An Open Letter to Bose CEO Phil Hess

I’ve never been a fan of consumer-complaint-as-blog-post mini-genre, but there’s a larger principle here about sustainability, so please indulge me: I wrote a letter to Bose’s CEO, Phil Hess this morning that I thought I would share. I’ve now had two Bose products that have failed that can’t be fixed. I won’t be buying any more Bose products, as much as I would like to, unless I can see that they’ve made a commitment to making repairable products and standing by them. Everyone should reject the current practice of treating electronics as disposable goods.

October 30, 2019

Phil Hess, CEO 
Bose Corporation
The Mountain

Dear Mr. Hess,

First, I would like to tell you that I have been a Bose customer for many years. I do not need to tell you that the company that you have the honor of leading has been designing and manufacturing innovative audio products for decades. Personally, I have enjoyed the Bose LP1, the Bose Soundlink, and most recently, the Bose Quiet Comfort 25. I cannot even begin to tell you how much I have valued these things. I used the Bose LP1 at a coffeehouse that I owned and it absolutely revolutionized the quality of the live music that we offered there. The noise reducing headphones sucked the stress out of travel, replacing it with music. I am grateful for the engineering behind these products. I write this to contextualize my current and profound disappointment with Bose.

The Bose LP1, after years of perfect service, broke. I was told by Bose that it could not be fixed. Instead I was offered a discount on a more current, similar model. Except the Bose L1 is not a direct replacement and did not meet my needs. What should have been fixable instead meant throwing away the Bose system that I loved and spending $1000 on something I do not. Last week, the Bose Quiet Comfort 25 headphones developed a ‘short’ in the left headphone speaker.. I expected to be able to send it in to get it fixed, instead I was offered a discount on a replacement set of headphones. Rather than fixing what is likely a broken piece of solder, your company proposes that I should throw away an otherwise completely fine pair of headphones and replace them for $135. That is offensive and defies any logic not based in greed.

This past February I sold my coffeehouse and began a M.S. degree in Sustainability because I cannot think of a more important way to spend the remaining 20 years of my working life. I read your message on sustainability and I am writing to tell you that it is not simply about installing solar panels and using sustainable packing materials. An actual and meaningful commitment to sustainability would require making products that can be repaired. Forcing your customers to replace otherwise functional devices when they break makes a mockery of the principles that—I am guessing—your marketing department put into your mouth. If you would like to retain me as a customer, I will need you to demonstrate that you will take steps to provide real service and support of the products that you make instead of treating them as disposable objects. Make it possible for a customer to maintain a set of headphones for at least a generation, or shut up about sustainability.

Sincerely yours,
Alex Galt

2 thoughts on “An Open Letter to Bose CEO Phil Hess”

  1. As someone who once worked for the company in one of their stores during college, something as you suggest SEEMS like it makes sense on the surface. I’m not speaking FOR Bose, but from my own extensive experience over several years working in one of their busier locations. What you don’t understand are the costs involved. You’re operating under some seemingly false assumptions.

    Firstly, is that somehow offering a customer a brand new, more updated product in place of a broken one, is somehow “greed” motivated. That’s a 100% FALSE assumption. In fact, in the case of headphones, in many cases money was being LOST by offering those upgrades. A fact that used to drive us absolutely nuts because the company would take virtually any headphone back in ANY condition in exchange for a brand new pair at a discount in, many cases, of anywhere from 30% to 70% off. That is absolutely absurd. But, they did it as a premium customer service experience. And, customers LOVED it. The only ones who complained were the always entitled self-righteous class of customers who felt they should never have to pay for anything because they paid good money ten years ago for a product that doesn’t work anymore and believe they are entitled to a brand new whatever it was, totally FREE. If you want to talk about “sustainable”, that is not sustainable as a business model. No other company did that. For very good reason. Possibly one of the reasons Bose is closing all their stores.

    Secondly, is cost of repair versus a replacement product. For something like headsets it would cost very nearly as much to repair them as to pay for the upgrade in most cases. Those workers get paid. Shipping costs have to be accounted for. Everything has a cost. And, every customer always assumes it’s a simple fix when in truth they have no idea. Suddenly they all become “experts”. They want it to be simple because they think simple fix means cheap fix. But, labor is labor regardless of a simple fix versus a complex problem. But, to the company’s credit, any repairs that could be done were flat-rate. No surprises. If someone arranged for a repair to be sent out they knew to the penny what the cost was.

    Thirdly, as far as sustainable goes all electronics are sustainable in that they can be recycled. But, in terms of repairing a commodified product like headsets, it just makes no business sense at all. You have no idea the sheer volume of broken headsets the CE industry would have to deal with. I don’t mean that as condescending. I mean you REALLY don’t know. People treat their electronics like garbage. You would not BELIEVE the kinds of damage people try to pass off as warranty issues on a daily basis. Where I worked we saw dozens of headphone upgrade customers every….single….day. Companies would have to build separate facilities just to deal with headphone repairs. Those facilities need staffing, and infrastructure, and on and on. Companies can’t offer that at a loss. It’s financially unviable and unsustainable for products like headsets, which MOST customers view as disposable to begin with. It just doesn’t work. Unless someone wants to pay more to repair headsets than they’re worth, which is not happening.

    With older products, there are some things they simply do not have parts for anymore and have no way of repairing. It happens. That’s just the way it is unfortunately. Cycle of life in electronics.

    I may have rambled a bit. My apologies. But, when I saw the thread I said, “Oh, man! I gotta reply.” Lol


    1. I only just spotted this comment. While you raise excellent points, I just fundamentally disagree. As a civilization we need to manufacture products from the very outset with repairability as a fundamental aspect of the design. I don’t doubt that what you write is true in this moment, so what’s required is a paradigm shift. And it IS slowly happening. Because nothing is actually disposable, everything goes someplace. And that is now creating significant problems for us.


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