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How To Buy Things

Which applies to everything, although this is an approach that I discovered (as did many other people) when dealing with very expensive software.

The Wrong Way

This is how most people buy things. Find a list of “features” (features are attributes of a product, and could be anything; true, false, or utterly fictional); then find an alternative product, and measure the length of the two lists. Buy the one with the longest list.

This is wrong because the buyer has no personal involvement in decision making, and swallows whole the tales of the sellers, who obviously have a vested interest in selling their product, by beating a competitor. This is what causes the phenomenon of the people who believe the last person they spoke to, ignoring all others. No discrimination is applied, and this approach will fail.

The Half Right Way

Do you know someone who always buys the cheapest comparative product? We all know someone like this. It’s a poor way of making a decision, but it’s the way governments do it, as well as shoppers in some supermarkets – the cheapest ones, obviously. This approach fails because it doesn’t consider value.

At its heart, value is something very simple. Is it worth more to you than it costs? When “worth” is easy to calculate, which it often is for a business; say, the number of man-months to write a program, or to build a new office, then that decision becomes simple, and anyone in a position to make that sort of decision should know enough about driving a spreadsheet (or a calculator) to be able to reduce the decision down to numbers, to a simple profit or loss.

But when making a decision over two packs of vegetables in a supermarket, or two brands of beans, you have to weigh the worth to you, or your family, or better taste, better nutrition, and better ease of use. Sometimes this can be a clear decision, but more usually it isn’t. in these cases, what works best is to have previously considered the relevant factors, and decided on their priority.

The Right Way

Gather lists of features. Consider them all, and separate them into three parts: “must have”, “nice to have”, and “irrelevant”. Then match each product against these lists. If only one product hits all of your “must have” features, then you know what to do. If more than one product has them all, then you can take into account the “nice” features. If no product has them all, then you can either reassess your feature lists, or (more sensibly) decide not to buy.

This is extremely simple. An easily led person can skew the lists to favour one competitor, but then it becomes obvious to everyone who is cheating, and how. This works for big decisions as well as small, everyday ones. Sometimes a decision seems hard, but becomes obvious when you understand which features are important.

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