Post Purchase Dissonance: What is it & How to Reduce it (2023)

Have you ever made an online purchase and then immediately felt a twinge of uncertainty? 

That feeling is what’s known as post-purchase dissonance.

As a retailer, post-purchase dissonance can be a real headache. When customers regret their purchase, your returns increase, your repeat customer rate drops, and your bottom line suffers.

The good news is that post-purchase dissonance is treatable. With a few simple strategies you can reduce buyers remorse and transform dissatisfaction into dollars. 

In this article you’ll learn:

  • What post purchase dissonance is
  • Why post purchase dissonance matters
  • How to figure out what’s causing post-purchase dissonance 
  • 6 proven strategies to reduce post purchase

Sounds good? Let’s jump in!

What is Post Purchase Dissonance?

Despite post-purchase dissonance's widespread nature, many retailers struggle to define it. So let’s start with the basics and define what post-purchase dissonance is.

Post-Purchase Dissonance Definition

Post-purchase dissonance refers to the level of dissatisfaction customers feel after buying from your online store. 

Each customer is unique, and there are various reasons why they might regret their decision. 

Post-purchase dissonance theory states that it can occur at any point in the post-purchase journey, from the 'purchase' click to the end of your return policy window.

However, in our experience, it’s possible for shoppers to experience post-purchase dissonance long after that, often unbeknownst to retailers.

Post-Purchase Dissonance Examples

Post purchase dissonance can happen for various reasons. But let’s quickly look at a few examples of the most common reasons that sour post-purchase customer sentiment:

  • Finding a better deal elsewhere after buying
  • Reading a negative review about the product
  • The product not meeting expectations
  • Concerns about the trustworthiness of your business
  • Unexpectedly long shipping times

It’s also important to understand that this sense of remorse is not binary. Customers may be anything from mildly regretful to extremely dissatisfied. Our goal as online sellers is to reduce all levels of dissonance.

Why Post-Purchase Dissonance Matters?

According to a Shopify report, brands are losing a record average of $29 for every customer they acquire - a 222% increase in the last eight years. 

Aside from steep customer acquisition costs, returns take a lot of the blame. Customers return 20–30% of online purchases, compared to only 8–10% of in-store purchases.

High levels of post-purchase dissonance damage your bottom line by lowering your customer retention.

See, disgruntled customers are unlikely to become repeat customers. And with acquisition costs on the rise, repeat customers are where the real profit is.

As retention expert Joey Coleman says in his acclaimed book Never Lose a Customer Again “Across a wide range of industries, a 5% improvement in customer retention rates will yield a 25-100% increase in profits.”

Despite how expensive acquisition has become, most eCommerce brands are heavily-focused on influencing pre-purchase decision making. Once a customer buys, everything else is an afterthought.

But reducing negative emotions post-purchase is essential to boosting your retention rate

Seriously, you’ve already done the hard work to acquire them, and selling to them again is comparatively way easier than to other new customers. So it’s a shame to allow post-purchase dissonance to dash the chances of them returning.

And given that the data reports that 90% of customers have held onto at least one they wanted to return, the scale of profit loss caused by post-purchase dissonance may be larger than your estimations.

So, how do we go about optimizing the post-purchase experience? What practical steps can you take to reduce remorse, slash returns, boost retention, and make more money?

Let’s keep going to find out.

How to Reduce Post-Purchase Dissonance

If you want to create a loyal base of repeat buyers, you have to focus on the post-purchase experience. The following tactics will help you identify and reduce the chances of customer’s regretting their purchase.

1. Find out what’s causing post-purchase dissonance

Since your business is unique, it’s wise to identify what’s most likely causing dissonance in your store. This seems obvious, but isolating the most likely causes allows you to target them which means you’re more likely to incest in stratgies that’ll deliver results.

One useful strategy to find out what irks your customers is to use post-purchase surveys. We recommend deploying three types of surveys:

  • Thank you page surveys
  • Post-purchase email surveys
  • Surveys on your return forms

This three-pronged approach helps capture relevant data when customers are most likely to experience post-purchase dissonance. 

post purchase surveys are a great way to find the source of your store's post-purchase dissonance
Bellroy uses the net promoter score to gauge customer satisfaction

For example, if the most common ‘reason for return’ is ‘clothing item was too big’ - you probably should review your sizing charts, install a find-my-size app, and include the body measurements of the models in your photos.

