May 31, 2007

What Does "Guarantee" Mean?

I have a wheelbarrow that’s been unusable for over a year now because the tire went flat and came off the rim, and I didn’t know how to fix it. I decided to get a replacement tire from Home Depot, assuming they would have such a thing.

I brought the broken wheel with me, assuming I’d face a choice of sizes.

I was a little surprised to see there were a couple of types of wheelbarrow wheel, but not different sizes. There was a solid rubber wheel and an air-filled wheel. They were the same size, both slightly larger than my old tire.

The box proclaimed “one size fits all” and, more compellingly “Guaranteed to fit your wheelbarrow.” I figured they knew something I didn’t; this is often a bad assumption, even when they are wheelbarrow experts and I am not.

I bought the wheel, rushed home excited at the prospect of a repaired wheelbarrow and, of course, the wheel was too big. It hit both the bottom of the bucket and the wheel guard.

I returned it, of course, and got my money back. But then I thought about what “guaranteed” means. It doesn’t mean “guaranteed to fit, or your money back.” Because, of course I would have returned it for my money back whether it was “guaranteed” or not; I have a need for a wheel that doesn’t fit my barrow.

I looked up “guaranteed” to see what the dictionary people think it means.

The first definition of “guarantee” I came across was:

Something that assures a particular outcome or condition.

And the other definitions are not far off from that. So, it doesn’t mean that I am guaranteed to get my money back. It doesn’t mean I am simply guaranteed to not waste my money. The copy on the box actually meant that they were assuring a specific outcome: this wheel will work on my wheelbarrow.

I didn’t look it up with the intention of calling them and demanding that they make the wheel fit for me, like they promised. I did not have the intention for telling Home Depot that they owed me some money for the time I wasted trying to install this non-fitting wheel, or having to return to the store to get my money back. I looked it up because I see words used so cavalierly that sometimes I think maybe I’m going insane and the language doesn’t mean what I think it means.

We have specific meanings for a reason, right? The reason here is to get me to buy the wheel rather than leave the store and go elsewhere looking for a wheel that appears to fit better. It worked! So they are using language effectively in their interest. However, I get the feeling that their use of language is not in my interest. Because not only did they waste my time, but now I know that “guarantee,” used in marketing, really doesn’t mean anything.

My innocence has been shattered!

Posted by James at May 31, 2007 12:52 PM
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It's usually pretty clear about that, though. Are you sure it doesn't say, at least in the fine print, "Guaranteed to [work], or your money back."?

Posted by: Barry Leiba at May 31, 2007 3:36 PM

With the windshield wiper people, it means that if it doesn't fit, you can call them and they'll send you an adapter that will make their wipers fit your weird little French car, or whatever.

I don't know what it's supposed to mean for wheelbarrow parts.

Posted by: Julie at May 31, 2007 3:58 PM

"sometimes I think maybe I’m going insane and the language doesn’t mean what I think it means."

You mean marketers use words to fit the meanings that will help them sell more items?


Posted by: B.O.B. (bob) at May 31, 2007 4:22 PM

Maybe you should call the company and tell them the following regarding the work guaranteed

You keep using that word. i do not think it means what you think it means!

Posted by: B.O.B. (bob) at May 31, 2007 4:24 PM

I'm pretty sure it said "guaranteed to fit your wheelbarrow" but it is certainly conceivable that they had their toes crossed at the time. I don't think it's wise to coddle these people; if it says it in fine print on the inside of the tire, that hardly counts.

In any case "guaranteed... or" doesn't mean anything. It's either guaranteed... or it isn't guaranteed. So guaranteed... or means "not guaranteed."

"...or your money back" is a given. If Home Depot wants me to shop there, they certainly had better take back a part that doesn't fit. It's to their advantage to get me to feel like I can safely buy stuff that might not be right for the job, otherwise when I get home, measure, and set out to get the part I may end up at Lowe's next time. That return policy has little to do with the manufacturer.

I failed to mention, when I got it home I noticed that the bag of plastic offset pieces (which allow you to keep the wheel centered on the axle, for different diameter axles and different width forks) was opened. Someone had possibly already tried to install the wheel, and had to return it.

Posted by: James at May 31, 2007 5:00 PM

So now they've let two people down. AT LEAST two people down.

Posted by: Julie at May 31, 2007 5:18 PM

OK, let's take it back to reality, though: You, I, a manufacturer, a retailer... can't "guarantee" something that's out of our control. So in some sense, any product guarantee is bogus. If I ship something to you and I "guarantee" that it will work when you get it, well, I can't guarantee that — it could get broken in transit. Any mass-market product can be defective. It's rather obvious that any product that has to fit somewhere can possibly not fit.

