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Many Unhappy Returns

I heard a startling stat on the radio yesterday: Half of the consumer-electronics products returned to stores function properly, according to a recent study, but customers simply can't figure out to operate them. Yes, half.

As part of her doctoral thesis, researcher Elke den Ouden of the Technical University of Eindhoven in the Netherlands also found that consumers in the United States will try to get a gadget working for 20 minutes before giving up.

Then again, maybe those numbers aren't all that surprising, given the feature bloat and poor design so common today. But it speaks volumes about the need for simplicity in product design. Unfortunately, den Ouden (who also works at Philips Electronics) found that companies generally dismiss product complaints and returns as "nuisance calls." That's a reminder that it isn't just better design that's needed, but better customer service as well.

Have you returned a product you just couldn't figure out? Is 20 minutes too much or too little time to spend setting up a new device?

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