Uninformed Purchases

Matt Birchler, comparing how most of us shop for trivial items like a hammer to how people make purchasing decisions for computers, smartphones, and tablets:

Odds are you will probably drive down to your local hardware store and buy the first hammer you see that is a good price. You might even go to a big box store like Target and get whatever hammer they are selling in their 3 aisles of home improvement supplies.

You’re certainly not going to shop around from store to store for the best hammer deal. You’re not going to watch YouTube videos demoing an array of hammers, and you’re not going to read reviews for the top 5 hammers this season. You’re certainly not going to check to see if Craftsman is going to release a new hammer in the next few months that will be better than what’s on the shelves now.

I could barely keep myself from laughing while reading this piece. Not because his point isn’t valid, but because I’m totally the kind of person that would spend a bunch of time researching hammers before buying one. I’d check Wirecutter, search YouTube for recommendations, and read user reviews on Amazon.

My father was a lot like that, too. That’s probably where I get it from. He prided himself on being an informed consumer — specifically looking for products that were reliable and had a long lifespan. He would rather buy something at twice the cost if it would last him three times as long as its competitors.

That isn’t to say that I never buy things on a lark, without doing my research first. It happens. Just this past week, my wife and I found ourselves at Lowe’s looking for a box to house our garden hose. I spent exactly zero time researching beforehand and ended up buying the best looking one out of the half-a-dozen options in the store.

I try to avoid making purchases like this, though. I know that my life will be more pleasant if the items I’m surrounded with represent the best in their category. The less friction that these objects introduce into my life, the more time I can spend on what matters most.

That doesn’t mean I have to buy the most expensive products available. But with most items, there’s a tipping point at which the increased cost no longer brings substantial improvements. That’s the sweet spot that I try to aim for. Not the cheapest or most expensive models, but the one somewhere in the middle that strikes the right balance.

But I know that I’m not the norm. Most people aren’t willing to go through the hassle of researching products before they buy them. They’re just going to take a trip to a local retail store and buy whatever looks best to them out of the handful of options available.

And as Matt points out, this is how most people buy tech products:

This is not how any of us would shop for a computer, tablet, or smartphone, but it is how a lot of the world does it. So the next time you think someone is crazy for not recognizing how much better “X is than Y” remember that you probably couldn’t tell a home improvement expert a damn thing about why you bought your hammer, it was just the first one you saw at a decent price. And you know what? Even though it’s not the best hammer, it totally works for what you need, and that’s all you need.

People who don’t buy the best computer/phone, or even the best device for the price, are not unusual and they’re certainly not acting irrationally. They just have different priorities than we do, and sometimes that’s easy to forget. So by all means, help the non-techies in your life make the best decisions possible, but don’t be offended if they choose something different than you’d expect.

I know that people shop this way, but I have a hard time remembering that when I see someone with a product that I would never even consider purchasing. It just runs counter to the way my brain thinks about shopping. But it would be wise for myself and anyone else that thinks similarly to take Matt’s advice. No one should be thought of as foolish for buying an inferior product and those of us that take the time, should share the knowledge we gain to gently nudge those around us toward the best purchasing decisions possible.