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How to tame buyer’s remorse in 4 simple steps

27th Mar 2018
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Almost everyone in business is familiar with the term 'buyer’s remorse,' but almost no one does anything to address it.

As humans, we’re addicted to the dopamine rush that produces feelings of joy and excitement. Who doesn’t relish the feeling that comes from finding a deeply discounted item online or coming across the perfect accent piece in a brick-and-mortar store? Riding the wave of elation that comes from finding the 'solution' to our needs, we gladly shell out our money or credit card number.

Then, the crash occurs. As the dopamine that was released in the brain at the point of purchase recedes, the feelings of joy, euphoria, and excitement are replaced by feelings of doubt, fear, and uncertainty. Will the item really be everything we hope? If it doesn't work, can we get our money back?

The unconscious workings of the brain that define buyer's remorse

To counter these negative feelings, we search for evidence to prove that our decision was correct. The longer the lag time between the purchase of our product or service and when we receive/use it for the first time, the more uncomfortable we become.

This psychological, chemical process that occurs in the brain has very practical foundations. These negative feelings (or 'buyer's remorse') encourage us to avoid making unwise choices, snap decisions, or uneducated purchases.

At the same time, these feelings are exacerbated by the way most businesses operate, causing them to go into overdrive. The longer a customer waits between the first hit of dopamine (the purchase) and the receipt, the greater the chances that buyer’s remorse will kick in. For businesses, that results in one of three things: a high rate of customer returns, negative reviews, or a loss of customer loyalty.

The modern challenge of closing gaps to reduce regret

Roll back the clock even 50 years and you’ll see why buyer’s remorse is increasingly prevalent today. Someone looking for a pair of shoes would go to a shoe store, try on several pairs, purchase a single pair, and probably walk out of the store wearing their new footwear.

Modern consumers rarely experience this instantaneous reward. It can sometimes take more than a week between making a shoe purchase online and finally receiving and wearing those shoes. Even if you receive the shoes faster than a week after purchase, it's not the same 'immediate emotional hit' that was experienced back in the 'old days' of traditional retail shopping. In this new era, during the downtime between purchase and receipt, the brain brims with doubt, eliciting a chain of neural firing that produces fear and uncertainty.

Although we can’t get rid of this natural method of shifting between emotional highs and lows, we can fill in the gaps between these feelings. That way, customers are less apt to have negative feelings of disappointment or frustration — and more likely to feel positive and excited about being customers.

Amazon: Planning for buyer’s remorse from the beginning

Want an example of a company that takes buyer’s remorse planning seriously? Look no further than Amazon. When consumers make a purchase, they immediately get an email confirming the order details. If they sign up for Amazon Shipment Updates, they also receive messages when the package is shipped, when it is out for delivery, and when it is delivered.

Do these communications actually matter? Absolutely. People stay engaged from the moment they hit the 'submit' button. At any point, they can visit the Amazon website and track the status of their purchase, reaffirming that they’re getting exactly what they expected. Post-purchase messages keep the customer informed of the microaccomplishments that are happening as the product makes its way from the warehouse to the customer's front door.

Of course, not every organization is a world-class retailer like Amazon. Yet all businesses — including service providers — can utilize this means of keeping in touch. That way, they can keep pulling buyers’ brains back to the thrilling moment of purchase. These types of communications keep telling clients that they made the right choice. It’s the ongoing affirmation and confirmation of the original decision that people need.

An all-too-common example: Placing stars over substance

Not long ago, my wife sent me some ideas for a present we planned to get for one of our nephews. Her texts included links to Amazon items, each of which offered the name of the product, a picture, and the number of stars it received on a scale of one to five. The one thing missing from the preview text was a description of the item, and that’s because increasingly, it doesn’t matter.

Amazon has realized that peer-created rankings are more important to most buyers than descriptions of the product. In fact, research shows that even a product with a one-star review will sell more units than a product with no reviews. When I saw that one of the product options my wife sent averaged 4.3 stars across 1,800 reviews, I didn’t need to see anything else to know we needed to purchase that one.

That moment of purchase started the feelings of euphoria, and Amazon kept the ball rolling with its regular update texts and confirmation emails. Amazon has determined all of the moments when buyer’s remorse can potentially creep in and has found ways to counter it before it can happen.

Mapping a strategy to diminish the guilt

In order to address buyer’s remorse, it’s important to first recognize that it exists and that, if you’re like most businesses, you probably aren't doing anything about it. After acknowledging this, businesses should determine their 'buyer’s remorse gap,' or the length of time the customer is left waiting after they make a purchase. For example, a 10-day delivery cycle means a 10-day gap.

After determining the length of the buyer’s remorse gap, organizations can counter this customer dilemma in several ways:

1. Confirm order details

This might seem like an unnecessary step to some people — after all, if a customer just ordered a product, why does he need to be reminded of what he just bought?

This isn't a need of the customer's conscious brain; it's a need of the subconscious brain. Reinforcing the details of the purchase is a crucial step to avoiding buyer’s remorse because simply confirming the details of an order is enough to let the customer know that the decision was accurately recorded.

The email or text lets the customer know the order went through and that he will receive it soon. A well-messaged confirmation email provides a dopamine hit to further convince the customer that ordering this product was a good thing.

2. Be transparent about the process

Customers expect that companies are good at having internal structures and steps that allow them to complete delivery, but most organizations don’t share that information with customers.

Instead of assuming that 'no one wants to see how the sausage is made,' buck the system and help customers see what’s happening throughout the entire process.

When customers have insight into what’s happening behind the scenes, it lets them know that you’re working on their order and that they’ll receive it soon. Every time they’re reminded about it — whether through a text saying their item has been shipped or an email letting them know the day their shipment will be delivered — it alleviates the fear that they won't get their order or their problem won't be solved.

3. Show them examples of other customers’ success

Customers should never be allowed to stew in their own anxiety. Even if you don’t have an update on the progress of an order, you shouldn’t let customers sit and wait for days on end. During this time, you should consider sharing examples of other customers who love the product.

Most people think of case studies as being a part of the sales process, but using them post-sale can reinforce the idea that the customer made a good decision. This can also help in case the customer is unhappy with what he receives. By showing examples of other people who loved the product, you can preframe the customer's thoughts and opinions about the product even before he receives it.

4. Offer a money-back guarantee

Never lock your customers into feeling like they’re not going to be able to back out of a sale. Rather, offer a 100% money-back guarantee within an acceptable timeframe. Fast-growing, well-known brands like CarMaxCasper, and Lands' End all have generous return policies that help alleviate customer fears of being 'locked in' to a decision. Not only does a money-back guarantee put power in customers' hands, but it also takes a load off their minds.

If you can't eliminate buyer's remorse, at least reduce it

At the end of the day, you don’t have to eliminate buyer’s remorse — that’s an almost impossible task. However, just because you can’t get rid of it doesn’t mean you can’t position and schedule the dopamine hits to keep customers from emotionally moving away from your company.

Minimizing post-purchase guilt takes sincerity and planning, but it’s worth the energy. That way, you won’t be rocked back on your heels by too many remorseful buyers begging for their cash back, writing horrible reviews, or deciding to never do business with you again.

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