December 4 2012 by Ellen Roseman
Kavitha Nadarajah got a $7,000 energy-efficient KitchenAid refrigerator built into her kitchen in April 2007. It lasted just five years before it needed to be replaced.
Alas, the control board for her model wasn’t available any more. A factory in Japan had closed, leaving the appliance maker without parts.
KitchenAid customer service said it couldn’t do anything because the refrigerator was not under warranty. Later, it offered to deliver a similar model for $5,000 and then $4,000. The same model costs around $7,000 at Sears Canada.
“We are a family of four with two small kids and have been without a refrigerator for more than three weeks now. As you can imagine it is a frustrating experience,” she said.
“Besides, when we bought the energy efficient but expensive refrigerator, we expected it to last at least 10 years. It makes no sense, neither financially nor environmentally, to be forced to buy another refrigerator so soon.”
I sent the information to my Whirlpool contact in Michigan. But I can’t say for sure whose efforts made the difference, since Kavitha tried her own tactics.
Then, she got an offer to replace her broken fridge for $3,000. She’d been without one for more than a month.
In another blog update, she talked about spending $20,000 on KitchenAid appliances in five years and getting nothing but heartache.
That led to a better offer, which she accepted, to pay $500 for a model that wasn’t built in. (Its market value was around $3,000.)
“We asked for a similar deal from the beginning. They refused until I started to use social media to get their attention,” she told me.
There’s a final blog update here, talking about the lessons she learned. Don’t give up. Trust the power of social media.
“Even people without one million followers can use social media to spread their concerns,” she says, linking to a successful Twitter campaign about a failed Maytag dishwasher by moomy blogger Heather Armstrong in 2009. (She runs the very popular Dooce website.)
Since it took more than two months to resolve the issue, Kavitha has vowed never to buy any appliance brands owned by Whirlpool again. She won the social media battle, but lost her fight to get a new refrigerator just like the one that died prematurely.
Based on the complaints I get, I’d say most new appliances don’t last as long as they did before. They have more computer circuitry. They are subject to frequent changes. And the parts seem to be perennially out of stock.
I also had my own social media success in getting GE to pay for a glass oven door that shattered after only three years.
So, while I’m a fan of using Twitter to resolve consumer complaints, I’m concerned about the fragility of household appliances. Most people find it easier to throw them out than to fight for a low-cost repair or replacement from the manufacturer.