Have you ever bought something online and then questioned yourself as to whether you’ve made the right purchase?

You’re not alone—many people buy products that initially attract their attention, but as time passes and they discover more choices, doubts can start creeping into their minds.

What often follows is a feeling of uncertainty and regret, otherwise known as post purchase dissonance.

Post purchase dissonance can happen with anything, from a basic t-shirt to a designer necklace, and it’s hard to tell when it will strike. As an eCommerce merchant, you need to be prepared to tackle it, as it can quickly turn customers away from your business.

In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about post purchase dissonance. From its definition and potential causes to strategies for minimizing buyer regret, we’ve got you covered.

What is post purchase dissonance?

Post purchase dissonance is highly prevalent in the eCommerce industry, yet many retailers are clueless about its meaning and how it can impact their business. So, let’s begin by defining the term … eCommerce 101 style.

Post purchase dissonance definition

Post purchase dissonance is the feeling of regret that a customer experiences after buying a product from your eCommerce store. It commonly results from cognitive dissonance, which psychologists define as a period of mental discomfort caused by conflicting beliefs and attitudes.

Several things could create a conflict in your customers’ minds after they decide to buy:

  • Customers feel the quality of the product doesn’t match their expectations
  • Customers buy impulsively without doing any research
  • Buyers find another product having seemingly better features and pricing
  • A competitor promises better after-sales service
  • Customers find a review that makes them doubt the credibility of your business

Whatever the reason for post purchase dissonance, it’s a problem that needs solving because it can increase returns, decrease customer satisfaction, and lead to bad word-of-mouth and social media reviews.

Why post purchase dissonance matters?

In a competitive eCommerce landscape, it’s not enough to satisfy customers till the point of purchase; you want to nurture them and keep them happy even after they’ve checked out from your online store.

Unfortunately, many brands are so caught up in acquiring new customers and making sales, that they neglect to think about the post purchase part of the buying experience. This oversight causes post purchase dissonance, which robs these businesses of valuable benefits. The good news is it’s never too late to shift gears and work toward delivering a stellar post purchase customer experience.

A well-optimized post purchase experience can:

  • Curb buyer’s remorse
  • Make customers feel good about what they’ve purchased
  • Encourage customers to buy again from your store
  • Differentiate your brand from your competitors

There are several ways to impress customers post-purchase, but we’ll keep it to tips that directly enhance their personal satisfaction. The goal is to create a flywheel effect of more happy customers who write good reviews and advocate your brand’s products to their friends and family members. Those reviews and referrals help push shoppers on edge to purchase, resulting in higher sales and more customers.

Post purchase dissonance examples

Making a return

When customers experience post purchase dissonance, the first thought that comes to their mind is to send the product back to the seller. According to a report by the National Retail Federation and Appriss Retail, an estimated $218 billion in online merchandise was returned in 2021—just over 20% of total online sales. It paints a bleak portrait, especially for eCommerce businesses. But the real cause for concern is this: over 80% of customers won’t come back to your store if they encounter a bad returns experience.

To prevent further post purchase dissonance for customers making a return, ensure you have made it easy for them to access policy information (more on this later) and print return labels. If you’re using Shopify to run your business, check out AfterShip Returns Center—a returns management portal that helps you drive customer satisfaction with prepaid labels, choice of carrier, return status updates, and more.

AfterShip Returns prepaid label
AfterShip Returns prepaid label

Writing a negative review

The modern customer is vocal and doesn’t hesitate to share their experience. So if post purchase dissonance kicks in for any reason, they might leave a negative review about your business. There’s nothing to panic about, though, as bad reviews are just an opportunity to delve deep into what caused the dissatisfaction and regret.

Here’s a fun fact about negative reviews: 82% of consumers who read online reviews specifically look for negative assessments. These people don’t just want to see glowing testimonials—they want opinions from all angles. Negative reviews give them better insight into the product and even raise the odds of them converting by 85 percent (turns out, we’ve been lied to this whole time).  

Ideally, you want to have a realistic mix of positive and negative reviews so people can see the authentic side of your business and develop trust in your brand.

Canceling a subscription

Do you offer a product subscription that many customers sign up for but cancel later? That’s an example of post purchase dissonance, and it can occur for different reasons: no more need for the product, dissatisfaction with its quality, or availability of various alternatives.

One way to reduce dissonance in your subscribers is to offer flexible subscription options. Personal grooming products brand Dollar Shave Club offers three different subscription plans to its customers—along with options to add/remove products and cancel their membership at any time, for example.

Flexible subscriptions reduce post purchase dissonance
Flexible subscriptions reduce post purchase dissonance

By keeping subscriptions flexible, Dollar Shave Club is able to cater different needs of its customers and trigger more membership renewals.

