Is All Fair in Love and War – Firmware Updates
Is all fair in Love and War – Firmware updates
I am placing a warning notice to the printer OEMs about going too far in their battle against Aftermarket competition.
“Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it.” Winston Churchill
There are a lot of wars going on right now in the desktop printing industry. Two that interest me are the battle for Aftermarket share and supremacy between Remanufactured and New Build Cartridge (NBC) providers and the OEM’s battle with the Aftermarket as a whole. This article is focused on the latter.
The OEMs have multiple tools that they can use to hold onto or recover market share. One most people are familiar with is designing components inside a cartridge that are heavily patented. The OEMs will tell you and the patent office that they must redesign things like the wheel (Ahem, gears) to add some specific, unique purpose or value to the cartridge. However, most people in the industry know that it is a thinly veiled strategy to try and design components that are impossible for the aftermarket to design around. Fair enough…. That’s the business we chose – We are competitors – this strategy is above the table. In the aftermarket, we can even deal with the perception of being called ‘bad guys’ and ‘infringers’ when we don’t quite manage to find a legitimate way around one of the hundreds of patents inside every cartridge and the OEM sues.
Perception is Reality….. We’ll come back to that in a minute….
However, now the OEMs are going too far because in their haste to try and beat Aftermarket companies, they have adopted a strategy that is going to (and already has) backfired.
The use of firmware updates as a tool to lock out existing aftermarket cartridges inside customers’ printers will backfire
If you’re an OEM reading this you’re probably thinking you’re pretty clever – Every time a customer who is using an aftermarket cartridge (Reman or NBC) undertakes a firmware update, the code in that update also ‘just happens’ to lock out the aftermarket cartridge and the printer stops working. The customer becomes upset with the aftermarket provider because of a ‘faulty’ cartridge and hey presto, they go back to buying an OEM cartridge right?
Here’s what happens with an end user:
The customer calls the aftermarket provider really upset thinking the cartridge failed – let’s say it’s LD Products. We then do the unexpected – replace the cartridge for free. Ha-ha, you say – That increased our costs! Yes, it did, but then we have the opportunity to educate the customer as to how you are using firmware updates to take away their choice and make them buy OEM again, how to turn the updates off on their printer and then we become the good guys – You become the bad guys. Perception is reality after all…… You lost that customer for life – We won them for life.
And it gets worse….. for you….
Not all aftermarket companies will, or can replace the cartridge for free – In some markets, it’s not possible due to the length of the supply chain and someone else has to pick up most of the tab…
For example, The Dealer Channel: Dealers often use multiple manufacturers and purchase through distributors, and it may require a lot of work, or be impossible for them to get locked out cartridges back to a provider for credit. However, that’s not even the biggest problem. Their helpdesk gets swamped with customer complaint calls in the days after these firmware updates roll out and their tech staff must spend time figuring out what is going on. They may have to put techs into vehicles and send them to the site to troubleshoot devices. Costs rise quickly, productivity is lost, everyone becomes upset and guess what happens next?
Dealers start turning off the firmware update functions on customer devices…….
……which is bad….. very bad for customers….. because of…. Hacking!
One of the top issues dealers are concerned with today is network security and people are waking up to the fact that printers are one of the weakest links on the network vulnerable to malicious penetration.
So, if people don’t install a firmware update that is going to patch a known weakness in a printer’s security, it is going to increase the chance of that device being hacked, ransomware, disruption and misery for end users and business customers.
Over the past few years, OEMs have settled or lost class action lawsuits related to automatic firmware updates in Europe and America. They have cleaned up their act (just enough) to find ways to still include Aftermarket cartridge lockouts in their firmware updates, by including the very minimum language required by law……. usually buried in terms and conditions that most end users fail to read or understand.
Printer OEMs – This is your wake-up call. You have an ongoing responsibility to make sure your hardware is not at risk of network intrusion. You cannot hold a customer hostage by effectively making them choose between purchasing OEM consumables, or network security. It’s morally wrong and it might even fall foul of the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act 1975.
It is time to stop the practice of using Firmware updates as a tool to stop Aftermarket cartridges from working.
Christian Pepper has been in the office printing industry since 1996 and has held management and executive positions within printer OEM and aftermarket hardware and consumable manufacturers. In all roles, he has worked with the reseller channel and says he is passionate about helping resellers increase their revenue and profitability.
Supported by a fantastic team of Engineering and Business Development professionals, he is now responsible for leading the Channel Partner Division at LD Products—the world’s largest online aftermarket consumables retailer.
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