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 & money). Reducing post-purchase dissonance can also beef up your retention strategy (happy shoppers buy more & buy often) and strengthen your brand overall (good experience = good reviews + more).

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 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.

In his highly recommended book, Never Lose a Customer Again, ecommerce whiz Joey Coleman talks about the 8 phases of customer experience—most of which take place after purchase. Joey goes into great detail in his book, but those looking for the TL;DR breakdown should check out our podcast episode with Joey.

The sad truth is that a majority of brands are focused squarely on the decision process leading up to purchase. At Loop, we think everything that happens after your shoppers make a purchase is just as important. That’s why we analyzed more than 300 brands and over 2 million returns to create our ecommerce returns benchmark report.

Post-purchase dissonance examples

Here’s how post-purchase dissonance could pop up in the post-purchase customer experience:

  • Shoppers may find a new review or source of info that sours them on the product.
  • A buyer may find another product with a better price or value for money.
  • The shopper becomes disappointed with the product after finding it doesn’t do what they wanted it to.

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 do shoppers reduce post-purchase dissonance?

Here’s something: shoppers are actually keen on reducing post-purchase dissonance themselves. And why not? No one wants to feel bad about something they bought.

There are a lot of ways shoppers try to avoid dissonance. They read reviews & blog articles. Reference the experts. Check social media. In fact, recent studies suggest that 79% of shoppers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations from friends or family.

While shoppers do a lot to prevent pos-purchase dissonance on their own, it’s still up to brands to manage it within the post-purchase customer experience.

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. Nail your transactional emails 

When people buy something, at minimum, they expect to get an email with two pieces of information: confirmation of their order and when it will arrive.

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.

The average shopper expects to be told when their purchase may arrive. But they may not expect to receive an email with product tips the day before they receive it.

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.

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

Shopping online has been said to give shoppers a high. Customer experience pro Joey Coleman takes it a step further. He says that a carefully crafted unboxing experience “has the potential to be another dopamine rush.”

The unboxing experience is about a lot more than giving shoppers what they expect. Consider Apple. They invest heavily in the unboxing process for just this reason. 

Anyone who’s ever bought an Apple product knows this: the packaging, the smell… even the sound of the box opening – all of it is carefully constructed to maximize that dopamine rush at the moment of unboxing.

And if that seems like an extremely high bar, consider this: most brands aren’t doing anything to enhance the unboxing experience at all. That means a little can go a long way.

By now it should be clear: there are endless ways that brands can prevent post-purchase dissonance. Through understanding how it occurs & creating an info-backed strategy, you can convert bad experiences into a winning part of your overall customer retention strategy.

To take your post-purchase experience to the next level, book some time with our team.