The Psychology of Equipment Purchases

There was no shortage of options in the golf equipment area in 2015. Manufacturers continued to make strides in materials, manufacturing, and marketing to get golfers into the store and wallets open with the promises of longer drives and lower scores. This has me wondering, once a purchase is made, what causes someone to have such a visceral and vocal viewpoint regarding the product purchased? What is it about golf equipment that elicits such a response? Being active on The Hackers Paradise forums, I have seen and been a part of many conversations about equipment purchased and I am always intrigued by the more heated discussions about new golf equipment.

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I attribute much of the enthusiasm to the more creative methods of marketing golf companies are using. Specifically, creating events where equipment is provided and used in competition. Personally, I have had many opportunities to play in events where equipment was provided, from companies like TaylorMade, Callaway, Cleveland and others. I have personally developed an emotional attachment to OEMs based on these experiences and as such I am sure my own views reflected that in my discussions. It is a reasonable response to marketing, even if it is not the traditional means of building a brand ambassador.

Now, let’s say the equipment was purchased at retail and was free of such influences. The player did the research, spent time at a demo day or in-store testing and ultimately picks the club that worked best for them. With the new club in the bag they venture out to discuss their experience and decision making process. Your club becomes a point of conversation with playing partners, co-workers and the like. Maybe they are active in online golf communities and like to discuss equipment and are looking for information like reviews and feedback. What follows in some instances appears to be very conflict oriented. What happens when someone does not support the purchase? Dissenting viewpoints are then met with argumentative feedback or outright claims of bias.

What instigates such an emotional response?

Supporting the Underdog
Everyone loves a feel good story of the scrappy upstart taking on the establishment. People like to see individuals and organizations upset the status quo and find success. Does this mentality exist in golf? Do you know anyone who purchase Bridgestone or Srixon balls specifically because of a bias against Titleist? For many, they choose one ball to play because the data supports the choice. However, how many dissenters of the Titleist ball have actually tested and compared performance? How many people refuse to play Callaway equipment because they are the new dominant OEM in equipment? It appears that many people make the decision to play a particular piece of equipment because the market leader doesn’t need support and instead want to support alternative choices. They knowingly reject a product, not based on data but on personal bias. This is not wrong per se, but it is a point of discussion in a game where greens in regulation and driver length are always on the tip of any discussion.

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Justification of Purchase
Post purchase rationalization is a cognitive bias, whereby someone who has purchased an expensive product or service overlooks any faults or defects in order to justify their purchase. The market of golf has very much become like the consumer electronics industry, whereas every year you can expect to see advancements in come capacity that triggers a need to seek newer and better. Even if these updates may be incremental, you are still willing to pay to achieve better. Once you make that investment, however, the cycle begins of keeping mentally committed to the choice. This means we actively promote and discuss the virtues of a product and challenge dissenting opinions as wrong, because if they are correct then it invalidates the need for said purchase and questions it. Once again, the bias is not performance based, but rooted at its core in financial commitment.

Pride and Prejudice
What if you have made your purchase and you have the data that shows the club you purchased was the right fit. The simulator or launch monitor gave you the results you were looking for: Launch angle, spin rate, ball speed, all coalesces into maximized yardage. But what if others don’t see what you see? They are clearly wrong because you saw the numbers yourself! What is so difficult to believe and accept with regards to the performance of other companies’ equipment? When does the prospect of another club being better for a person become problematic to you and your choices? With so many options at retail for shafts, lofts, grips, etc., it is not unreasonable to assume that many different golf swings will produce many different results. What happens though when options are considered different then our own, we become angry and argumentative. We treat golf equipment like we would our political affiliations and this toxic relationship spills over into public forum creating conflict. Do we let individual performance establish blanket statements towards other companies and products?

Golf is a funny game isn’t it? The most social of games and at times the most combative, at least in the war for consumer dollars and brand advocacy.

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