So, really, in product sales, a "guarantee" cannot possibly be absolute. And in any case, a guarantee is only worth the remedy for failure. Is there really any difference between my selling you something that I guarantee will work, and my selling you something for which I don't make any guarantee? In either case, if you're not happy you won't likely do business with me again.

Now, I can sell you something "as is", where we explicitly agree that if it doesn't work that's too bad. Presumably, you're getting a severely reduced price in return for that absence of guarantee.

If what I'm providing you is a service, I can often promise to make it right: I guarantee I'll paint your house to your satisfaction... if you're not satisfied, I'll do it again, I'll fix the glitches, whatever, until you're satisfied. But if I'm selling you a new kind of painting mechanism, the best I can guarantee is that I'll replace the item or give you your money back.

Yes, that's what we expect these days (we didn't always, and it wasn't always provided). But that's all they can do.

Of course, your argument is that they shouldn't say it, because it's meaningless. Fair enough, but it should be so flamingly obvious that a "guarantee to fit" is meaningless that it shouldn't matter either way.

Hm. Sorry to be so long-winded.

Posted by: Barry Leiba at June 2, 2007 2:57 PM

I guess it boils down to this: if you can't guarantee, then don't say you can. Just plain don't waste my time.

It is flamingly obvious that they are not able to make good on their guarantee if it is a meaningless guarantee. However, not being an expert in wheelbarrows and being faced by a product which is sold by a company which makes parts for wheelbarrows and assuming that such a company is an expert in wheelbarrow parts (as I mentioned above, a bad assumption) it was not flamingly obvious at the start that their guarantee was meaningless.

Hindsight is 20/20. I wouldn't have bought the wheel if it weren't for their (now flamingly, obviously, meaningless) guarantee. Clearly, the point at which the consumer makes the decision to buy is the point in time at issue here, and not the aftermath.

Posted by: James at June 2, 2007 3:26 PM

Ah, hm, I think that's what I didn't understand: you thought that the guarantee meant that all wheelbarrows have a standard-sized wheel, and, therefore, you thought the guarantee was meaningful. Got it.

Yeah, that's annoying!

Posted by: Barry Leiba at June 2, 2007 5:50 PM

"I guess it boils down to this: if you can't guarantee, then don't say you can. Just plain don't waste my time."

Yep, exactly right. I hate how Home Depot throws this word around. Everything in their store seems to be guaranteed against everything except what might happen to the item.

A couple of years ago I needed a good pair of loppers to do some high trimming. I found the ones I really wanted at Lee Valley Tools but decided that Home Depot's brand was more in my price range. Besides, they were also guaranteed. Right? Because they said they were.

And so three months later when I carried my broken loppers back in a bag because they'd fallen into two parts, I was told that the guarantee only covered the handles. Because, you know, just everyone prunes trees by bludgeoning them with the handles of a trimmer.

I went home without a refund, called Lee Valley, and demanded to know what parts of their loppers were guaranteed. I was told that they all were. "No," I said, "Seriously. Which parts are not covered?" After a long silence, the man told me once again that they were covered, period. I grabbed my VISA card, and now have some of the finest loppers on this earth.

So, after that (not so very) amusing stroll down memory lane, I think that you have to figure out who understands the meaning of 'guarantee', and also avoid Home Depot as often as humanly possible.

Posted by: Cindy at June 2, 2007 8:53 PM

LOL, Cindy.

We have a local hardware store that is teeny-tiny and has absolutely everything under the sun just crammed in there. The guy who runs it is very knowledgeable.

The reason I go to Home Depot is paint (since Behr is now pretty much on par with Benjamin Moore), and sometimes gardening supplies. But the employees are (mostly) clueless and the merchandise is often crap.

I was so angry when they came to town. We used to have three hardware stores within a 20 mile radius, and now we have two Home Depots and the aforementioned teeny-tiny Ace. (Home Depot put the other larger stores out of business.) I patronize the Ace whenever possible.

Posted by: Maggie at June 3, 2007 9:44 AM
The reason I go to Home Depot is paint (since Behr is now pretty much on par with Benjamin Moore)

Is that really the case? Behr has historically had a bad reptutation, and I've seen (several years ago) lousy results when Behr was used.

