A sick Fitbit and a disputed consumer remedy

When Jerry Bellamy’s Fitbit stops working after a few months, the company replaces it with another one that also eventually breaks. Should the company replace it again, or is a discount enough compensation?

Question: I purchased a Fitbit, a wearable activity tracker, and it failed within 12 months and was replaced with the same kind of unit. The second tracker also failed about 15 months after activation. I contacted Fitbit’s customer service department by phone and email, but was told the unit was “out of warranty” and offered a 25 percent discount on any new tracker.

I don’t think that’s enough. I would like a new replacement for trackers that failed, although I don’t have confidence another refurbished replacement would fare any better. I’ve seen many similar stories from other consumers in your column. It seems the product was of inferior quality to start with but company continued selling the item and replacing any failures within the 12-month warranty. It just appears to be a money grab at the consumer’s expense. Can you help me get a new Fitbit? — Jerry Bellamy, Port St. Lucie, Fla.

Answer: Your Fitbit should have worked, no ifs, ands or buts. And when it didn’t, Fitbit should have replaced it with a unit that didn’t break down.

But your question is interesting. As I was researching your case, I tried to find the average lifespan for a wearable device like your fitness tracker. I stumbled upon something far more relevant: a survey that suggested more than 50 percent of all users no longer use their activity tracker, and a third of those stopped using the device within six months of buying it.

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In other words, the fact that you wanted to keep using your Fitbit made you something of an anomaly. But a good anomaly. Fitbit should want to keep customers like you happy.

So why didn’t it do more? Well, it met the terms of its warranty, which states that it will either repair the product at no charge, using new or refurbished replacement parts, or will replace the Fitbit with a new or refurbished unit.

Your replacement Fitbit lasted for 15 months, which is well outside your warranty. Most users would just throw away their device and buy another one, but not you. You paid $149 of your hard-earned money for that piece of technology, and you wanted to fight this on principle.

I applaud you for that. Companies should not manufacture products that break down after only a few months. They should not be able to hide behind their warranties when their technology expires prematurely.

In your case, you were both wrong and right. Wrong in the sense that you had no legal claim. But right in that you had a right to speak up when Fitbit didn’t live up to its promise to provide products and experiences “that fit seamlessly into your life so you can achieve your health and fitness goals, whatever they may be.” Your unit didn’t really do that.

You could have appealed to an executive — I list the names, numbers and email addresses of Fitbit executives on my website — but instead, you contacted me. I reached out to Fitbit on your behalf, and it quickly agreed to replace your product with a new Fitbit Charge 2, its latest model. I’m happy to report that so far, it works.

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at chris@elliott.org. Read more of Christopher's articles here.

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