An open letter to Eddie Bauer

Dear Mr. Bauer:

I wish to lodge a complaint about a piece of luggage I recently purchased, which proudly bears your signature. The bag is, I am afraid, a testament to the times in which we live, long on promise yet somewhat wanting in execution.

There is no denying that we live in a miraculous age, an era of personal mobility undreampt of only a century ago. That I can, between the time I awaken and the time I go to sleep, find myself a third of the way around the world is nothing short of astonishing.

We are also in a materialistic age, a time when we are owned by our possessions rather than the reverse. In such a time as this not only are we mobile, but our belongings must be as well. It is odd, upon reflection, that we put wheels on entire houses before we put them on suitcases, but whoever thought of the roller bag has earned a special place in my heart.

Recently I was nine time zones from home and I experienced a dramatic surge in the amount of stuff I needed to carry. I’m sure you’ve been through a similar dilemma more than once: My faithful backpack, my partner for tens of thousands of miles, just wasn’t up to the task. It was time to find a new bag, one with wheels, that was capable of managing all the material I had accumulated.

Far from home but still in the moderately civilized country of California, land of my birth, I made my way to Target. There in the luggage aisle I was confronted by a variety of choices in many colors and styles. My eye was drawn almost immediately to your product. As a man who has been here and there in his time, I was impressed by the design of the thing, with a rigid lower section and a softer upper. Perfect! Protection for more delicate items, and smushable on top. Lots of pockets (some of them of rather odd sizes, like the one useful perhaps for a fishing rod or a pool cue but not much else), plenty of straps, and nice large wheels. I hesitated when I saw the price, but I figured that a bag like that would come in handy more than once.

Thus enters into our little drama ‘perceived value’, the assumption we as consumers have drilled into us that a higher price implies higher quality. We are left with little else to go on, as we stand in the department-store aisle, bombarded on all sides with sometimes ridiculous claims of durability or innovative construction. Your product was no stranger to this propaganda, and I of course paid it little heed, but what is left? I purchased the bag based on its features and a hope that paying more would get me more.

I packed up all my stuff, discovered room to spare, and was quite happy. The bag was a stable roller, stood up straight, and the multi-layer design did a remarkable job of limiting cargo shifting during transport. I had, I told myself, made a good choice.

Now, of course, in retrospect, I know a little more about roller bag dynamics, and I will be able to spot the deficiencies in the next roller bag I buy. Unfortunately, that purchase will be occurring much sooner than I would like.

When I noticed the fabric already showing wear in areas where it covered some of the rigid frame of the bag, I was a little annoyed. This was far too soon for that sort of failure under normal use. Still, it wasn’t the end of the world, and the bag was otherwise performing well.

Let me interject here that my definition of ‘normal use’ in a bag that size includes the ability to pull it up a curb. In a real-world, encumbered situation, no one is going to stop, juggle belongings, hoist a large bag up six inches, reconfigure all their stuff, and carry on. A bag that size, with nice big wheels rated for highway speeds, is going to encounter some bumps and must be able to handle them gracefully. Some (but by no means all) of the abovementioned wear is due to the lack of a skid plate covering the lower inches of the bag. I know now to look for such a feature, but as I was at the time transitioning from a backpack, it was not a feature I knew to look for at the time I purchased your luggage.

It was not long after that, less than an hour of my arrival back in Prague, that the “lug” was officially put into “luggage”. I was pulling the bag up a three-inch step when, with a snap, one of the wheels came off. In a moment the bag went from being a fairly nice roller bag to a major pain in the ass. I have not had the opportunity to check yet, but I imagine that much of your competition includes plastic protectors that prevent the edge of a step or a curb from getting up behind the wheel where it can exert undue transverse force. (If they haven’t, you can use that idea for free. You’ll leave your competition cold in your tracks.) Another thing on my “don’t buy a roller bag unless it has this feature” list.

I am considering a trip to the hardware store, to bolt the wheel back on and add the missing features. This is made a bit difficult by the distance between me and my tools, but for all that the materials and durability of the bag are wanting, the design of the cargo space is really quite nice. It is clear that your designers were more interested in the “showroom experience” of the bag while neglecting crucial real-world elements of the user experience. As a result you succeeded in getting my money, but failed utterly in gaining my loyalty as a customer.

Instead you have become a metaphor, an example of the forces at work making the world just a little more shoddy each day, an example of a good idea undermined by corners cut, then thrust onto the market and sold with the power of a name. But what will happen when that name loses its power? Just like my bag, the name Eddie Bauer itself could get frayed around the edges, and eventually lose a wheel. Another name will rise to replace it, maybe better, probably not, but it will not be your name. Someone else’s signature will grace the next bag I purchase, and I doubt I am alone.

