Buyer’s Remorse

by Harley Therapy
Reviewed by Dr Sheri Jacobson

Picture the scene - you’re walking through a shopping centre, casually glancing at the window displays - then the item hits you - it's so perfect you just have to buy it. But instead of feeling satisfied with your purchase you feel a sense of guilt. This experience is termed buyer’s remorse.

Psychologists explain buyer’s remorse as case of cognitive dissonance. This is when our expectations of a situation do not meet the final outcome.

So for example, in this scenario you were hoping those new shoes would bring you joy, however you ended up worrying about the price. Humans are naturally wired to question their decisions. This is a part of our self-control mechanism meant to protect us against making the wrong choice which could bring us harm. With buyer’s remorse often connected to an impulsive purchase, we haven’t had the time to weigh up the pros and cons - hence the subsequent regret.

A combination of three factors can predict buyer’s remorse: effort, commitment and responsibility. Effort refers to all the resources invested in the purchase (e.g. time, money) and is directly linked to its importance and the rewards it brings us. If we have invested a lot but got very little in return, guilt is likely to occur.

Surprisingly the opposite has been found with commitment. This feature refers to continuing of an action. So for example, if we bought an expensive car, we are committed because now we have to use it often for long durations of time. This might sound counterintuitive, since we are using it often we should feel we get the value of the money back and shouldn’t feel blame. But perhaps because we use the car regularly we are constant reminded of the high investment.

Finally, the responsibility refers to how much free will we had when making the purchase. For example a buyer may have had to buy a new laptop because their old one had broken and they needed it for work, therefore they might feel less guilty.

It is important to know buyer’s remorse is a normal behaviour and should not be confused with shopaholism. However, if you feel regret after every purchase there are some simple tips you can follow to avoid that guilty feeling:

1. Give yourself time to think. Look through all the offers and possibilities before buying. This way you will make an informed choice and feel more satisfied with your decision.

2. Try not to buy anything under the influence of other people or current trends. The more aware you are of what you are buying and why you are buying it, the less likely you are to doubt your choice.

3. Finally, try to budget. It will help you to buy only the things you need and not splurge on unnecessary things. But remember it is ok to treat yourself every once in a while.

If you think that your behaviour is more than buyer's remorse and in fact might be addictive, you can talk this through with a therapist. Find one here.

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