Saturday, January 26, 2008

Renting expensive toys

In the New York Times, David Pogue reviews the Pleo -- a robotic dinosaur -- that didn't make it in time for the holiday season but has launched since then. If you want to see what the fuss is all about, click here. Pleo is cute, seemingly fun, cutting edge and expensive. Naturally I couldn't resist getting it for my 7 year old son for his birthday. It also satisfied the requirement: "No you can't have a pet, but this is just as good."

For David Pogue, it wasn't just as good. It was fun for maybe a day but then it could go back. He came up with the suggestion that such things should be available for rent rather than purchase.

And so here’s what I think the world needs: a new Web site called You’d list an object that you want to own -- but for only a short time. Other people sign up, too, so that a chain of purchasing is set up in advance.

You buy the thing at full price. When you’re finished with it, maybe a couple of weeks later, the next guy buys it from you for 85 percent of the original price. Then he sells it to the third guy for 85 percent of that. And so on, until the last guy gets the hand-me-down Pleo for, say, $25. Everybody’s happy, and there’s not a bunch of closeted Pleos all over America.

He sees it as "eBay without the uncertainty." At Amazon, Pleo currently costs $289 (down from retail at $349). On eBay it looks like you can sell it for about US$250 (used but undamaged) which less transaction fees and shipping gets you to less than 85 percent of the price. So, given that eBay can't make this work, do we think there can be another way of doing the job?

For us, we won't be selling. My son love his Pleo -- "Diny" -- and treats it as a pet. It has its own little bed, he takes it for walks and he teaches it tricks. He gets the love (at least for an hour or so a day under a full charge) and we don't get the mess. It is also cheap as pets go. I hope it lasts.