I am not asking for any sort of redress; I bought a bag, it turned out to suck, I’m swallowing my medicine and looking for a better product in the future. Returning the luggage would require hauling it back over the Atlantic Ocean, which will be difficult since it only has one wheel. I just thought it would be worthwhile to let you know about the situation.

Also, I’m glad you don’t make airplanes.

Jerry Seeger

P.S. Please note that I have also posted this letter to my Web site. I will happily publish any response you give as well, so my tens of loyal readers can read your thoughts on the world economy, the quality of products, travel, the importance of protecting brand names, or whatever else it might strike your fancy to discuss.


22 thoughts on “An open letter to Eddie Bauer

  1. Alas my poor friend you fell victim to the hype. Generic no-name products tend to outlast their kin for the simple reason they tend to be very ugly and a tad embarrassing to be seen using.

    Next time skip the flash and go for the substance!

  2. I doubt very much that Eddie has ever seen the bag in question much less participated in the designing of the wheeless wonder. They likely just gave the manufacturer (probably Chinese – there’s another thing to look for when purchasing your next one) in return for a royalty payment.

    One of the Money magazines I subscribe to had a review of wheeled luggage recently. One of the things to look for was reinforcements on the corners and bottom of the bag. Another item that Joe looks for is the use of Roller Blade style wheels.

    /The more you know!

  3. It was not entirely hype, the bag was the best design available as far as carrying cargo was concerned. I simply did not know what features to look for to judge durability.

    The thing does have damn fine wheels. Well, wheel.

  4. Your letter to Eddie was informative, pertinent, (a lot of fun) and to the point–after awhile!. Is anyone who can do anything going to wade through this?

    Too long.

    Short is sweet.
    If I had been writing to Eddie it would have been like this:

    Dear Eddie,

    Because I recognized your name and expected it to assure quality, I bought a (whatever, model# etc) travel bag at Target (specifics, date, etc.).

    However, before I reached my first destination (specifics) the bag showed fabric stress and lost a wheel.

    I would like either a replacement (difficult since I reside in the Czech Republic) or a complete reimbursement for price of the bag.

    If I do not recieve a satisfactory solution, I will express dissastisfaction on my website/blog/etc. for my millons/ thousand/hundreds of readers to view.

    Love, Jerry Seeger

    This is journlist vs. novelist!

    Love, Mom

  5. Ok Jerry’s mom….I liked it until you got to the signature “Love” I burst out laughing (thankfully at home not in the office).

  6. Of course, a real complaint letter from Jer would have been short and to the point. But, if in spite of its purported purpose as a letter of complaint and putative address to Eddie Bauer, its real intent was to educate Jer’s blog audience and discuss the pitfalls of nomadic existence, then literary license and verbosity become more appropriate.

  7. Under the strains of hauling all of my books and papers around multiple campuses, I have found wheeled luggage to be indispensible. The typical case lasts three or four terms, and the most usual form of failure is of a wheel or bearing.

    The sort of wheels that come on inline skates are the best. They really stand up to the punishment of jumping off curbs — an especially stressing maneuver when the case is full of books and papers, which are much more dense than the typical clothing and toiletries. And if the wheels are a standard size, then I can replace them with new ones from a sporting-goods shop and prolong the life of the suitcase until something else gives out, usually the frame to which the wheels are mounted.

    One other feature I look for is an extra handle on the side of the bag — when there’s a handle only on the end, it can be hard to hoist the bag into and out of a car trunk.

    I’ve tried bags in various price ranges, and I haven’t found major differences in durability. The more expensive bags, however, do often have more desirable features, as you have discovered.

  8. If I entertained any hope of anything useful coming from the complaint I would certainly have been more to the point, and I probably would have addressed Target rather than Eddie Bauer. (So far, the only response is a promise by Yousuf at Target to route my message to the appropriate place.)

  9. !Feliz Cinco de Mayo to Muddled Ramblers everywhere!

    It is not a Twoth, but it’s still a holiday as far as I’m concerned.


  10. Well, I for one liked the letter. It says, it really doesn’t matter how you react to my letter, the long and short of it is, that youve pissed off a brahmin, with a fan base. And said brahmin didn’t connect your shoddy product to shoddy workmanship and innattention to detail, but rather a whole interconnected decline of society and western civilization, and therefore by selling this impossible poseur of luggage, you are wrecking the VERY lives of our grandchildren and great grandchildren. Therefore we shant be purchasing anymore of your vandals-at-the-gates-of-Rome luggage. Please afix international air postage to the refund envelope.

  11. It occurred to me after I sent this message that perhaps the reason wheels didn’t appear on luggage until recently was that the people buying and packing the luggage were not the same people who were carrying it.

