Author: Tanya Tran - Head of Marketing at Partful
In recent years, the Right to Repair movement has gained significant momentum. In the UK, it’s led to the implementation of regulations aimed at granting consumers access to repair information and parts for their electronic devices. In the USA, the focus has leaned more towards the automobile and agricultural sectors, with tractor maker John Deere recently agreeing to give customers the right to fix farming equipment following intense public pressure.
With public campaign groups pushing for more legislation around the world, Right to Repair will have a far-reaching impact on Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) – who have traditionally held a monopoly on repairs and could void warranties if consumers attempted to fix their own products.
Here, I want to attempt to explain the implications of the Right to Repair regulations, how OEMs will need to adapt and what the future of the manufacturing aftermarket might look like.
An Overview of the Right to Repair Regulations
There are various definitions of what the Right to Repair is exactly. But all explanations centre on consumers’ rights to be able to repair the goods they purchase – either themselves or via a third party. Products within the scope of Right to Repair legislation depend on the country, but this includes everything from smartphones, laptops, and televisions to white goods, cars and even agricultural equipment.
Regulators are aiming to remove obstacles that could discourage consumers from seeking repairs – such as poor access to aftermarket services or high fix costs. In recent research commissioned by Partful, 53% said they would fix products more often if they were easier to repair.
These regulations seek to promote healthy competition in the repair industry. But there is another significant driver. The desire to create more sustainable manufacturing practices, reduce waste and end planned obsolescence has been a major motivation behind the legislation.
So far, regulations have come into place in the UK and the US, but legislation is also planned for the European Union.
The Impact of the Right to Repair on OEMs
Manufacturers are being encouraged to design products and provide aftermarket support that enables the easy repair and maintenance of products. This is challenging OEMs to provide consumers with greater access to diagnostic tools, repair instructions and official parts so they can either fix products themselves or hire a third-party repairer.
In the UK, the new law means manufacturers now have to make repair information and spare parts available for up to ten years for certain goods. In the EU, planned regulations would make manufacturers legally obliged to repair products for five to ten years after purchase. This means business models that relied on people buying gadgets such as smartphones every two years will no longer be viable.
For products that last longer, including cars or farming machinery, making parts and technical information more accessible could encourage users to source third-party repairers or even repair the products themselves – as we’ve seen with the case of John Deere in the US. This could start to impact manufacturers’ aftermarket revenues.
An additional concern raised by OEMs is the potential to compromise intellectual property (IP), which could put any competitive advantage at risk. As such, products may need to be designed to ensure they’re easy to repair, without compromising IP.
Changing OEM business models
This is a pivotal time for the manufacturing industry as many OEMs will need to adapt their business model to mitigate the impact of the Right to Repair movement.
The focus will need to shift to the potential increase in sales that could be generated through higher demand for parts. Recent research commissioned by Partful found that almost one-fifth (18%) of SME manufacturers' revenues already come from these aftermarket sales. And, for almost a quarter, these achieve a higher profit margin than the initial product sale.
Research with DIY repairers also found that half would be willing to pay more than 30% of the original product for a spare part, while a quarter would pay more than 50%. So, manufacturers that can meet this new challenge will have an opportunity to increase aftermarket revenues. Some major OEMs are already taking steps in this direction by collaborating with professional repair businesses or establishing official repair programmes with third-party technicians to become authorised service providers.
Many are also making the part replacement process easier for the DIY repairer. Our research indicates that this could have lasting reputational benefits for brands. When we asked why they chose to repair products, almost half (46%) of DIY repairers said it was because they thought scrapping products was wasteful and not environmentally friendly. So, in addition to increasing revenues, manufacturers that can successfully meet aftermarket customer expectations also have an opportunity to build loyal, long-term relationships.
I recently shared my take on LinkedIn over a series of posts. I ended up getting a lot of insights from the consumers themselves over how frustrating their after-sales experiences were with the OEMs. Unsurprisingly, the brand names called out are globally well-known.
The benefits of the Right to Repair for consumers
Right to Repair offers consumers greater control over their products, arming them with a greater selection of choice when it comes to professional repairers – as well as the option to undertake the work themselves. This, by its nature, will promote healthy competition in the repair space, which could allow consumers to get products fixed faster and, potentially, at a lower cost.
Given that customers may have concerns over the quality and safety of third-party repairs, however, there is still an opportunity for proactive manufacturers to retain control here. By providing easy access to repair information and parts, they can demonstrate a commitment to upholding their product standards, consumer safety and the customer experience.
Ultimately though, the repairability of products, and the shift to an approach that supports the circular economy, is invaluable to customers from a sustainability perspective. This is the driving force of many consumer campaign groups backing the Right to Repair movement.
Repairable products reduce the carbon emissions produced during the production of large goods, such as vehicles and agricultural equipment, and it curtails the waste caused by discarded electronic goods. Today’s consumers want to buy from businesses that are meeting their environmental commitments. And it has become a clear determining factor when consumers choose the brands they want to buy from and be associated with.
The future for OEMs under the Right to Repair
As momentum builds behind the Right to Repair movement, OEMs will need to adopt a more consumer-centric approach and design products with aftermarket support in mind.
The movement is growing
Right to Repair is not going away. We have already seen legislation drafted in major markets like the UK, US and European Union, but it is unlikely to stop there. Consumers and pressure groups are increasingly demanding the ability to repair products.
You can see examples of the movement gaining ground around the world. For example, in Australia, repair cafes are enabling consumers to have items repaired by skilled volunteers at no cost. And in India, the Lifestyle for Environment (LiFE) campaign prioritises the concept of reusing and recycling consumer goods, as they also move to the circular economy model.
Adapting product design
This larger movement towards the circular economy will bring increased focus on keeping products in use for longer, placing greater emphasis on the maintainability of products.
When it comes to the product design of consumer electronics, for example, modular hardware will likely become more commonplace to aid speedy and low-cost repairs. Entire internal procedures and product life cycles will need to be updated. This will take time, but it is likely to be the long-term direction of travel for many manufacturers.
In the meantime, companies can take steps to improve the maintainability of products by supporting the end-to-end repair process. Partful’s research has found that many repairers do not view current aftermarket services as fit for purpose.
It found that 83% of DIY repairers struggle to simply identify and find the parts they need – while 39% said trying to buy these parts from manufacturers is ‘fairly difficult to impossible’. So, the Right to Repair movement will require most manufacturers to upgrade their current approach to the aftermarket to overcome these challenges. To do so, they will need to move away from the traditional manual and catalogue approach and embrace interactive digital platforms.
Plus, as developments in diagnostics technologies advance, we should also expect demand for parts to become more frequent as it will become easier for engineers to identify faulty parts before products fail. Manufacturers will need to be ready for this shift in customer behaviour.