4 tips to reduce post purchase dissonance

Post purchase stress can prevent your customers from returning and spending more with your business. Fortunately, there are several steps you can take to ensure customers are happy and keen to revisit or even advocate for your business. Here are the four best tactics you can use to prevent dissonance post-purchase.

1. Prominently display your return policy

When a customer feels dissatisfied following a purchase, the last thing they want is to jump through hoops to find your return policy. Returns are definitely something you want to avoid, but hiding your policy in fine print only leads to a lack of trust and further dissonance. Remember that more than 80% of shoppers would turn their back on a store after a poor returns experience—and this experience starts with accessing the return policy.

So if you’re going to reduce post purchase dissonance, consider making your return policy more transparent and accessible. You can include links to your policy in several hard-to-miss places throughout your site (homepage, product page, website chat, FAQ page), as well as outline it in the order confirmation email that goes out to the customer.

Take a look at Chubbies’ website:

Chubbies return policy
Chubbies return policy

The online clothing retailer displays its return policy prominently in a few different places, including the website chat. This facilitates the customer and helps foster trust in the business. On the flip side, if the customer struggles to find the return policy, they may regret their decision to buy and label the brand as one to avoid in the future.

2. Be transparent about shipping/package status

Picture this: Tomorrow’s the day when your eCommerce customer finally gets their hands on the item they bought from your online store. They’ve been tracking the package for several days, believing they’ll get it on the agreed delivery date. The day arrives…but the package doesn’t arrive. Their excitement turns into regret as they wonder why they weren’t informed about the delay.

If something like this happens in life, your business would have to face the consequences. 17% of customers will stop buying from an eCommerce store after receiving a late delivery once; 69% are less likely to shop with the store again if their package doesn’t arrive within two days of the promised delivery date. Customers know that shipping delays can happen to the best of merchants, but they frown upon retailers that keep them in the dark about their order’s status.

So if you want to reduce post purchase dissonance, be transparent about your delivery times and any delays affecting the customer’s order.

AfterShip allows you to add a branded order tracking page to your website and send SMS notifications to update customers on their package status. It also sets clear post purchase expectations for your customers by displaying accurate order delivery dates. Communicating specific delivery times and fulfilling them helps improve your brand reputation.

AfterShip delivery date prediction
AfterShip delivery date prediction

Plus, AfterShip has features that let you go beyond the basic transaction email. Merchants can thwart dissonance with well-timed emails featuring product usage instructions/tips. Such post-purchase emails can get customers up and running with their new purchases faster and significantly reduce negative reviews.

You can install the AfterShip Shopify app to get yourself started. AfterShip will automatically sync the shipments created on your store every three hours.

3. Provide all the necessary information

eCommerce businesses deal with two types of customers: those who buy on impulse and those who conduct in-depth research on the product they’re interested in buying. While it’s challenging to reduce dissonance in impulsive buyers, the latter group of customers can be influenced through education and additional resources.

Consider offering detailed information about your products using content assets like product guides and explanatory videos. For inspiration, you can visit some popular stores to see what type of information they’re offering. Check out their product pages, social media pages, blogs, and other digital properties to get ideas for material and presentation.

For example, the hair extensions brand Luxy Hair uses explainer videos, blog articles, and FAQs to prevent post-purchase dissonance.

Luxy hair content assets
Luxy hair content assets

Prospective customers can go through all the information to ensure they’re making an informed purchase. Informed customers are less likely to experience dissonance because they know what they’re buying and what they’ll be getting in return.

4. Find out the reason behind the dissonance

Often, post purchase dissonance is the result of problems that need to be solved. For an eCommerce business, this is actually a good thing; if you can identify and address the root causes of post purchase frustration, you will build genuine loyalty among your customers.

NEWS flash: Identifying the experience gaps that caused the dissonance is easier than you think. You can use feedback tools like customer surveys to learn more about your customers’ expectations. Data from your product returns can also provide a solid picture. Using these insights, you can get actionable ideas for how to reduce post purchase dissonance and better serve your customer base.

Post-purchase customer survey
Post-purchase customer survey

P.S. When using surveys to gather customer insights, you can throw in something extra to incentivize people to share their experience, like Signature Hardware does.

Minimize post purchase regret to grow your revenue

Post-purchase is a very critical time for customers. It’s when they sit back and contemplate whether their decision to purchase was the right one. How you engage and nurture them at this stage will set the tone for whether they regret or feel happy with their choice. =

We hope this post gave you some ideas on how to combat post purchase dissonance. With existing customers spending 31% more on average than new customers, focusing your time and energy on rationalizing their purchases and easing their worries can be a powerful way to drive revenue for your business.