Companies underestimate consumers

By Kevin Wilson: CNJ staff writer

I recently got a new computer, and I’ve lost a lot of sleep over the last week customizing it to my liking.

The computer started up right out of the box and it was fast — and by fast, I mean the speed at which Time magazine ran away from its journalistic responsibilities by naming me and everybody else on the planet its person of the year. By the way, congratulations on the honor if I haven’t told you yet.

But every time I turn it on, there’s always something to remind me computer companies don’t think we’re very smart. Of course, I try to keep in mind the tales I’ve read of customers calling tech support because their coffee cup holder broke (it was actually their CD-ROM drive) or the computer just doesn’t seem to work in a power outage.

Still, I think computer companies are continually insulting our intelligence, because they’ve found it greatly increases the profit margin. Consider the following two points:

— One of the programs the computer comes with is an antivirus program. While it’s important for my computer to have this, I get a little miffed when I turn the computer on and the antivirus program tells me, “Virus successfully blocked: Click here for more information.” I didn’t click the information, because it would only affirm the program is accomplishing the specific task for which it was purchased.

Since it will surely not tell me when it doesn’t block a virus, the message is merely a self-congratulation meant to entice me to buy a more expensive version of the program. When I finish up a letter on Microsoft Word, that paperclip icon doesn’t tell me, “Microsoft Word helped you create a letter today. Click here for more information and a reduced rate on our new Microsoft ProLetter Plus.”

— With my computer came a catalog, and many of the items were photo printers. Seeing these items for sale brings me back to the days of the early-morning infomercial selling home pasta machines. The people who offered these were either very good salesmen or their customers were too tired to be rational, because somehow the customer ended up thinking, “You know, I should buy that $200 pasta maker with $49.95 shipping and handling, and then buy a sack of their $20 pasta flour and dedicate half of my kitchen to making pasta. That sounds much better than spending 99 cents on spaghetti at the grocery store.”

Photo printers work on the same pretense. By charging lots of money for small amounts of the same things the big printing corporations use, the consumer is duped into spending more money for their independence in printing.

Somewhere, there’s a person about to order a photo printer and they’re telling themselves, “You know, I should buy that $200 photo printer with $49.95 shipping and handling, and it comes with a free ink cartridge valued at $40. Then I’ll get a pack of their $20 premium glossy photo paper. With a good paper slicer, I can cut off the unprinted edges and dedicate half of my computer workstation to printing my own 4-by-6 photo. That sounds much better than paying 30 cents at the photo lab.

“Maybe I should take a picture of my wife with her pasta maker.”

Kevin Wilson is a columnist for Freedom Newspapers of New Mexico. He can be reached at 763-3431, ext. 313, or by e-mail: