Consumer Action surveys consumers’ satisfaction with smartphone/computer warranties

Responses reveal that while some are satisfied, many don’t understand coverage

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Source: Consumer Action

Consumers would benefit from a better understanding of the manufacturer’s warranty that comes with the computers, tablets and smartphones they buy—and many want the coverage to last longer and cover more, according to a survey by the national nonprofit Consumer Action.

As part of a broader consumer education project on smartphone/computer warranties, Consumer Action surveyed consumers to learn how aware they are of the coverage provided under the manufacturer’s warranty for their computers, smartphones and tablets, and how satisfied they are with that coverage. 

We also studied how easy it is for consumers to find the warranty information for their devices on manufacturer, retailer and wireless service provider websites.

Product warranty information was most difficult to locate on general retailer sites. Four out of four retailers we visited online got a “very difficult” rating for ease of finding the device manufacturer’s warranty.

Conversely, 9 of the 11 telecoms and device manufacturers whose sites we visited got a rating of “not difficult at all” or “somewhat difficult.” However, Motorola and Verizon both received a “very difficult” rating—we couldn’t find the warranty on either site. 

Consumer Action advises consumers to visit the device manufacturer’s website for the most comprehensive and up-to-date general warranty information. In the case of a smartphone, consumers can also find out the warranty status through their wireless service provider’s website or app.

Other key findings: 

  • Nearly one-third of respondents (32%) said they received manufacturer’s warranty information from the seller (retailer, wireless service provider or manufacturer), while 39% did not; 29% didn’t remember.
  • Slightly more than half of respondents (53%) said they don’t generally understand what the manufacturer’s warranty covers and what is excluded; almost half (47%) said they do understand. Of those who didn’t understand the coverage, most said they had not read the warranty or been told about the coverage. Thirty percent (30%) said they had read the warranty or been told about it, but they didn’t understand it. Four percent (4%) said they couldn’t find the warranty in the language they speak/read. 
  • Many consumers expressed frustration with the presentation of the warranty information. Commenters described warranty language as “legalese,” “microscopic,” “long & confusing,” with “so many exclusions, exceptions and general gobbledygook.” A couple of respondents singled out the mandatory arbitration clause that typically appears in consumer service contracts: “A general observation about warranties: almost all now MANDATE arbitration if there is a dispute. This is a problem because the arbitrators are almost always more favorable to manufacturers or other corporate entities rather than consumers.” (Consumer Action has long worked to oppose binding mandatory arbitration clauses in the fine print of contracts, which force millions of consumers to, often unwittingly, waive their right to access the courts.)
  • While many respondents (201) said they were generally satisfied with what the manufacturer’s warranty covers, 110 said they were not. Some who commented said the warranty should be longer—a year isn’t long enough for such an expensive item—and many others said the warranty coverage is too limited (i.e., too many exclusions). 
  • Most respondents (72%) had not made a warranty claim on their device. Of those who did, 95 people thought it was very or fairly easy to file the claim; 74 thought it was somewhat or very difficult. Slightly more than half of these people (52%) were satisfied with how their claim was handled. Of those who were dissatisfied, many noted that replacement products are often refurbished, not new.
  • Most consumers (64%) said they would not know where/how to file a complaint if they were not satisfied with a company’s response to their warranty claim. 

The feedback reflects the need for consumer education about how to find a manufacturer’s warranty and the difference between that and an optional (purchased) extended warranty, service contract or device insurance.

“Awareness of the different costs, exclusions and terms would enable consumers to make informed choices at the time of purchase and avoid surprises when filing a claim,” said Consumer Action’s executive director, Anna Flores. 

Consumer Action recommends that:

  • Warranties be presented in easy-to-understand, consumer-friendly language;
  • Warranties be made available in languages other than English;
  • Coverage information be easier to locate on retailers’ websites; and 
  • Sellers that push an extended warranty, service contract or insurance be required to explain the differences between the extra coverage and the manufacturer’s warranty, including the deductible, the coverage/exclusions, and whether replacement devices are new or refurbished. 

The consumer survey was open from the end of August through most of September; 601 people completed the survey.

Consumer Action’s educational guide “Device warranties: Understanding and exercising your rights” available for free download in English, Spanish, and Chinese. (Vietnamese and Korean translations will be available by June.)

Trainings and video

As part of the warranties project, Consumer Action will be hosting multiple trainings and producing a multilingual video.

First up will be a free train-the-trainer in Oakland, California, on Wednesday, May 22, from 9:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. The training is intended for consumer educators, counselors, case managers and advocates who will use what they learn to educate their clients and communities. The session will feature presentations by speakers offering practical information to help consumers understand and assert their warranty rights when dealing with defective or malfunctioning devices and make informed choices about optional extended warranties and device insurance. They will also provide information about the new California “right to repair” law. Register for the free training event here. (AFC professionals can earn 1.5 CEUs for participation in this free training.) 

To be alerted about future training and video release dates, subscribe to Consumer Action’s email list.

The survey, publications, trainings, videos, and related work are made possible by a grant from the Rose Foundation for Communities and the Environment.

About Consumer Action

Consumer Action has been a champion of underrepresented consumers nationwide since 1971. A 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, Consumer Action focuses on consumer education that empowers low- and moderate-income and limited-English-speaking consumers to financially prosper. It also advocates for consumers in the media and before lawmakers to advance consumer rights and promote industry-wide change.

About the Rose Foundation for Communities and the Environment

The Rose Foundation for Communities and the Environment is an American grantmaking, research, and advocacy non-profit based in Oakland, California. Founded in 1992, it has been rated a four-star charity by Charity Navigator and is a 1% for the Planet recipient. The organization supports grassroots initiatives that help build a world in which individuals, organizations, and communities are empowered to promote stewardship of nature, inspire people to take action, and hold government and corporations accountable.





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