Monday, November 14, 2011

Why I Buy? The Shiny and the Solid

"And I am a weapon of massive consumption
And its not my fault it's how I'm programmed to function"
~Lily Allen

Gear is almost indescribably wonderful.
I am a confessed gear whore.
gear whore n. someone who has to have the best, most expensive, coolest gear, useful or not.
Yes, I like the shiny and the new. And there are times when I look over my rack and I realise I am just one or two colour-coordinated draws away from being one of those sport climbers.

But really, why do I buy what I buy? Such a simple question does not have a simple answer.

I have worked in marketing and advertising for the past 20 years and have a pretty good grasp on how the artifice and casuistry of product pimping works. But that doesn’t mean I am immune. In fact, I have a high appreciation for a well-crafted advertisement and am more likely to invest at least my time into researching a product that is packaged well and peddled in just the right way to highlight its particular je ne sais quoi. Black and white sketches or flat product photos might be enough to pique some consumers’ interest, but many people really do prefer the glossy, full-colour splash of gear-in-action (me included). It’s a world of embodying the brand.

Not an actual product. Sorry.
Companies like Black Diamond Equipment and Petzl know this. They don’t casually spend their advertising dollars. And retailers know what they are doing when they put those pretty products in the hands and on the backs of pretty people.

But as much as the beautiful people and shiny colours get my attention, it is not the reason I buy. Getting the customer into the store or to your website might be half the battle, but half does not make a sale.

The performance of a piece of gear - be it a rope, draw, cam or headlamp - is crucial to any buying decision I make. I may like shiny, but that shiny needs to be backed up by solid and functional. When it comes to climbing gear, I’m trusting my life to its performance; if the lobes on a cam fall off, a rope fails in a fall or the stitching on a belay loop comes undone, the prettiness of any gear is moot. Taking a look outside of the sphere of neon advertising is important. And for that I love reviews.

Katanas = awesomeness!
To glean the information I need about gear, I love reading reviews. From the slick editorials in industry magazines to the postings on Internet forums and retailer web pages, the views of actual end-users is invaluable. Knowing the good and the bad and how they balance is key to get me from “Oh! Shiny! Want!!” to actually purchasing a product. No piece of gear is perfect (OK, maybe my lovely Katanas...) and knowing about the less-than-perfect aspects of it helps me weigh the actual value to me, myself and I.

But reviews can still be a bit remote or removed. It’s great to read what Sharma thinks about the new Sterling ropes (OK maybe we’ll file that one under ‘embodying the brand’ and walk away) or what badgirlclimber873 thinks about the Grigri 2. But it is even better to be able to relate those experiences to your own use of gear. And that’s where one of the most important elements of why I buy gear comes into play: personal recommendations.

I trust the people with whom I choose to surround myself. And a thumbs-up from a friend is worth more than all the glossy-pages any advertising budget can buy. The breadth of use of gear by my fellows may not be as far reaching as the pros nor even as broad as many other people out there, but it is immediately relevant to me and my use. Our abilities and interests run, if not entirely parallel, at least in the same spheres.

If I am looking to get a new piece of equipment, my most valuable resources are the people around me. Have they used it? Do they like it or not? Why? Does the x-factor of a particular piece of gear really matter in the end? No one is paying them - outright or under-the-table - to give me an opinion.

The final piece in my decision to buy is personal experience. I like to try out equipment before I buy it. On the trail, at the crag or in the store, being able to see how a piece of gear and I work together is important. It can be something as simple as knowing if my hand fits nicely into a chalk bag or as crucial as knowing if a pair of new climbing shoes (Don’t worry Katanas, I’m not replacing you!) cuts in at the ankles or has a toe-box that doesn’t suit my feet. That’s why I am so often a repeat customer; when I am familiar with and trust gear I will keep going back to it again and again.

Perhaps characterising myself as a gear whore is unfair and, in fact, untrue. I am actually very cautious and judicious in my decision to buy. A company might get my attention with flashing lights and sirens, but it is quality, dependability and reputation that will get me to cross that line and become an actual consumer. I do like to have pretty gear. And yes, some of my gear goes unused for long stretches. But I don’t have it just for the sake of having it. Make a quality product that is useful and innovative. Wrap it up in a pretty package. Let me use it and put it to the test and talk to others about it. I might buy it. And if I do, I'll tell others about how much I like it.

This post can also be read on the fabulous PembaServes website: Why I Buy? The Shiny and The Solid.


Anonymous said...

Excellent! I concur that personal recommendations and reviews carry weight with gear purchases.

And since gear whore isn't quite accurate would 'High Priced Gear Guy' be more accurate?

Thanks for the insight!

Paukku said...

I'm not sure about 'High Priced Gear Guy' since it seems to clash with 'Dirtbag Boulder Boy'. But maybe they both work!

Glad you liked the post!


Awesome. And well said. I don't really fall into this bracket - but only because I don't buy much gear. Bouldering - all you need is shoes (been using 5.Ten Anasazi for years), chalk and a pad. And I've never bought a pad. They've all been presents :). But being in PR and marketing, I know how the game works too. I don't think anyone is truly immune - and those that say they are are only fooling themselves.

Paukku said...

As I boulder, sport climb and trad climb, I don't get a pass like that! My general aversion to being cold has kept from ice climbing, but who knows...someday...sigh... Trad is most definitive the most pricey, but sport runs a close second. I don't seem to be able to pick inexpensive hobbies!

Glad you liked the post! And you should really come to NM for some bouldering.