  12. I remember a 60 Minutes expose (from perhaps 20 years ago) on those “Inventors, send us your ideas and we’ll help you patent them!” scams. (Second only to the “send us a drawing and we’ll tell you whether you should spend big bucks enrolling in our art school by mail” scam 20 years ago.)

    The inventor/idea they chose was some housewife who was tired of lugging her luggage and came up with the brilliant idea of adding wheels to a suitcase. She submitted her idea and of course got a letter “What a great idea – you’re going to be rich! Send us X hundreds of dollars to protect your great idea with a patent.” Only problem was there were already some wheeled luggage on the market, the idea had several patents on it, and (here’s the kicker) it was one of the most submitted patent ideas.

    The point of the expose was that the patent company didn’t do any research and made false claims about probabilty of actually getting a patent, all to extract money from the hapless housewife. The point of this post is.. is… uh…

    Oh yeah. That the idea of putting wheels on luggage was probably first thought of by the first user of the suitcase, and that although polyurathane wheels and rigid, hide-away, and telescoping handles are recent advancements in the science of rolling luggage, the Platonic perfect rolling luggage is still but an ideal not yet realized upon this ever-shrinking orb.

    But it was a good letter. I didn’t think it rambled at all.

  13. I suspect there was a watershed moment, when the word ‘porter’ faded from the language, and women began to travel alone, that wheels on bags occurred to a lot of people at the same time.

    It has occurred to me that perhaps I should try to rehabilitate my bag. When I realized that I have some spare titanium lying around, it started to become an attractive idea. Attaching the reinforcements to the suitcase is a tricky problem, though.

  14. And think Mom still has the same suitcases (samsonite) that we used to visit you at Loa Alamos in the 70’s and 80’s

  15. I read somewhere (can’t think where right at the moment) that wheeled luggage, at least the small bag with the wheels at the end, as opposed to the big bag with wheels at the bottom that was towed with a leash, was invented by a flight attendant.

  16. Based on a brilliant typo, I propose a name change:
    Loa Alamos
    Same cadence/inflection/meter as:
    Gunga Ganunga
    with all short “a”s (LOah AHlahmohs)

    Change one letter on the ‘city limits’ signs and city stationery, put in a few tiki bars and a couple more palm trees, and you can be stealing tourist dollars from Hawai’i in no time.

  17. I think BugE is on to something. Tho I think it needs more human sacrifice and big canoes.

    We got some luggage from a warehouse club and it is in the strangest gray color…they called it “mushroom,” and it looked fairly cool in the store. But, man, get it under the strange flourescent lighting of every baggage claim in every airport and mystery mushroom becomes every color. I end up grabbing every suitcase and tumbling it for the name tag to see if it is ours. At least until T stuck big swaths of duct tape on them.

  18. Jesse, if they are truly ugly they will outlast everyone here. I swear my folks have luggage from my dead grandparents that is more durable than titanium. And remarkably ugly to boot.

  19. The key to turning Loa Alamos into a tourist resort is turning the Valles Grande into a golf resort, complete with built up natural hot springs, and an easily accessible ski area. Of course, with the way winters have been going, one of those conveyor ski belts like they have in Japan would have to be put in various places on the ski hill. Then you could have skiing all year round, and really start to work the Polynesian theme.

  20. Bought a Kenmore Microwave in December of 2006. It was a Consumer Reports Best Buy. In August of 2008 it got an ominous hum and didn’t appear to shut off. It also got very very hot. I tried calling the Sears repair hotline but was cut off. It seems to my non-expert self it is a fire hazard. It didn’t even last 2 whole years. The warranty is only good for a year. I ran out to a local store and bought a GE for a replacement. I didn’t like the fact that I owned a ubiquitous and necessary piece of the modern kitchen for less than a reasonable appliance life expectancy (say, oh, approximately 5 years, give or take a couple of months). 1 year and change doesn’t cut it. I assumed the president of Sears would agree and I wrote him a letter. I also filed a complaint with the feds (CPSC), because hey, this thing got HOT. I mean oochie hot. The fed’s wrote back saying thanks very much for the info, don’t call us we’ll call you, and please be sympathetic to the fact that we get zillions of reports a year so we probably won’t get to your potential house burning down, people dying problem. Sears assigned me a case number and called me. I was offended because I hadn’t provided my phone number. Where did they get the number?? Be respectful, write me back. They didn’t. I complained to the BBB. They gave it a go. Sears has just now responded to the BBB, “Nope, it’s okay the MW only lasted less than two years…that’s what extended service agreements are for.
    I won’t be buying any more Kenmore stuff, no matter how well rated by Consumer Reports.

  21. Crossing Kenmore off the list. Sometimes things don’t work well and it’s just one of those things; the measure of a company is what they do about it.

    The microwave at my parent’s house must be 20 years old. I wonder what brand it is. Anyone?

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