Regret, Free With Purchase

Regret. The sick feeling in the pit of my stomach, outweighing the nausea of my hangover and the hotness of whoever the Adonis is I just woke up next to.

Unfortunately we humans are psychologically wired to regret, particularly when it comes to shopping. It’s caused by “cognitive dissonance”, mental discomfort from holding two or more contradictory feelings. So when you LOVE your new Jimmy Choo shoes but HATE that you can’t justify how much you spent, you feel remorse.

But retail marketers beware! – these feelings are not limited to one night stands and big ticket purchases.
Overfilling my trolley in the weekly grocery shop, buying three mascara’s when I only needed one and picking up that damn “easy” kitset desk – these are as tainted with regret as the imaginary Adonis I made-up to illustrate my point.

There has been a lot of research done on why our brains are so cruel to us, ruining our shiny new purchases with negative feelings; but I want to point the finger at us – what are retail marketers doing to worsen post-purchase dissonance?

Simply. We are doing our jobs too well.
We drive home that perfect message of desirability and attainability that makes purchase irresistible. Offers too good to refuse, from sale prices, to product bundling and pretty new packaging, all explained via exciting and urgent advertising. All driving increases in purchase/spend and therefore in post-purchase dissonance.

Now I am absolutely not suggesting we change any of that! Just because consumers may feel some remorse, does not mean that it isn’t smart shopping. Consumers save money, advertisers make money and the economy stays afloat.

So the real question is then, what can retail marketers do to lessen post-purchase dissonance?

Here are some of the things that in my opinion make a difference:

• DELIVERING AGAINST THE PROMISE – You may believe you are doing this, however your perception and consumer perceptions can be very different. If they perceive from you a promise that you then do not deliver on, they will feel let down or even lied to and will regret spending their money with you. For example, a small jar in a large box (even if the box states there are only 3mls inside!), a half empty packet of broken chips (sorry Doritos) or if my future husband turns out to dislike housework. Avoiding disappointment requires honesty.

• POST PURCHASE EXPERIENCE – It’s easier to justify a purchase if you feel like you’re getting better service and added value. For example free samples included with your purchase, any savings and/or loyalty points listed on your docket, being given additional info about the product you purchased are all physical evidence to support your post-purchase rationalization, or “Buyers Stockholm Syndrome”. If you are engaging with consumers after purchase, particularly if you use retargeting online, be careful to still make sure they have a sense of closure on the purchase. Studies suggest that like closing the menu in a restaurant, closure of a sale can prevent post-purchase dissonance.

• PURCHASE PRESSURE – A tool retail marketers need to use wisely. If a consumer feels overly pressured into a sale, they will have negative feelings afterwards. Try to encourage purchase in a manner that leaves the consumer feeling like it was their idea. Recipe cards are a great example of this in the food & grocery categories; they sell the idea of cooking/eating a meal, not purchasing the products, which is then something you do without question and without dissonance.

• HEARTS, MINDS, WALLETS – Don’t let consumers forget who you are. You’re not just a product pusher; you are a brand with an identity and values that appeal to your target customer. Keep up the ‘warm fuzzies’ in their hearts so they always value their purchase as a big part of buying into you.

This is by no means a comprehensive list; let it instead be a wake up call for all of us in retail to keep our heads up, ask tough questions and more importantly think broader and longer than just the sale.

Author: Emma Guadagni (Account Director)