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What Are Yellow Goods?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 21, 2024
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The term “yellow goods” is used in two very different ways. In one sense, it can refer to heavy duty equipment which is used on construction sites and in similar locales, such as bulldozers and cranes. In another sense, it refers to a specific category of consumer goods. The meaning intended is usually clear from the context, as the two contexts tend to come up in very different places.

When people are talking about earthmoving equipment, yellow goods includes the equipment itself as well as replacement parts and tools for maintenance. Large companies and government agencies may maintain their own goods, viewing the initial investment as worth it in the long term. The equipment must be handled by specially trained operators who are familiar with the details of using the equipment, as well as the safety procedures which must be observed to keep them safely operational. This represents the need for an additional investment in finding and training operators.

yellow goods

It is also possible to rent yellow goods. Because the equipment is so expensive, small companies may not be able to afford it, or may feel that rental is more cost effective. People who need access to this equipment for a single project will also generally opt for rental, with an equipment operator accompanying the rental equipment to make sure that it is used properly. For example, someone who wants to dig out a pond could hire a bulldozer and operator for the day, or a construction company could bring in rented heavy equipment to prepare a worksite.

In the realm of consumer goods, yellow goods are large, expensive items which will last a long time. The turnover for this equipment is very low, and the profit margin is high, since a company anticipates that consumers will only buy yellow goods a few times in their lives. Some examples include large appliances like stoves and refrigerators, which presumably will not be replaced for years and possibly decades.

yellow goods

This is in contrast with orange goods, which are replaced periodically as needed. Clothes and furniture are good examples of orange goods. Red goods, with food being a classic example, are replaced on a regular basis and have a very low profit margin. The company makes up for low profits on individual sales by selling in very high volume; people buy a refrigerator only once, but they will keep buying cartons of milk to put in it.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a About Mechanics researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By strawCake — On Sep 05, 2011

@indemnifyme - Good point. Speaking of insurance, I found out something interesting recently-renters insurance covers red good such as food in certain circumstances.

We just had some serious inclement weather in my area that resulted in a lot of people being without power for an extended period of time. My friend has an extra freezer she keeps a ton of food in. Since she was without power for so long, it all went bad. She was able to file a claim and get reimbursed for the food through her insurance.

I guess I wouldn't have thought red goods would be covered under any insurance. After all, they are replaced pretty often anyway!

By indemnifyme — On Sep 05, 2011

I think it's important for companies to get good insurance policies on their yellow goods. This type of equipment can cost a lot to replace and is an integral part of running a business!

If you think a refrigerator is expensive, try replacing a bulldozer.

By lovealot — On Sep 04, 2011

I can certainly understand why small construction companies don't buy their own yellow goods, that is large equipment. Those huge vehicles must cost a fortune, they have to be maintained well and operators need to be well trained.

That's a great idea that the small companies can rent the equipment and the operator too. So the set-up for the construction site is done for them, with little fuss - but it does costs them some money.

By Clairdelune — On Sep 04, 2011

In decades past, people used to keep their yellow goods for many years. They were usually good quality and tended to last with little repair. Examples are kitchen appliances,washers and dryers.

Today, I think things are a little different with yellow goods. People tend to replace their yellow good not so much because they wear out, but because they want new models that have modern features.

Also, yellow goods are complicated today, so the owner often cannot fix it themselves and has to call in a repairman, which is costly.

By seag47 — On Sep 03, 2011

How often someone will replace certain things depends on their amount of disposable income. I don’t make very much, so I will probably keep my large appliances until they break and I find out that the parts to fix them are no longer made. However, I have a wealthy friend who buys new appliances every time she sees some she likes.

We were walking through a store that sells appliances, and she saw a pink chrome stacked washer and dryer. Nothing was wrong with her current one, but she loved the color so much that she bought it on the spot.

I lucked out and got her old one, which was only a year old and in perfect condition. To her, it was an orange good, but to me, it will be a yellow good.

By shell4life — On Sep 03, 2011

@Perdido - Who knows why people choose certain colors to represent certain things? We may never know why yellow represents long-term goods, but your guess sounds good to me.

Perhaps whoever came up with the colors for the categories for how long goods last before needing to be replaced came up with yellow first, and then asked himself, “What colors go good with yellow?” Since yellow, orange, and red are all warm colors, this might have seemed like a good idea.

Another possibility could be because red represents urgency, it could be the logical choice for something with a frequent need to be replaced. Orange, being the middle shade between yellow and red, would be the obvious choice for intermediate urgency, and yellow for no urgency at all.

By cloudel — On Sep 02, 2011

My rental house definitely came with some serious yellow goods. The dishwasher and the stove had not been replaced since the 1970s, and they both were in working condition.

I lived there for a year before having to buy a new stove. I’m impressed that the old one lasted that long. I’m hoping that the new one lasts me until I’m retired.

The dishwasher is even more of a yellow good than the stove was. It still functions very well. The only reason I might consider replacing it would be to get a high efficiency model that would use less energy and water.

By Perdido — On Sep 01, 2011

I think it’s neat that you can rent both a bulldozer and an operator for one price. I’m sure my elderly neighbor is glad of this.

He has a pasture full of cows, and recently, one of them died. He had to rent a bulldozer to bury it. He had planned on trying to work the thing himself, but he was happy to hear that a professional would be coming along to do the job.

He got a good price on the rental, because the burial did not take long at all. With a bulldozer, you can scoop out enough earth to bury a cow in a few minutes.

The big yellow bulldozer was back on its way to the rental company in twenty minutes. I just wonder if yellow goods are categorized by that color because most large, heavy equipment is yellow.

By MsClean — On Sep 01, 2011

@babylove - There's another color that also refers to consumer goods and that's white. It actually has two separate meanings similar to yellow goods.

The British-English translation of white goods is whiteware, or large ticketed items such as refrigerators and air conditioning units.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines white goods as white fabric items made from cotton or linen. It usually refers to household items like towels and sheets.

I'm sure you've heard of merchants advertising a "white sale weekend" before on all their linens. Although they may not all be the color white, it's a sale on the particular item that the color is referring to.

By Sierra02 — On Aug 31, 2011

@babylove - I'm not aware of any consumer goods being placed in a category under the color blue, but green is. It's fairly new but becoming more and more common every day. You've probably heard it more commonly used as "green products".

The true definition of green goods are green products that leave less of an impact on the environment and are better for human consumption. They could be anything from recycled products to energy-efficiency to less packaging involved in the distribution process.

By babylove — On Aug 31, 2011

I was searching for dry goods and non-perishable items when this article came up in the search results. It caught my attention and raised a few questions because I didn't realize that colors were used to distinguish consumer products and equipment.

Yellow, orange and red are the only three colors mentioned but what about the other basic colors? Is there a category for blue or green goods?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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