Sunday, April 22, 2012

Information asymmetry and my Cuisinart coffee maker - Steve Jobs in Hell

Our 15 yo coffee maker finally died. We bought Cuisinart's 2012 equivalent.

It sort of works, much as our current toaster sort of works. Like most of the consumer products we buy, it's firmly trapped in the local quality minima of the Akerlof information asymmetric quality trap. The Cuisinart name, like SONY, is just another meaningless brand, another Apple antithesis.

There are manufacturers who've escaped the quality trap; brands like BMW, Mercedes, Apple, and Shimano. It's remarkable how few succeed, however.

The Cuisinart has  a signature feature that perfectly represents the quality trap. It signals when the water chamber is empty. This isn't an essential feature, but it's not necessarily worthless. A soft pulsing light would be fine, or a gentle chime. Alas, the signal is four piercing beeps that would be awful in an alarm clock. The cheapest possible signal.

If there were a Hell, and if Steve Jobs were in it, this would be his coffee maker.


Anonymous said...

I wonder if there is another dynamic at play. It used to be that everyone drank coffee from the drip coffee makers. Now those who can afford it often stop by Starbucks on the way to work or use a French press or espresso machine at home.

It may be that those who select for quality and can afford it have mostly abandoned the product class so all that is left is junk.

The same might be said for toasters and toaster ovens. I didn't even know what a toaster oven was when I was growing up. Now I own a toaster oven but not a toaster.

There might be tectonic shifts in quality of certain products that correspond to the relative income of the average owner.

Having just bought a flour sifter that rusted after its first cleaning, I wonder if that is just declining quality generally, ignorance on my part about how to maintain sifters, or a sign that people on the wealthier end of the spectrum eat out more and sift flour less.

JGF said...

I think this happened with air conditioners. The top end of the market went to central air, so now it's entirely price-only.

Pay phones are the extreme example. IF you can find one, and get the dust off, they are often broken.

I can see it as a contributing factor with coffee makers too. The top end of the market is pretty classy. Still, it doesn't feel as complete a transition as the air conditioner market.

I sorted Amazon coffee, tea and espresso by popularity. Most were still drip -- took a while to get to the Keurig B170 -- they make their money from the coffee loader 'cups'.

Do toaster ovens work these days? If it's possible to buy a high quality toaster oven I could try that.

JGF said...

Maybe I need the $650 DeLonghi? Or the $800 model?

What does this say about inflation, that the price of a tolerable coffee maker has gone from $40 to $650?

I hope some econ grad student is wondering about this sort of question. Might be a Nobel in it someday.