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.
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.