Right to Repair legislation has been commonplace for nearly two decades. In 2001, a bill was introduced in Congress that attempted to end the “unfair monopoly” of automobile manufacturers maintaining control over information that could result in independent shops turning away business. Eventually, the Motor Vehicle Owners’ Right to Repair Act was passed in 2014, forcing new car manufacturers to make the same service information and tools available to independent repair shops that they provide to franchised dealers. This law guarantees every car owner’s rights to have their vehicle serviced at a facility of their choice.
Fast forward to today, and Right to Repair bills are appearing in legislatures around the U.S. As of March of 2018, California is projected to become the 19th state to add Right to Repair legislation to the docket—a number that has more than doubled since the year prior. These bills mostly center around high-tech product owners (e.g. smart phones, tablets and wearables) wanting to repair personal devices on their own or work with an independent provider, opposed to working directly with the manufacturer.
On its surface, Right to Repair laws can be beneficial for consumers, especially when it comes to convenience, control and accessibility of service parts. However, there are several risks manufacturers should communicate to their customers, including:
No. 1 - Safety: Historically, speed and cost have been the top priorities for customers in need of repairs. Working directly with the OEM can be a slow, tedious and expensive process, forcing customers to shop on the grey market—a marketplace outside of trading channels authorized by the manufacturer. While many aftermarket companies buy the rights to manufacture parts from the OEM, many do not, and this leads to immediate quality and safety concerns.
With Right to Repair legislation comes convenience and affordability, but at the cost of quality assurance. Third parties that offer non-OEM parts could immediately lead to brand safety and customer satisfaction concerns. Manufacturers should consider educating consumers about where they purchase parts and avoiding third party distribution companies that disregard part quality and safety standards.
No. 2 - Security: Security is highly regarded as one of the largest risks with adopting Right to Repair laws. The Security Industry Association (SIA) has actively monitored legislation and voiced concerns about the bills and the security risks that come with it.
According to the Security Innovation Center, allowing customers to fix their own devices, rather than having OEMs repair internally, will in-turn provide hackers with increased access and power. For example, Massachusetts is looking to extend the reach of its current Right to Repair laws, currently dedicated specifically to automobiles, to now cover a wide range of consumer electronic devices. As a result, consumer electronics manufacturers would be required to provide consumers and independent repair shops with sensitive materials, such as diagnostic codes, technical manuals and, in some cases, back-end software.
The customer is noticing these risks, too, as privacy and security are becoming top priorities. A recent study from the Security Innovation Center showed that almost two thirds of American consumers believe that the explosive growth of internet-connected products is a driving force in growing concerns about privacy and security.
A similar share felt that they would not know if an IoT device they owned had been compromised. Finally, a whopping 84 percent claimed that they value the security of their data over convenience or speed of service. This indicates that there’s more to the consumer experience than cost and convenience—as consumers become more intelligent and more informed, and as IoT grows and customer transactions affect more variables than ever.
No. 3 - Environment: Repair.org suggests “reuse is the best green policy.” Equipment repair and reuse minimizes carbon emissions, material waste and much more.
All too often, usable products and device components are shredded or tossed away instead of being salvaged, fixed and reused. Products need to last longer, which includes optimizing electronics not only for the first owner, but also for the third, the fourth and the fifth owner through formal and informal reuse and repair.
Americans contribute 3.4 million tons of end-of-life electronic products of the total 20 million tons on Earth. Manufacturers must optimize their after-sales service organizations and provide efficient and effective repairs to ensure customers always have devices that are up and running. The revenue that an optimized service organization provides compensates for any potential dips on the new product side of the business.
Right to Repair laws are here, and they’re here to stay. While there are pros and cons associated with the bills, manufacturers must be equipped to meet the needs of their customers and have open conversations about the implications of these laws.
Gary Brooks is CMO of Syncron.