The last few times I painted I used Benjamin Moore. I figured time is worth more to me than the difference in cost, and I don't want to have to paint again because the paint was lousy.

Posted by: Jim at June 3, 2007 10:27 AM

For a while now, Behr has performed at least as good as Benjamin Moore in Consumer Reports tests. We used to use Benjamin Moore exclusively (around the time we bought our house), but switched to Behr (around thew time we built the addition and did quite a lot of painting) and have not seen anything to contradict the results CR reported. Certainly nothing to warrant the steep price tag difference.

We've never had a problem with Behr.

Posted by: James at June 3, 2007 12:00 PM

It's funny, I'm looking at forums that are claiming Benjamin Moore is better because they know professional painters that will only use it. That's kinda the criteria we went by when we first decided to use it.

But professional painters may have a different criteria from a homeowner. Pros aren't paying for the paint, so the price difference is inconsequential to them, especially if they talk up Benjamin Moore and convince the homeowner it's a lot better. If Benjamin Moore has slightly better coverage, but not enough to justify the price difference, the pro is going to go for it anyhow. They'll get paid the same and spend less time on the job.

I put more faith in independent CR tests than what a pro tells me if it seems like the pro has other reasons for talking up Benjamin Moore.

Posted by: James at June 3, 2007 12:06 PM

Even though the two rooms I painted would have looked fine with 1 coat of Moore, I used 2, and they looked great.

I actually hired someone to pain my home office because I didn't have the spare time to do it myself. She was getting paid hourly, and I was buying the paint directly, and she still recommended Moore.

Next time I have the chance, I'll give Behr a try, especially if the job is such that I'm willing to deal with a subpar outcome, should it happen :-)

In the past, this was interior work for relatively small rooms, so the price difference for 1 or 2 gallons wasn't really a lot in absolute terms.

I'm going to have to pain the exterior of this place soon, and there the per gallon price difference does become significant. (As does the labor for having to repaint sooner rather than later.)

Posted by: Jim at June 3, 2007 12:20 PM

I'm mostly going on what CR has reported. Though, like I said, we haven't had a problem with Behr. And when you're buying lots of paint as we did when we painted the addition, it really does add up.

Posted by: James at June 3, 2007 12:54 PM

I have had one problem with Behr -- hemorrhoids. If you're not careful to spread the paint thinly, certain colors will drip under the dry outside, causing unsightly paintorrhoids. These are very hard to get rid of. It happened to me with two colors, and I know somebody else who had the same problem. James has never had the problem. He uses a roller and I use a paint pad, so that may be a factor.

We've never used the exterior paint.

As far as coverage, color, etc., we haven't had a problem with Behr.

Posted by: Maggie at June 3, 2007 1:19 PM

The paint pads tend to put ore paint on the wall at one time; the sponge soaks up a lot of paint and releases it depending on the pressure applied.

I used to love paint pads for their ability to load paint on the wall, but I found that I tended to go too heavy. I didn't like rollers because of splattering, but after I acquired a lot more experience I get much better results with rollers.

Pads are great for cutting in, if you're not confident with a brush.

Posted by: James at June 3, 2007 1:42 PM

I'm a lousy painter (partly because I have little experience.)

I did use pads for cutting the edges. They did a somewhat lousy job with my '80s vintage popcorn ceiling, but probably better than I would have been able to do with a brush.

For the rest I use a roller, and can get decent results.

Posted by: Jim at June 3, 2007 2:10 PM

Two misconceptions I found interesting. First most painters will not use a quality product like Moores because they don't want to pay the price if they supply material. Your expectations may be using Moores and getting proper results but many painters will run to the cheap. Cheap looks good for the short term. Check to make sure you get what you expect in product. There are sometimes several grades produced by manufacturers to fit particular markets. Secondly, don't rely to much on Consumer Reports as we in the public don't know what testing standards they use or if the tests are administered properly. CR though is still a good tool to use as a quideline

Posted by: Will at June 5, 2007 2:12 PM

most painters will not use a quality product like Moores

It sounds like I can't trust most painters. So why should I trust the opinion of a painter when they tell me Moore is good paint? Aha - I should only trust the opinion of painters who say Moore is good paint, because those are the honest ones. It sounds a little circular. :)

That's why we need independent tests. If there are better independent tests out there than the ones CR does, I'd be interested to look at them. We used to pay for Benjamin Moore and thought it was worth the extra price, and as far as I can tell Benjamin Moore is a really good paint. But we've had good results with Behr paint, too.

Posted by: James at June 5, 2007 3:03 PM

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