Why Spending a Little More on a Brand Name can Pay Off

by Nora Dunn on 31 October 2007 20 comments
Photo: pintofeggs

I have always been a fan of buying the less expensive generic version of whatever it is I am in the market for. Running shoes, clothing, electronics, prescription drugs, you name it.

And in many cases, the generic version is just as good and saves a ton of money.

There are a few cases that I have discovered, though, in which it pays to spend a little more at the outset.

 

I owned a pair of brand name running shoes that had a great little feature which was an alternative to laces, and I was loved them.

However after a few months, the lace-alternative mechanism stopped working, and the shoes were rendered all but useless. Since the shoes were well used by that point though, I didn't even consider the fact that it could be covered under warranty. A friend who was visiting and worked in an athletic shop asked me how I liked the shoes. Needless to say I gave him a piece of mind about the company and their crappy shoes!

"Well, just return them," he said.

"I've moved all over the country. I'm thousands of miles away from the store I went to, and I don't have a receipt anyway," I replied hopelessly.

"That's okay," he said. "Just take them into our store. We carry that brand, so we can ship the shoes back to the carrier for you, and they'll replace them for free. You'll just have to pay for the shipping since you didn't buy them at my store originally."

Done! A month later, I was wearing the brand new, next-generation of the shoe for the paltry $12 in shipping.

I'm pretty sure the generic brand version of those shoes wouldn't have held to that level of service. In fact, I might have gone through two to three pairs of the same shoes in the time it took me to wear in the brand name shoes I still own. And when I calculate the cost at the end of the day, I actually saved money with the brand name shoes.

 

That experience opened the doors for me to a world of brand name warranties. You don't always need to fill out a silly card or register by internet a lot of the time; you simply need to own the product. If it fails, you take it to a store that carries it and politely explain your problem and ask if there is a way they can help you. Alternately, circumvent the store entirely and go straight to the manufacturer. Again for the cost of shipping, you're likely to end up with a brand new replacement.

 

Most warranties specify that they will only cover manufacturer's defects, which is reasonable. But if you look hard you can even find a few items the manufacturer claims are indestructible, for which even wear & tear is covered. And even if the warranty policy states manufacturer defects only, I would challenge you to spend the small amount of time required to see if you can get a replacement anyway. If it can save you the cost of replacing that item, it`s worth at least asking.

 

Here are just a few brand names I've had experience with that will honour returns and replace damaged (and even just plain worn) goods:

 

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R.M. Williams - The Australian boot company. If any part of the boot wears for any reason, they will repair or replace the item.

Oakley - For sunglasses. Friends of mine have had luck with getting broken frames replaced without question.

Tilley - Specializes in upscale travel wear, and their real specialty is the Tilley Hat - indestructible. So if any of their items wear, just return them.

North Face - This is the company that replaced my running shoes. Not only that, but a friend of mine had a North Face jacket with a lifetime warranty, and I`ve read stories about others who have received brand new next-generation jackets (to the tune of $500 or more) for the cost of shipping.

Arcteryx - Another outdoor gear outfitter, with extremely high quality (and high cost) items. I don`t personally have any Arcteryx swag, but others who own it say the warranty is honourable.

And for Canadians, items purchased at Mountain Equipment Co-op (they ship internationally by the way) are almost always returnable. I have returned punctured water bladders, ripped pants, and defective watches without as much as a blink of an eye from customer service. I don't even need a receipt, since they have my purchasing history in their computer.

 

All this is not to say I am a brand name junkie. I couldn't care less about designer labels, and you'll never catch me carrying a $500 (or even $100) designer purse. I choose my brands carefully, based on functionality, price, and customer service.

So if you are debating whether or not that brand name item will truly last longer than the generic alternative, consider the warranties available. You may get a lifetime of use out of the initially more expensive item if you play your cards right.

 

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Guest's picture
Guest

There are not many products that I feel this way about, but I am a big fan of buying the best pair of shoes that I can afford, and replacing them when they are worn. The impact on my feet and knees makes them well worth the price. The information about the better warranty makes it an even better decision for me.

Guest's picture
Brandon

For any fellow fly-fishers out there, Sage offers a nearly unconditional lifetime warranty on all its products, which is pretty hard to beat.

Guest's picture
Janet

We had a snowsuit zipper break in it's third year (and second child) and they replaced the suit. Free.

Guest's picture
Guest

We returned a five year old backpack to Land's End when one of the straps gave out. We had to pay the difference in cost between the new one and the old one, plus shipping.
Another great brand is Oshkosh. After buying a pair of baby overalls with a missing rivet button, I wrote them and asked to buy a replacement button, and they sent me a mailer with instructions to return the overalls for repair. I got them back within a week with a new button!

Andrea Karim's picture

REI is great about this, too. I don't shop there much, but when I do, I've been thankful that they are so gracious. And of course, there's always Nordstrom.

Linsey Knerl's picture

Sears will replace any children's clothing item if it wears out before they outgrow it!  Details here:

http://www.sears.ca/gp/browse.html?ie=UTF8&node=16397051&no=16397281&searsBrand=core&me=A10FHFRJZ0GJG3 

Guest's picture
Anne

Patagonia can't be beat in terms of quality and their product guarantee.-

Nora Dunn's picture

Fabulous ideas, folks! Keep 'em coming.

