How to Reduce Post-Purchase Dissonance

Updated: April 16, 2024

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Published: April 12, 2024

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12 mins read

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 to a luxury automobile. And it’s hard to tell when it will strike. As an eCommerce merchant, you must be prepared to tackle it, as it can quickly turn customers away from your business. Understanding the post-purchase evaluation stage is just as important to customer retention as any other element of consumer behavior.

In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about post-purchase dissonance from the standpoint of building customer loyalty and generating future sales. 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 describes the negative feelings of your customers after they make a purchase decision. These feelings may include feelings of regret (often called buyer's remorse) about whether or not they've made the right decision at the end of the day.

High-ticket purchases, lack of trust in merchants, and anxiety around delivery can all contribute to this psychological phenomenon. Post-purchase dissonance is highly prevalent in the online shopping world, where consumer trust is never a given. Yet, only the canniest retailers know how it can impact their business and take steps to understand.

So, let’s begin by defining the term… eCommerce 101 style.

Post-purchase dissonance definition

Post-purchase dissonance commonly results from cognitive dissonance, which psychologists define as a period of mental discomfort caused by conflicting beliefs and attitudes. After a purchase, often this involves your customerss comfort level and can determine whether or not they initiate a return process or end up happy with their purchase.

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

  • Customers feel the quality of the product doesn’t match their expectations. ("Strange how these hand-made Nordic socks came from a factory in Asia.")
  • Customers buy impulsively without doing any research. ("I accidentally bought a Porsche on TikTok Shop. Dad is gonna kill me.")
  • Buyers find another product having seemingly better features and a better deal
  • A competitor promises better after-sales service.
  • Customers find a review that makes them doubt the credibility of your business.
  • The shipping process is opaque, creating a great deal of anxiety.

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

Why post-purchase dissonance matters for eCommerce merchants

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 consider the post-purchase part of the buying experience.

The good news is it’s never too late to shift gears and work toward delivering a stellar post-purchase customer experience. Things like proactive customer service and communication, comprehensive information about products and processes (including a returns policy), and clear pathways for collection of customer feedback are all simple, practical ways of boosting customer retention rates.

A well-optimized post-purchase experience will:

  • Curb buyer’s remorse by ensuring the product matches the consumer's expectations;
  • Make customers feel good about what they’ve purchased;
  • Encourage customers to buy again from your store (or even advocate for you);
  • Differentiate your brand from competitors who aren't smart enough to read this post.

As I mentioned above, there are several ways to impress customers post-purchase, but we’ll keep it to tips that directly enhance their satisfaction. The goal is to create a flywheel effect of more happy customers who write good reviews and advocate for 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, for example 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. (If your brand does a lot of social media listening, you likely know this already!) So, if post-purchase dissonance kicks in for any reason, they might leave a negative review about your business that can stop potential buyers. 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 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 more 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 can cater to the 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 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) and outline it in the order confirmation email that goes out to the customer. Even if you lose revenue in the short term due to returns, you're creating a positive customer experience than might lead to future purchases or recommendations to friends and family.

Take a look at Chubbies’ website:

Chubbies return policy
Chubbies return policy

The online clothing retailer displays its return policy prominently in several 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 eComm 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, your business will 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, 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 customer expectations 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 introductory 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 impulsively 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. By helping them to make informed decisions, you may lose a FOMO-driven customer or two--but those experiences were likely to turn into returns anyay.

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 review 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 get in return.

4. Find out the reason behind the dissonance

Often, post-purchase dissonance results from problems that need to be solved. For an eCommerce business, this is a good thing; if you can identify and address the root causes of post-purchase frustration, you will build genuine loyalty among your customers. Thorough market research can help you here, but so can simply post-purchase surveys after the transaction.

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 add something extra to incentivize people to share their experience, as 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. It's the moment that brand loyalty is born. How you engage and nurture your customers 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 combatting 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 eCommerce business.

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