Purchase Interview: $450 Pair of Winter Boots

Let’s say you make expensive winter boots. You’re wondering what you’ll focus on for the next two years. Should we diversify our product line? Should we change our marketing? Should we create a low-price entry-level boot? What we have right now, is it working?

I interviewed a friend who bought a $450 pair of winter boots. I wanted to find out the job for which he had hired those boots, and I wanted to find out the forces that were at play in his mind as he made his decision. Surely, there was something to this purchase. Who pays $450 for a pair of winter boots?

The Temptation to Put the Buyer in a Category

$450 is a lot of money for a pair of boots. To explain the price he had paid, I was having these thoughts about my friend going into the interview:

  • Maybe this guy is into buying expensive stuff
  • Maybe he likes to look classy
  • Maybe he just belongs to a more upper-class category

I fell into the temptation to put him into a category. But being inclined to buy expensive stuff isn’t enough to explain a purchase. Being upper-class doesn’t cause someone to buy a pair of expensive boots. If that were the case, why not just buy a $200 pair of boots. Why buy the $450 pair of boots?

Why buy that pair? Why not buy two pairs?

He hired that specific pair of boots for a specific job.

The Interview Digs Up the Story

The interview technique comes from Bob Moesta and Chris Spiek from the Re-Wired group. Instead of focusing on the product, it focuses the attention on the story of the purchase.

Instead of asking the buyer the reasons of his purchase, the interview focuses on questions about the context of the purchase. What preceded the purchase? When did the purchase occur? What happened right before that? When was the first time the buyer thought about the problem?

The story that comes out shows the points where the buyer considered other options, took some steps back, made some leaps forward, went from passive to active, from active to making a decision. It uncovers the four forces: the struggle, the attraction, the anxieties and the current habits he’d fall back to instead of purchasing.

So here’s the context around the purchase that the interview dug up.

Moving to Ottawa

My friend had recently moved to Ottawa from Toronto. He had spent two years in Toronto, and before that, he was in the United States. This was to be his first winter in Ottawa – his first real winter. Winter was approaching. He wanted to get ready for it.

Winters in Ottawa, he had heard, were a mix of different kinds of weather. Snow, Ice, Slush, Rain.

In Toronto, he was living and working downtown, and the winters weren’t so tough, so shoes were fine.

But in Ottawa, he had to walk to get to work in different kinds of weather. Ottawa was going to be a different kind of winter.

Researching the Boot

It was November, on a Sunday, when the first thought occurred that he should find a pair of boots. He went to walk the dog that day and, for the first time that year, it was colder than usual. He threw the idea to his wife to buy some new winter boots. “Good idea: we’ll live here for a while”.

– “Tell me about the boot you purchased”, I asked.

It was manufactured in the States, in a small factory (“not too automated”) with leather sourced from Mexico. It was a low-maintenance boot (“I hate polishing”) and was stylish enough to wear a dress shirt with it.

“The stitches are unfastened. You can see straggling thread sometimes.”

He had actively started looking for boots the Monday after that cold Sunday (searched for [top 10 winter boots] in Google). A week in, he had settled on two boots. He watched videos he found about how the boot was made by these two different companies, how they took care of making the boots and sweating the details. Watching the videos tipped the scales in favour of one boot.

Obviously, my friend cared about the details of how a boot was made. The level of craftsmanship mattered. But he was shopping for a boot without having tried it first (but the online reviews were good). He was researching for a boot like he was researching for a car.

But what was the job he hired these boots to do?

That Pair Filled the Job Better than Anything Else

On purchase day (we’re late December by now and at his family’s place in the States), he woke up late, and got up excited. They were planning a late brunch and headed out to the mall for 1pm. He ended up in a Nordstrom where he knew they had the boot. Tried them on, found a comfy size, and paid the full price.

He knew the price never came down for discounts. The price wasn’t the main anxiety in this purchase. He didn’t try other boots that were less expensive. He didn’t look at other boots.

It turns out that his research wanted to spot some details about the boot that were important for the job he was hiring these boots to do. The boots needed to be made with care, made to withstand different kinds of Ottawa winter scenarios. It had to weather through the weather. It had to last through multiple winters.

He hired these specific boots for the job of not having to become an expert about winter. This boot maker had convinced him that they knew all of the variables about winter so he didn’t have to learn them all. Through those videos and through the online reviews, this company proved to him they thought more about winter than anyone else did.

Which begs the question: what was the real competitor for these boots?

The Real Competition for These Boots

Although there was another boot he was considering buying, there was always another, more important, competitor. As highlighted in this other article, every product competes primarily with non-consumption, with the words “I’ll just”.

For my friend, these boots were competing with him thinking about winter, becoming an expert in winter. He wanted to spend this winter thinking about his career, not thinking about the logistics of winter. In the morning, what boot should he wear? That one? Is it raining? Is sleet coming down from the sky? Who cares! With these new boots, he’s thinking about work, not about winter.

These boots were competing with being an expert at his career.

He rewarded (with a hefty amount of money) the company that made it their career to think about winter so that he could make it his career to think about his own work.

Being the Manufacturer

Let’s come back to being the manufacturer in this case. Should we diversify? Should we come up with a less expensive boot to attract high-class millenials or should we keep making boots the same way?

If interviewing more buyers gives you similar stories as the one above, think twice before diversifying! You might have some weird new kinds of buyers, but be confident in the job your product is hired to do!.

Should you change your marketing? Maybe you could try reinforcing the message on your online store that “we thought more about winter so you don’t have to”. Maybe even highlight the story about this purchase. If you’ve got 10,000 or more monthly visits to your site, maybe you could try a split-test to see if the new messaging converts to more sales.

But you’re in a good spot with the job your product is being hired to do. Don’t mess that up.

If you’ve got a product where you’re noticing some interesting trends in your purchases and you’d like to dig for this kind of insight, reach out. I can help with interviews to uncover the job your product is hired to do. Want to try an interview? Let me interview you on a recent purchase you made (it’s a fun experience).

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