As part of my regular job I design and write web-based training courses for corporate clients. One of my recent courses described the "five stages of the consumer buying process." I found them interesting, but not particularly relevant to the camera buying process. Here, for your edification (and amusement) are the five stages, slightly modified to reflect how one really buys photo equipment.
Stage 1 – Awareness of Need
This is the stage at which you become aware that whatever you own is unsatisfactory in some significant way—for example, it’s too large and heavy, or produces unacceptable photos in low light, or simply reflects poorly on your skills as a photographer. You therefore want a new camera or lens. Scratch that, you need a new camera or lens; maybe both. The question is what new camera or lens?
Stage 2 – Information Gathering
You start searching for and gathering as much information—and more importantly, justification—as you can. Information sources typically include:
- Other photo-enthusiasts you know –These are people you can depend on to give you completely objective reasons why you should buy exactly what they own and why you would be a fool to buy anything else.
- Manufacturer websites and print brochures –These sources obviously present their equipment in the best possible light, but that doesn't make them worthless. For example, there is often some truth to the specifications.
- Blogs – Blogs are your best possible source of impartial information. You should believe everything a blogger tells you.
- Online forums – This is a lot like going to the zoo to watch the monkeys scream and throw feces at each other. It’s noisy, smelly, and bizarrely amusing—that is, until they start throwing their feces at you.
These are by no means the only sources of information. Some consumers have been known to rely on their own knowledge and experience as the basis for comparison and judgment. Granted, this happens only in extreme cases, but it does happen.
Stage 3 – Evaluate The Alternatives
At this point you have narrowed down your choices to at least three, which typically consist of:
- The thing you really want but consider insanely priced. (In other words, you can’t afford it).
- The thing you consider an acceptable, if slightly flawed, product at a price that’s a stretch but reasonable.
- The piece of crap that, after consulting with your bank account and/or spouse, you will most likely end up buying.
This is the point at which you finally make up your mind and buy something, if only to get it over with. Depending on your mindset and personality, this stage either brings a release of tension and sense of calm or the onset of deep dread based on your anticipation of Stage 5.
Stage 5 – Post-Purchase Evaluation
This is the stage at which you evaluate how well your purchase meets the original needs and expectations that set this whole process in motion. If all you wanted was a new camera or lens, you may be quite happy, at least until your purchase no longer qualifies as “new.” If, however, you lingered too long in Stages 2 and 3, this feeling of contentment might last no more than the 15 minutes it takes to discover that your purchase has just been replaced by an even newer model that costs 33% less.
You also have to be careful to avoid returning to Stage 3, otherwise you will discover that no sooner does the return period expire than the photo websites will release a torrent of information about newly discovered defects and shortcomings, and how the manufacturer continues to insist that there is no so-called "evidence" to support such claims.
Keep in mind that a very small minority simply start using their new equipment to produce photographs. If they are happy with the photographs and the experience, they are happy with their equipment and lose interest in any further purchases or research, either for as long as they or happy or as long as their equipment keeps working. Some of these folk may not have bought anything new in years. Although they are small in number, they explain why it all the more important for the rest of us to do our part to "take up the slack," so to speak. If you don't buy and buy often, what the hell will I have to write about?