In recent years, a new kind of buyer's remorse has emerged throughout the world. A consumer will make a decision to purchase a new tech product--a new television, computer, or smartphone, for example--and no sooner than the item is out of the box, a newer, better, faster version of the product is released. Making matters worse, the price of the older version always seems to drop just after the new version debuts.
This is a new phenomenon; in the past, technological advancements happened at a much slower pace. Now, new versions of products are released soon after previous versions. Consumers are often confused about if, when, and what to buy.
Fortunately, there are organizations and companies that study technological markets to help consumers make the most informed decisions. And while it's impossible to figure out exactly when to make a purchase, there are strategies consumers can use.
Purchasing as a science. Michael Paulson is the vice president of product and marketing at Decide, a company dedicated to helping consumers correctly time technology purchases, including televisions, cameras, computers, and phones. He says the goal of the company is to allow purchases without regret.
Paulson says his company uses a number of strategies to determine when to buy. First, they use a mathematical algorithm to "predict where prices are going over the next three weeks." Next, Decide scours the Internet for information and rumors on the product. "We have news and rumors from over 10,000 sources across the Web," Paulson says.
Finally, Decide looks at past release patterns. "We map products' ancestors to have a sense of when the next one is expected to come out," he says.
This allows Decide to predict the likelihood of a new release and where the price of a product is headed in the next three weeks. For instance, the Cannon Power Shot is currently the top-ranked camera on Decide's website. Decide is 71 percent confident that the price of the camera will hold steady, and 61 percent confident that a new version of the camera is not likely to debut in the next six months. It recommends that consumers buy the camera now.
"We've done a lot of studies on consumer's willingness to wait," Paulson says. "They'll wait about two weeks for a price drop of 5 percent on a product like [a camera]."
However, other products are different. "For phones, because people are locked into two-year contracts, consumers will wait five months for a new smartphone," Paulson says. "For a TV, it's two months. In all cases, they're not necessarily going to buy the new model, but they want to see what the new model is."
Paulson also says the idea that prices will drop dramatically once a new version of a product comes out is a myth. "It's no longer the case that you're going to get a deal on the old one when the new one comes out," he says. "If what you care about is getting the lowest price on a product, you're probably not going to see a huge price drop."
The elusive Apple. Paulson conceded, however, that the exception to the pricing rule is Apple products like the iPad and iPhone. Eric Slivka is the editor-in-chief of MacRumors, a website dedicated to tracking the release of Apple products. He also maintains a Mac Buyer's Guide, which uses metrics similar to those used by Decide to suggest when to buy Apple products and when to wait.
"It's always difficult to know when to buy products, particularly in the fast-moving technology markets. One strategy is simply to stay on top of what's going on," Silvika says. "Apple, in particular, is very secretive, rarely announcing new products until just before they're ready to ship. But the thriving rumor scene also offers some feel for when we should be expecting new products."
According to Silvika, history dictates that Apple expects users to update products like the iPhone every two years, "but they can remain usable for three or four depending on your needs." As for computers, "Macs have a somewhat longer lifecycle stretching out to four, five, or even more years, even though Apple typically updates them more frequently than yearly."
Silvika adds that the growing obsession with correctly timing a purchase often detracts from the enjoyment a consumer gets when using it. "Don't drive yourself crazy always waiting for the next revision," he says. "Delaying too much might give you a newer product, but you've also lost out on that period of enjoyment between when you would have purchased the old model and when you finally do purchase the new model."
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