Do you really need that electronics warranty?

MELVILLE, N.Y. — Digital cameras, iPods and other electronics high on holiday shopping lists come at a decent-sized price tag.

Oftentimes when consumers pay a lot of money, they want security, so they turn to service plans offered by retailers.

Greg Daugherty, executive editor for Consumer Reports, acknowledges the electronics business is competitive and retailers need to survive, but he urges them to treat consumers fairly and avoid selling service plans that consumers often fail to use. He recently discussed the matter with Newsday.

Q: What products would you recommend and not recommend for buying a service plan?

A: We would say people almost should never buy a service plan or warranty. Very few things break. If they do break, the cost of the warranty is likely to be the same as getting the product repaired.

Q: How often do people use their warranty, especially in relation to how quickly technology changes?

A: You have to look at how long you expect to keep a certain product. For environmental reasons, we say you shouldn't get rid of something until you absolutely have to. Consumers have to ask themselves, "In three years from now, is this product still going to be state of the art or am I going to replace it anyhow." The computer world, the MP3 world, digital cameras — just think how fast those are revolving. In three years, today's digital cameras may seem quaint in comparison.

Q: Many retailers say service plans provide comfort to consumers. Do you think this is true?

A: To the peace-of-mind argument, you can buy insurance on all sorts of things. We would urge people, for true peace of mind, to make sure they're insured for big things in life. It's better to have life insurance before they insure appliances.

Q: With ever-changing technology and products with high reliability, why do electronic retailers still sell extended warranties?

A: Many times it's pure profit for the retailer. That's why they sell them so aggressively in the store. They make something on the warranty. The electronics business is just so competitive these days. The profit margin on products is slim, but the margin is pretty good on warranties.

Q: What type of consumer is likely to purchase service plans?

A: We know in particular that people who buy online are less likely to buy extended warranties because they don't have a salesperson in their face, and the online shopper usually is more knowledgeable.

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