solution to the e-waste problem. It serves consumer and manufacturer needs.
Integrated platforms could also serve as critical environments for fostering the healthy growth of the industry.
It will eventually be a marketplace that has public ratings and consumer protection guarantees. For example, companies that sell refurbished goods on sites like Swappa can rely on an integrated platform to bring the consumers, leaving them free to focus on refining their service offerings.
Connecting every player in the post-sale logistics chain offers a solution for everyone. OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) can connect to repair providers in a meaningful way. This would accelerate manufacturers in implementing buyback programs (creating opportunities for upsell), while repair providers can step in when repair is clearly the better option for the consumer.
A network of repair providers connected to OEMs also gives consumers a much better after sales experience.
In addition, you can connect third-part parts distributors, insurers, refurbishers, enterprise service businesses, and retailers to the same platform to provide the most comprehensive coverage for any consumer anywhere in the world.
OEMs could add training modules to the platform to help repair providers keep up with new technology and the latest repair needs. In fact, they could work with companies to train technicians globally on one platform.
Eventually, this platform could expand to the end consumer. A place to buy, repair, or resell all personal devices.
Real World Application of an Integrated Platform
What would the real world application of an integrated platform look like?
Imagine a database that has information on every device sold by participating OEMs. This would be only for the purpose of tracking parts and service (and will not have personal identification). Any time a repair provider on the platform services the device, that information would be added to the history of the device.
Repair providers, both large and small, will have a full history of a device before even opening it up, instead of finding out that they’re taking on a liability due to a previously done repair.
It would make it easy for refurb businesses to value second-hand devices. Consumers will get the best value based on standard valuation practices, with the competition even adding value. Insurers can avoid additional paperwork when a claim is made.
Evolving the Repair Business Model with the Consumer in Mind
Integrated platforms that offer industry-adjacent services will, by default, make it easier for service providers to build a broader service portfolio and be more profitable. This means:
● Service businesses will have the opportunity to provide standardized training to their technicians so that they can maintain higher levels of service quality.
● It will be easier for smaller companies to hit the ground running with instant access to all relevant partners and services on one platform.
● Repair enterprises and franchises can easily digitize their business operations, significantly cutting down on operations overhead.
● Service providers can expand their territories by offering convenient options through partnering repair provider networks.
● Insuring repair work to both increase their reputations while limiting their liability exposure.
Sam Abraham is Marketing Specialist at Fixably. Contact Sam at firstname.lastname@example.org.