Post-purchase, or the period after a shopper has checked out, is enormously important, in part because it costs five times more to attract a new customer than to retain the ones you already have. 

Here’s the reality: 90% of customers have kept at least one item they actually wanted to return. Those customers almost certainly experienced post-purchase dissonance—in other words, dissatisfaction with their purchase.

Learn more about The Future of Shopper Experience.

Brands should focus on reducing post-purchase dissonance in order to prevent the returning of a product (saving you time and money). Reducing post-purchase dissonance can also build loyalty (happy shoppers buy more and buy often) and strengthen your brand overall (good experience = good reviews).

In this blog, we’ll cover the following:

  • What is post-purchase cognitive dissonance?
  • Post-purchase dissonance examples
  • How do shoppers reduce post-purchase dissonance?
  • How to reduce post-purchase dissonance

What is post-purchase cognitive dissonance?

Post-purchase dissonance refers to your shopper’s level of dissatisfaction after buying a product or service from your retail or online store. If your shopper feels the quality of the product fails to meet expectations, they may become regretful. They may even take steps toward getting a refund.

Post-purchase dissonance can stem from a variety of reasons. Not all of them are your fault, but the end outcome is that the customer regrets their decision.

Some common causes of post-purchase dissonance include:

  • The product quality doesn’t match expectations
    Remember how Fyre Festival promised luxe glamping tents, exciting musical acts, and a multi-day party on an all-inclusive island getaway — and the reality turned out to be wet mattresses on the ground, a couple of local musicians, and thousands of irate guests? Hopefully, your brand has never missed the mark as badly as that, but customers are likely to face buyer’s remorse on a smaller scale any time they feel that the product doesn’t match what was advertised. Make sure that you’re not making false claims about results, or including misleading descriptions or photographs that are likely to make buyers feel scammed.
  • The purchase was an impulse buy
    Marketing campaigns that rely on a false sense of urgency (“Act now – only 3 in stock!”) may lure customers in, only to frustrate them when they realize they’ve been misled. Or a customer might purchase a product at an advertised deep discount, only to find out that typical pricing is far below the MSRP anyway. Impulse buys can also be triggered by the shopper’s own mindset at the time of purchase — if they are upset or under the influence of drugs or alcohol, for example, they’re more likely to buy products that they wouldn’t have considered with a clear head.
  • They can find a similar product for a better price
    If the shopper discovers after purchase that they could have purchased a similar quality product for a lower price, they’re likely to experience buyer’s remorse and wish that they had shopped there instead. That’s also the case if your brand offers a deep discount on a product after the customer has already purchased it — so to ensure a positive customer experience, it may be worth offering a price-matching guarantee that will refund customers the difference in price for promotions if they’ve purchased it at a higher price within a certain window of time.
  • The product doesn’t work for them
    In many cases, there’s nothing actually wrong with a product — it just isn’t the right fit for that shopper, whether literally or figuratively. Maybe a pair of shoes is half a size too small, or a table doesn’t fit in the dining room the way that the shopper had envisioned. In this case, the problem isn’t your brand’s fault, but it’s still important that you provide a good post-purchase experience to shoppers, and consider how to improve your product or fit going forward.

For most brands, dissonance could occur any time after purchase until the end of the return policy window. But according to post-purchase dissonance theory, shoppers feel the effects of post-purchase dissonance long after that. Fail to address it, and you could end up with a bunch of one-off shoppers. Prioritize it, and you could end up with loyal customers for life.

Read more: How is shopper behavior changing in 2023?

How to reduce post-purchase dissonance

A true evaluation of the post-purchase decision-making process can give brands a ton of insight. To help you squash customer dissonance fast, we’ve narrowed it down to these six concepts:

1. Build trust through transparency

When people buy something online, at minimum, they expect to get an email with two pieces of information: confirmation of their order and when it will arrive. If the product shipment is delayed, communicate the change to your customer immediately. If possible, they should have access to track their shipment in real-time through your carrier.

Bottom line: Failure to nail your transactional emails could make shoppers feel confused, frustrated, and immediately regretful. If you haven’t put time into optimizing this batch of emails, do this first.

2. Have a post-purchase email flow

Transactional emails are one thing, but they’re really just a small part of the post-purchase experience. What you really want is a comprehensive post-purchase email flow—one that could last long after your shopper has received the product or purchased it at a retail store.

For example, if a customer has purchased a skincare regime from your ecommerce shop or retail store, you can create an email flow that begins when the customers’ items have arrived, with short, daily messages that give them tips on how to effectively use the products. You can ask for feedback on the products to ensure that the shopper is happy with the purchase — and provide them with personalized feedback for a better experience if they aren’t.

Bottom line: Just like shoppers expect transactional emails, it won’t be long before shoppers expect a much more personalized post-purchase experience.

3. Don’t hide your return policy

Put yourself in your shopper’s shoes for a moment. What could they be feeling if your return policy is vague and hard to find? Do you think that’s going to instill confidence? Or will it lead them down the slippery slope towards post-purchase dissonance?

Confidence is an infectious quality across the entire human condition—and it absolutely doesn’t stop at ecommerce. Proudly displaying your return policy on a dedicated page—that you link to often—is the perfect way to say, “we believe in our products and so should you.”

Bottom line: Think long-term. If you stand by your products, shoppers will stand by your brand.


4. Figure out what’s causing post-purchase dissonance

If your goal is to reduce post-purchase dissonance, insights from your product return exchanges can be a goldmine. Using that data, you can get actionable ideas on how to improve product and product descriptions. If people get what they are expecting, they’ll be happier.

A zoomed-out look at all the data can really help brands fine-tune the customer experience, but don’t be afraid to zoom in as well. You can drill down to find out which products are being returned most frequently, and why — using the data to help you optimize your customer journey and your product offerings.

Bottom line: Consider data from all streams to help make the post-purchase customer experience a win for all customers.

5. Maximize the unboxing experience

While a customer may be dissatisfied with a product, you can still ensure that they have a positive experience with your brand.

When it comes to product returns, your brand should make the process of returning items as friction-free as possible. Give customers access to a self-service portal, like Loop, where they can initiate their own returns and get instant access to their store credit, which they can apply to an exchange if they like. This approach keeps customer retention high and helps you retain more revenue, while giving your shoppers the flexibility to choose the right solution for them.

Bottom line: A delightful returns experience will encourage customers to keep your brand top of mind in the future.

By now it should be clear: there are endless ways that brands can prevent post-purchase dissonance. Through understanding how it occurs and creating an info-backed strategy, you can convert bad experiences into a winning part of your overall customer retention strategy.Want to ensure customer retention after a return? Get in touch for a Loop demo today.