A few years ago, I wanted a new pair of snow skis to replace my antique boards from the ‘90’s. I researched skis on the internet so I could make a “smart” purchase decision. My criteria (in priority order) included the ability to rip groomers, float in powder, soak up bumps and look cool with my orange boots.
After a few evenings of research and pleasant reverie about the upcoming winter, I identified four promising alternatives based on my criteria; Volkl Mantras, Salomon Sentinels, Line Prophets and Blizzard Bonafides. So far, so good with respect to the decision process - I framed the problem, ranked criteria and identified four alternative solutions. All I needed to do now was identify constraints, evaluateand rank the alternatives, make tradeoffs and, then… pick a pair of skis.
Easier said than done, it turns out.
My only constraint was cost, which is pretty typical for most people. Here’s where I made a decision mistake – I treated cost like a criteria rather than a constraint and I also gave it too much importance… in other words, I started shopping for the lowest priced alternative before I understood how each alternative met my performance criteria.
I surfed all the on-line shopping sites and found a pair of Line Prophets that were about $100 less than the next cheapest alternative. I ordered them… without really knowing if they were the best choice for my skiing style. When they arrived, I showed them to my long-time friend Mike. Mike is a professional ski patroller with a skiing style similar to mine and knows ski gear better than anyone else I know.
He told me he’d skied them before and they skied a lot “softer” than the other alternatives and were not really that good for ripping groomers (my most important criteria). He also pointed out that it would be quite easy to wait until the season started and then demo all the skis I wanted. The difference in price between the least and most expensive alternative was only about $200… or about a dollar a day if I used the skis 200 days over their life span. Hmmm…. Of course he was right and I felt pretty foolish for ordering the Prophets.
I came to my senses, returned the Line Prophets and returned to my “smart” decision process. I demoed all the skis at the beginning of the season and ended up buying the Volkl Mantras… they performed the best for me. They were the second most expensive alternative, but when I did a cost/benefit analysis, they came out on top by far.
What are the lessons learned? One, try not to get emotional or impatient when making a decision; in my case it really helped to talk to a friend who was not emotionally involved with the purchase. I also recommend sticking to your process to avoid making decision mistakes and finally, I recommend treating cost as a constraint rather than a criterion. Why? Because it’s easy to get fixated on cost and let that single attribute drive the entire decision process. Then the decision simply becomes finding the lowest price and the other criteria are marginalized. For these reasons, I recommend treating cost as a constraint and performing a cost/benefit analysis after all of the alternatives are ranked.