September 7, 2013


JBL ChargeThat's just what I need (though I didn’t know a moment ago).

I've been looking for a portable battery to recharge my smartphone and tablet. Usually power lasts all day but not always. I'm concerned about the exceptions. In Costco, I saw the JBL Charge (official website). It's a portable Bluetooth speaker which is no big deal because I already have one. It's also a 6000 mA battery you can use to recharge your devices. Isn't that brilliant? By using a larger battery, JBL has a device which lasts much longer as a speaker and also has an additional use. The price looks reasonable at $130.

But …

Is the JBL Charge any good? Since Costco has a friendly return policy, I could have bought without risk. I could have done research right then using my Galaxy Note but decided to wait. I found the reviews are generally positive (AmazonAndroid Police, Best BuyDigital Trends). I can now decide. The seller bears the risks.

Seller Beware

As buyers, we know that we can usually search online to see if we're making a good decision. For instance,
  • is the extra price of a diesel engine offset the fuel savings? (e.g., Forbes)
  • which hotel is the ideal choice for next Wednesday? (e.g., TripAdvisor)
  • are the mobile phone contracts a better value now that the terms have been reduced from three years to two years? And which company has the best plans? (e.g., Mobile Syrup)
In To Sell Is Human (my review), Dan Pink points out that we've gone from buyer beware to seller beware thanks to the transparency the Internet brings us.

Buyer Beware

There are exceptions. We're at a disadvantage when we don't know the prices others pay. When you get a car, you know the list price but not the selling price, which is still negotiated.

When you buy a financial product like a mortgage, you don't know if you're getting the best rate. What you're offered depends on what else you've bought, how well you negotiate and the incentives to the advisor.

When you buy investments, you may know your investment expenses, but other clients could be paying less. Even if you all pay the same price, you might get less service (e.g., based on the size of your portfolio) or worse recommendations (e.g., based on the skills and biases of your advisor).


Life insurance is even more complicated if you're buying more than a simple term product. When I designed products, we typically launched two versions of our flagship universal life plan each year — 18 versions in total.

As a buyer, you won't know what version you got. Or the consequences.


You won't find fair comparisons online. The insurers and some distributors have this kind of information but it's proprietary. There's no obligation to tell you. There's also skill involved in noticing and quantifying the differences in product design.

Because insurance is very customizable and the products keep changing, you'll have trouble finding useful, current comparisons. You do need to rely on advice. Picking an advisor you trust is key since your advisor is your gateway to the products. Your advisor configures them. Your advisor may not have access to all products from all companies. Even if your advisor could sell everything, imagine the complexity in understanding the nuances of multiple changing products from multiple insurers. That’s tough even when working inside the insurer.

It's easier for advisors to get comfortable with particular companies or products than to keep up-to-date with what's available in the marketplace. How would you know? How can you see the choices which aren't shown to you?

It’s easy to buy many products with online help. It’s dangerous to assume that financial products make the list.


Podcast 236

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PS I haven't decided on the JBL Charge speakers

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