How Buying On Spec Leads To Trouble. For Consumers & Businesses

When we want to buy something expensive we do research online. We shop around and compare. We check specs, tests and comparisons. That’s how I bought my previous camera, car, shoes and a bunch of other stuff I don’t enjoy. I’m done with it.

Car Spec

Nearly every car site or show will tell you that Volkswagen Golf is the best compact car. It is, and has been, the blueprint for a compact car. Right? I know for a fact that it’s bullshit. I’ve driven plenty of new rental cars in recent years, Golf among them. And I adore the idea behind Ford Focus.

Yup, it has smaller interior. The looks are so-so. The interior design and quality is at most average. But you know what? Focus has two killer features: handling and comfort. I’m blown away how good it is to drive. How it brilliantly comes out of corners. It seems to know where I want to go. Amazing! Golf needed my help on each turn to go where it should. Second, the silence in the Focus is about two classes above where it sits on the market. The next close match to this level of silence I found was a new BMW 5. Silence is key to limiting travel fatigue. So Focus is pleasant to drive for the driver and comfy for everyone.

Now my everyday car is an old Toyota Yaris… It’s brilliant on paper. Cheap to buy, cheap to maintain, extremely reliable. Functional and big interior (for its class). Adequate handling. And I hate it. Somehow Toyota was able to make this supermini car feel like a bus. It’s so meh that it’s even hard to describe.

Now the thing is that it’s all subjective. It’s hard to put the idea behind a product on spec. You either get the joke or not.

Camera Spec

I’m looking for a new camera. In the process I ploughed through tons of tests, reviews and comparisons. They all point to Sony RX 100. So I went to a store to play with it. You know what? It’s awkward. The user interface is clumsy and I don’t get it. Buttons are wobbly. Viewfinder in this size of camera is strange. This camera creates a barrier for me when shooting.

So I’ve taken a step back. All current cameras have incredible image quality after all! For sure when compared to my 10-year old camera. So I started testing Panasonics, Nikons and Canons. And found that I can’t harness most of them. The only one that didn’t create friction between me and the picture I wanted to take was Canon.

Somehow the buttons were where they should. The menus are clear and customisations are easy to do. I immediately got how it works. How do you put that on spec? Handling is crucial in a camera - it decides if you miss shots, if you can focus on the picture and not the gear.

The only thing that matters in a camera is whether you like it. Whether you want to carry it around. Whether making pictures with it is a joy.

Reasonable B2B Spec

Now let’s switch gears to B2B vendor-client relations. They’re often a result of elaborate corporate procurement, bidding and buying processes. That’s the “buying on spec” in the B2B realm. Theoretically the process was designed to be as logical and objective as possible. More often than not they create relationships that are full of friction, problems and resentment. How can that be? Well it turns out what we look for when picking a vendor is people we like to work with. We actually want to pick providers that we like. Ones that get our problems and have matching culture.

When To Use Spec Then?

By all means build a specification. List the things you need. But use it only in the beginning of the purchase process. The spec should only be there to make sure we don’t make a fatal mistake. Have a list of must have features and edge conditions. Usually the list of must-haves is much shorter than I you think!

Have a short list of products or service providers. Then try them out. Give it a thorough test-drive to build a feel for it. The rest of the decision making should rely on the experience and intuition.

Subjectivity & Emotion

Now whether you like it or not is entirely subjective. It’s about emotions. Do you get the idea behind the product? Do you like the people and the culture behind that offer? If not, walk away. It’s only going to create a long lasting disappointment. Definitely I’m done buying stuff on-spec.

Michał Nowak

I'm an entrepreneur with a visionary and a strategic twist. I have a passion to unleash potential we all have in us! I'm a manager, photographer and an engineer.

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