Guest's picture
Guest

I'm not a big fan of name brand items either except for a few things.

But I've noticed with Sunglasses, Jackets and Shoes I like to buy name brand. Why? I actually spend less. One name brand pair of sunglasses and I treat them nicely, knowing they were expensive. Jackets I will wear for a long time, and shoes, less is better! I've noticed non-running shoes last a looong time. I'd rather have a few brand name pairs than a dozen cheap ones like I used to.

I tend to treat things better knowing how much I spent on them, how much I like them and that it would not be easy to replace them.

Myscha Theriault's picture

LL Bean is phenomenal about taking back merchandise if you have an issue with it. No receipt necessary and no questions asked.

Guest's picture
Kris

Their return policy is great - they might not replace the jacket, but they will repair it for the cost of shipping. I've had several zippers replaced. Many times the retailer has picked up the freight charges. It makes it a no-brainer when I am looking for a heavy duty winter coat.

Guest's picture
Carmen

Hi Nora,

I can't find any way to contact you on this blog and so I'm leaving this comment. Would you be willing to contact me at carmen at nunomad.com? I am an interviewer of professional nomads and would be interested in interviewing you. Hope to hear back.

Guest's picture

I agree that name brand shoes seem to last a lot longer. I can easily wear a pair of name brand shoes for 2 to 3 years while the non-brand ones only last a few months. Considering the length of utility the name brand shoes are actually cheaper. Anyway, another thing is this sentence is a little odd: "I owned a pair of brand name running shoes that had a great little feature which was an alternative to laces, and I was loved them."

Guest's picture
hazygrey

Totes umbrellas come with a lifetime warranty for manufacturer's defect. You just pay return shipping. A friend of mine recently took advantage of this offer.

Guest's picture
Jim_Rock

Interesting article about the obvious differences between generic and big name manufacturers. I have an issue to put to light, however.

I must say that is rather irresponsible to advise your readers to "If it fails, you take it to a store that carries it and politely explain your problem and ask if there is a way they can help you."

As someone who toiled in retail during college, I can say that you were hated by my ilk. Why in god's name would you think its cool to come into retail stores and blab about your problems instead of working through the manufacturer. That you expect retail employees to do the work of packing and shipping your box to the manufacturer through the exact same process that consumers have to use is evident that you are not qualified to give good advice on consumer advocacy or money saving strategies.

Nora Dunn's picture
Nora Dunn

All I can say is that I was having an idle conversation with the sales person at a store I was buying something else at about my frustrations with the shoes I had. I brought up the conversation with no expectation of having them solve my problem. It was them, in fact, who suggested that I bring them in. They were shipping a box back to the manufacturer anyway, and said it was no big deal to include my stuff. In fact, they said since it was coming from the store and not me as an individual, I'd get quicker service from the manufacturer.

Now that's what I call retail customer service. Needless to say I am a loyal customer to that store now, and I'm sorry that having dabbled in retail you didn't see the value in extending such service to your customers.

Where I do think you have a very valid point is in the choice of store. The only stores I'd try to approach would be the smaller boutique stores, and I'd only try it with higher-value items (for which it is more worth their while to be of service). Big box store employees certainly wouldn't have any vested interest in helping or being of service to this extent. 

Guest's picture
Guest

Leatherman(multitools and knives) and inova(flashlights) are also great about warranties. break something and they'll repair or replace it(usually replace).

Nora Dunn's picture
Nora Dunn

Leatherman is indeed great. My leatherman bit the dust on the road (in ways it shouldn't have fallen apart), and in idle conversation with a sales rep at an outdoor gear store in Melbourne, I mentioned my broken Leatherman and asked if I could have the number for Leatherman's warranty dept in Australia.

They did one better: they offered to broker the warranty repairs for me and send it in on my behalf - free of charge of course. Once again - the power of being polite + customer service + warranties is stretching my dollar a little bit further!

Guest's picture
doraflood

I beat up my luggage. Or the handlers, TSA, and my scuba gear does -- especially when checked. I swear by TUMI's Outlet store purchases. TUMI retail is just too high of cost. I've bought their "last year" luggage at the outlet stores and it comes with the same fab warranty AND free luggage tracking. I checked a bag into JetBlue in JFK and retrieved it in Boston. I use zip-ties to secure zippers. TSA cut off the zipper pull! Took the bag into a retail TUMI store, without the receipt, and they shipped it back to TUMI for free for me (like I could have found a box for a 24" wheeled luggage) and it was repaired and shipped back to me, for free, within two weeks! They have a "we don't care who damaged it" fix policy.

Guest's picture
Guest

I have a couple of zippers that have bit the dust and MEC won't fix them for free. I have to pay shipping plus $30 or $40 for repairs. I was disappointed, to say the least. On the other hand, Columbia does repair their zippers for free, and I happen to have a local store way up in northern Canada that carries Columbia and ships for me.