Journal Column – Cheapest isn’t always best value

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Cheapest is not always best value for money

Never before has there been such a wide and varied range of equipment, therapies and services available to assist and benefit elderly and disabled people receiving a better quality of life.  This is a cause for celebration and society should applaud its ability to prolong life and improve living conditions for the disabled.  In addressing the long-term investment required to providing this, one must consider product psychology, purchasing strategies, product and supplier evaluations.

Holidays, jewellery, televisions, iPods, microwave ovens, dishwashers and tumble dryers etc…are all products classed as, “desirable-not-needed”. Emotion has a significant role in the decision making process of desirable products.   Most branded and luxury marques are attributed to desirable products. Some consumers will pay whatever it takes to have the right badge, no matter how good or unsuitable the product eventually transpires to be.

On the other hand, mobility products such as stairlifts, wheelchairs and bathlifts etc… are classed as “needed-not-desired”, often referred to, as “distress purchases” or “DPs”. A somewhat disingenuous term, that does little to dispel the embarrassment, reticence or stigma such products can attract.  Generally with DPs price and function fulfil the primary decision making process, with emotion having little or no input.

It is perhaps no surprise then, that much procurement and marketing strategy for DPs is price focused.  There is a growing trend and increasing pressure, in every sector, to provide mobility equipment and services for less, with “best value for money” or “most economically advantageous” becoming standard terminology. Indeed, there is nothing wrong with this philosophy, as any hard up individual or taxpayer would concur.  However, the words less, value or economic are all too often focused on initial purchase price rather than life-time cost.

The startling thing about DPs is that despite initially being undesirable, they quickly become indispensable to the people who have them.

When we consider that everyone has, at some point, endured the frustrations and inconveniences of a “lost mobile phone”, “a crashed PC” or a “car that failed to start” can cause.  It’s bad enough not being able to use them, but frustrations can be further compounded if the backup service is lousy. Throw in a hefty repair bill and one can understand why people easily descend into states of incandescent rage! However, any frustration or wrath experienced at the loss of an everyday product is miniscule to the despair felt by those whose mobility equipment malfunctions.

It is vital for any individual, business or publicly funded authority, seeking to purchase mobility products, to do so on a “lifetime” value for money criteria.  In addition to purchase prices one should carefully consider reliability and customer service.

To assist in this, consider the following, when evaluating a particular product or supplier:


Ask how reliable a product is. Ask for several references or contact a Local Authority service provider, who may be able to advise which products under their care have the best reliability record.


Enquire about any extended warranty available – don’t just rely on an attractive headline.  Check if the warranty is all inclusive or if there are hidden charges for call outs, labour, wear and tear parts etc.


Check what the service rates and frequency is, does the service charge cover any replacement parts?

Breakdown cover:

Check on the level of breakdown cover, is it 24/7 or only during office hours?  Does the company operate a manned emergency call service or a simple answering-machine?

Customer service:

This covers every facet of the sales and after sales process and if done properly, good customer service will lead to customer loyalty.  The mark of an excellent company is one whose customer service really starts the day a product is delivered or installed.  Sadly, there are too many companies whose customer service disappears as soon as the cheques clear.

So, how does one ascertain if a prospective customer service will live up to expectation before taking the plunge?  Well, there are a few indicators to help:

  • When making initial enquiries, are staff friendly, informative and helpful, or too eager to send a salesman round to answer any questions?
  • Does the company enquire about needs and circumstances first, or budgets?
  • Does the company pro-actively keep clients fully informed at each stage of the sales process, or wait for frustrated clients to call them?
  • Are questions answered promptly, accurately and efficiently or are they slow, vague and ignored?
  • If sales representatives call, do they spend time ascertaining needs, circumstances, problems and solutions or concentrate on budgets, prices and deals of the day?
  • Are promises kept, or habitually let down?
  • Check if a company is a member of any trade associations.


Most people don’t want to pay more than they need to for anything, but it is important that when comparing quotes, they are like-for-like.  Make sure that quotes itemise in detail what is, and is not, covered in the price.  Remember that the cheapest quote is not necessarily the best value for money.

View spectacular deals with a degree of scepticism and don’t take anything for granted.  Also, don’t be too impressed by lavish promotional materials – after all underneath the attractive and glitzy packaging, most Easter Eggs turn out to be disappointing, bland and rather poor value for money.

The old saying, “if it’s too good to be true, it probably is!”  is as fitting an adage for today as it’s always been.



This column was published in the Newcastle Journal on the 3rd June 2021.