My Kayak Purchase Story

Sep 4, 2014 by

kayaking

This could be me.

Prime kayaking conditions and opportunities abound where we’re lucky to live—on Vancouver Island, just off Canada’s west coast. Since taking a daylong kayaking course three years ago and renting a kayak a few times, I’ve been thinking about and lazily looking into buying a kayak. A 40% off sign I just happened to notice hanging from an Advanced Elements Airfusion boat displayed in front of an outdoor retailer called Alberni Outpost in a shopping centre near our home finally pushed me into action.

I Do My Kayak Research

The Airfusion, as you might guess from the name, is an inflatable kayak. When I first learned of inflatable kayaks I scoffed—those can’t be real kayaks. Perhaps many aren’t, but according to the reviews I’ve read of the Airfusion, this inflatable is pretty darn awesome. And inflatables are easy to transport and store, an important factor for me.

The local retailer’s Airfusion was priced at $640, which the retailer claimed was 40% off. That would imply a non-discounted price of nearly $1,100—inflated for this kayak, I learned, but still, $640 was an excellent price, even after federal + provincial 12% sales tax. I didn’t care whether the claimed discount was legit, just that the price represented a good value!

After inspecting the kayak for a while, I went home to read up on the boat, especially reviews. Though a bit of hassle to set up and dismantle (the Airfusion has an aluminum frame of sorts), overall reviewers really liked the Airfusion. Some made comments about valuable improvements made in the newest version of the Airfusion, called the Airfusion Elite. Of particular importance to me, since I seek to avoid immersion in the quite chilly ocean in these parts, was the Elite’s additional three inches of width compared to its predecessor, making the Elite considerably more stable. I saw a video online of a woman standing up in the Elite—do not try this at home!

Back to Alberni Outpost

The next day I returned to Alberni Outpost, in part to learn whether the kayak on sale was an Elite and in part to stand and stare at it for a while, which is an important element of decision making for me. Given the great price, I thought it must be the now discontinued version. I chose a clerk at random from inside the store and asked her to take a look at the kayak with me. I asked her whether it was new (this place sells used kayaks too) and whether it was the Elite version. She said yes to both.

I went home excited!

Back Again to Alberni Outpost

I read more reviews, checked more prices (US$810 at REI was the next best I could find), talked it over with my wife, and contemplated. (Usually I contemplate a purchase so long the item’s no longer available if I finally decide to buy—saves me a lot of money!) After a couple of days, I decided to buy the kayak. Back to Alberni Outpost! Still though, that low price vaguely nagged at me, like a case of guilty conscience.

At the store I told a clerk I wanted to buy the Airfusion. Somewhere early on in our back & forth I asked him whether it was the Elite version—he said yes it was. So we forged ahead and took up a lot of each other’s time talking about how best to set up the kayak (in your living room the first time), what size paddle I should get, the required safety equipment I’d need, etc. Finally we got to the checkout process, and I handed over my credit card.

My Nagging Feeling is Validated

While the clerk was entering lots of my personal information into his terminal (that’s okay—I always make this stuff up on the spot), another, older (my age) clerk came over on some other task and we all began talking about inflatables in general and the Airfusion in particular.

“This is sure a great price,” I said cheerily at one point. The more experienced clerk then volunteered an explanation: the store had purchased three from the manufacturer from among the last of these kayaks available.

Uh-oh. That sure sounded like a model closeout to me. So I asked again.

“This is the Elite model right—the latest and greatest Airfusion?”

No, it isn’t”

Sigh.

Disappointment

I don’t think the two clerks who told me the kayak was the Airfusion Elite were trying to fool me—I think they just didn’t know what they were talking about. They were poorly trained, in other words. I probably would have figured it out on my own had I bought the Airfusion not-Elite; whether I would then have had the gumption to return it is another question.

I’ve still got my eye on the Airfusion Elite and will probably get one from REI, where I’m a member, the next time we’re in Seattle. But first I’ll check out a new Cabela’s that’s scheduled to open in our community in about ten days to learn what it has to offer. Maybe it’ll have a grand opening sale. I prefer to buy local, but I won’t be robbed, and I’m not seeing the Elite Airfusion offered anywhere now on Vancouver Island.

My Takeaway

I avoid certain retail stores because I hate being pestered by clerks asking if I have questions. (“Yo—if I did, I’m capable of asking without prompting!”) So it’s a bit annoying that when I did have an important question and asked, I got two quick and certain—but wrong—answers!

The lesson: if the answer to your question about something you’re considering buying really matters, trust but verify!

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  • Travis Pizel

    Trust but verify – great advice, Kurt. It unfortunate that neither the sign in front of the product, nor TWO employees could give you the right info. The first time I trained for a marathon I walked into a sports store and asked an employee what shoes would be good for running – he showed me the most expensive pair of shoes they had and told me, “These are expensive.” Which means he equated expensive with good. Turns out they were completely wrong for my stride (I’ve learned a lot since then) and ended up injuring myself.

  • I never worked in retail so I don’t know how the employees were trained but they definitely missed out the most important information in your case! I usually don’t trust store clerks — given the abundance products at the store, I doubt they know every single one of it, unless they’re only responsible for a specific section.

    • You’re right, we surely can’t expect every clerk to be knowledgeable about every product. But what’s wrong with expecting an “I’m not sure–I’ll check” instead of a definitive–and wrong–answer to a customer question? That’s a matter of training, not education.

  • It was smart to do your research. I like that as well, trust and verify. Great advice here from a great story. Thanks, Kurt!

  • I didn’t know you lived on Vancouver Island, Kurt! Beautiful B.C. We would love to buy a kayak (or two) within the next few years but we don’t want an inflatable one. It’s great that you did your research and verified the facts before making your purchase.

    • Yep, 5+ years now, since relocating from the USA. I’m not a world traveler by any means, but BC may well live up to the “best place on earth” licence plate slogan!

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