Monday, August 3, 2015

The Durability Trend

There is a trend toward more durable products, and one way this is seen is in a downward trend in manufacturing volume. Recent statistics point to actual declines in manufacturing in only a few places, but one of those places is China, the world’s biggest manufacturing country and a place where we came to expect rapid growth every year.

The durability trend can be seen everywhere you turn. These are a few examples:

  • The no-new-clothing fashion trend of 2009-2011, made possible by the large amount of not-worn-out clothing in the closet
  • LED light bulbs, which may last nearly as long as the sockets they attach to
  • Today’s sustainable-energy announcement from the White House, which emphasizes electrical generation technology that last longer than traditional fuel-burning power plants
  • The 20-year-old cars on the road, as common as 10-year-old cars were a generation ago
  • Laptop computers that last 5 years instead of 18 months
  • The widespread replacement of tape with disk for information storage a decade ago, and the current move from disk to flash memory
  • The prominence of manufacturers that design for durability, such as Apple, Toyota, and Ikea
  • Batteries that promise longer life
  • Advancements in glass for greater impact and scratch resistance
  • A resurgence in hardcover books compared to paperbacks

In general, durability leads to a decrease in manufacturing, as products are not replaced as often. The higher prices of the more durable designs may partly make up for this but can never fully cover the decline in manufacturing volume. A greater reliance on durable goods tends to lead to geopolitical stability, as the timing of product deliveries is no longer so sensitive. On the other hand, as goods become more durable, purchases are more easily postponed, and this might to a more pronounced business cycle as people facing financial pressure may cut back sharply on spending.

Consumers will insist on improved durability in categories such as tools as they own more and more manufactured products. In the last century, consumers have gone from owning around 100 items to owning around 10,000. Replacing 10,000 items every couple of years would be too much to ask, so products will have to last longer.