Buying scuba equipment can be tricky, buying your first set of dive kit a pure leap of faith. The problem I believe lies with us, the dive centres, not you the purchasers. Criticism? surely not. In most retail environments you get to try the products before you buy. Buying a new car, you take a test drive. Buy a mattress you get to lay on it in the shop. Buy a regulator, you get to look and touch it but not actually use it for diving. Would you buy that car after only sitting in it?
When I bought my first set of dive equipment, I went with what I was told was good and within my budget. To be fair, it was OK. However later I realised BCDs could be far more comfortable and regulators a lot easier breathing. For my first year of diving my air consumption was terrible. When I swapped to a better regulator (Mares MR12 Voltrex for the history buffs...) my air consumption miraculously improved. Was it a case of the wrong regulator, or my gain in confidence under water? Possibly a bit of both.
On our web site we have lots of customer reviews, most products have good independent feedback, both good and bad (yep we do publish the bad stuff too). The issue with all feedback is it is based on the user's experience and knowledge, sometimes the comments are clearly incorrect (we always point this out in our comment next to the feedback). If an inexperienced diver says it is great, is it truly great or just great in their limited experience?
New divers - don't take this as criticism, we love your feedback, experience can't be gained quickly! Luckily we have a large community who correct people's biases (true crowd sourcing), often a poor review triggers several other points of view. If a product continues to receive bad feedback we will remove it from our stocks, we only want to sell the best.
Returning to my analogy of cars. I doubt many of us have driven more than a few cars when we decide to swap. Someone like Jeremy Clarkson gets to test hundreds so should have a good idea of what is good and bad. Luckily working at Simply Scuba gives us access to lots of new dive gear which we can test, not a luxury many divers get. But why not? The answer is simple, it's economics. As a dive store we have to buy the stock, if we sell it or use it the cost is the same. This is surely true in the car market too but as consumers we expect to try the goods before committing. Is it now time to raise the bar (excuse the pun) in the dive market? If you could borrow the equipment for, say a weekend (at a small nominal cost (maybe the same as renting) which would be refunded if you purchase those items from us (not the ones you borrow but new)) would this be a good service? The dive market is very competitive and despite divers' general perception, the profit margins are quite low.
Would a service of try before you buy make you, as divers, our customers, more likely to recommend us to your dive buddies and make purchases from us? I don't see raising prices to pay for this service above our competitors would help our sales, so we have to sell more to recover our out lay out on the equipment. We would really appreciate it if you would leave a comment here on the blog with your thoughts and suggestions. If you can see any flaws in this idea, again we would love to hear.