From the Shop: Bias and Boat Buying.

I’ll be straight, I have an agenda to sell boats.  I do it for a living, it should be obvious that I have a bias. If you ask me for my opinion on my boats vs. other boats, I’m going to try to give an honest answer with a spin toward my boats (but I also really do believe mine are better…see, I just showed my bias).  But what about the other, often less obvious biases involved in choosing which boat to buy?  Since this has been on my mind lately, I figured I’d take a look at some of the influences on what makes people buy boats.

If you’ve seen a thread online lately where someone asks for opinions of Open Boat A vsOpen Boat B, it probably loosely resembled a feeding frenzy.  They can smell blood in the water, and people jump in to offer advice on Boats A and B, but also C, D, and E, even if those weren’t asked about initially.  Sometimes they’re people like me with an agenda to sell boat Boat C, sometimes its someone who bought boat D and really likes it and is trying to offer an honest opinion.  But even if they’re giving an honest opinion, that’s not to say they’re not biased.  I’ve noticed this a lot lately, and I think of it as a form of confirmation bias.

All of Carl’s friends tell him how much they like Boat E. Carl is a savvy consumer, he did your homework, demoed the boat, and then paid a lot of money for it, possibly risking irritating his spouse in the process.  Carl wouldn’t buy a bad boat, so obviously he made a good decision and of course he’s going to like the boat he bought. And he’s going tell other people how much he likes it.  But it’s obvious to anyone watching him paddle it’s not working for him as well as another boat might.  I’ve seen this happen a fair amount, and I can say that because in some cases, I’m the one who made the boat that doesn’t work for a particular individual.  (Hint:  It’s usually someone in an Octane 85 who should be in an Octane 91).

So if we weed out the carnival barkers trying to hawk their wares and the people convincing themselves they’ve made a good decision, we get to “Demo, Demo, Demo” Guy.  Now, “try before your buy” is solid advice.  I wouldn’t discourage anyone from doing it (again, because I think what I’m making is better…)  But the two issues you face are 1) Demo canoes are hard to come by in some places, especially the western states.  We’ve tried to have some degree of presence there, but it’s tough with limited resources to cover everywhere.  And 2) Trying out a boat once tends to steer you toward something similar to what you’re used to.  That might be good or bad, but it’s hard to know.  It also doesn’t really give the whole picture.  The first time I paddled the original Option prototype, I kind of hated it.  It really wasn’t what I was used to, and it didn’t seem like it did what I wanted it to.  The reality was I wasn’t really used to paddling a responsive OC-1 (or even C-1) creek boat.  I let a friend I trusted try it out, and he said he thought it was really good.  I went with it, and it became my go-to boat for years.  The same thing happened with the Condor prototypes.  I wasn’t used to paddling a long boat, so it was a let down at first.  The more I paddled it, the more I liked it.  When I finally got in the production boat, it was love at first sight, because it was similar to, but better than, the prototypes I was used to paddling. I’ve also had the opposite happen- I boat I really liked paddling at first (possibly because of that confirmation bias?) soured over time, and I ended up saying “no, actually, I think something else will work better for me.”

So where does that leave you, the boat buying public?  If you can’t trust those with an agenda, and you might not be able to totally trust the opinions of the people who say they like the boat they bought, and demoing doesn’t give the whole picture, how do you choose?  My advice would be to take it all with a grain of salt, make the best decision you can keeping all this in mind. Maybe you can’t demo everything, but you can still try to wade through the noise and make an informed decision about what might work well for you.  And most importantly, be willing to buy a boat, paddle it ten times, and then sell it to a friend if it’s not working out.  Think if the difference in the new and used price as the fee for doing an extensive demo.  I know you’re going to say “But that’s just part of your agenda to sell more boats!”  Yes, but, if you sell the boat to your friend, now I’m not going to sell one to her.

And, after all that, if you’re still having trouble deciding, just get the blue one.  You’ll love it.