Post-purchase surveys don’t only provide insight into the root causes of post-purchase dissonance, but they also allow you to benchmark your current level of dissatisfaction. With this data, you can assess the impact of your strategy to reduce it and track changes over time.

2. Customize your order confirmation page

Your order confirmation page is the first port of contact with new customers. So it’s a shame that most retailers fail to optimize this part of the post-purchase experience. 

Using an app like ReConvert, you can add widgets that reinforce positive emotions, at the moment when dissonance is most likely to fester. For example, you could add reviews or testimonials from happy customers to offset doubts. You could include a video welcoming customers to the brand, and what to expect next.

Plant retailer Feey used ReConvert to add triggered videos to their order confirmation page. Depending on the customer’s order history and product ordered, they served shoppers personalized content.

So for example, first time customers got a thank you from the founder, along with tips on how to care for their new purchase.

You can also use your thank you page to surprise repeat customers with free gifts or store credit. Or, as mentioned above, you can deploy post-purchase surveys to understand almost anything about the shopping experience, while it’s still fresh in the customer’s mind.

3. Create a post-purchase email flow

Transactional emails are essential. However, they’re not sufficient to reduce post-purchase dissonance. A better approach is to create a series of emails that reinforce your customer’s purchasing decision.

Shoppers expect order confirmation emails and shipping updates. But they may not expect to get product tips before their order arrives. 

It's a great opportunity to move customers closer to your brand. For example, you could send customers your best blog content. Especially, if it’s relevant to their order.

For example, suppose someone orders a cast iron pan from your store. Imagine how impressed they’d be if you sent them a blog post detailing how to season their pan for longevity.

Similarly, it’s good practice to create  a follow-up email after the customer receives their order.A follow-up email is an opportunity to let customers know you care about them, and also a chance to ask for a product review. 

And as we know, product reviews are great for boosting conversions and reducing regretful feelings.

Ultimately, post-purchase flows can delight shoppers, manage their expectations, and subtly wash-away any creeping post-purchase dissonance.

4. Re-think your return policy

Many retailers view eCommerce returns as a cumbersome hit on their bottom line. Often, making customers jump through hoops to return an unwanted item.  

But put yourself in your customers shoes. How would you feel if you ordered an item, and it wasn’t what you’d hoped, and now it’s very difficult to get a refund? 

Strict return policies, or worse hidden return policies, are a one-way ticket to dissonance-city. Seriously, data shows nearly 80% of online shoppers are less likely to shop from the same retailer again due to a poor returns experience.

post purchase dissonance and returns are closely linked
Allbirds have a great returns policy that insitlls shopper confidence

That said, an overly-lenient returns policy may end up costing you a fortune. So it’s about finding a reasonable middle-ground. A policy that’s fair for both you and your customers.

In general, returns are better viewed as an opportunity to flip a negative customer experience into a positive one.

A generous returns policy that's easy to find gives shoppers the confidence to buy. It communicates that you trust your customers, and that your products are high-quality.

Big brands like Target and Walmart now allow their customers to keep small returns. But for many businesses, a refund-only approach such as this is not cost effective.

Craft your returns policy so it strikes the balance between fostering brand loyalty, without eating into your revenue. Remember, the long-term gains in brand loyalty outweigh the immediate savings of an overly strict returns policy.

Pro Tip: The available evidence suggests that longer returns windows (e.g. 60 days) only slightly increase the return rate. Over 80% of  returns are within the first 14 days, regardless of the length of the policy.

5. Respond to negative reviews

A whopping 93% of consumers read online reviews when making a purchase. And there’s nothing that’ll kick dissonance into overdrive than reading a bas review after a customer buys something.

Bad reviews are inevitable. But responding well is an opportunity to showcase how much you care about your customers. In fact, 56% of consumers have changed their opinion about a business because of a response that the business gave for a review.

The key takeaway is this: respond to negative reviews before they drive your customers away. 

Doing so improves consumer perception, and makes it more likely that customer’s feel like they’re making the right purchasing decision.

It’s also worthwhile responding to positive and neutral reviews too. It’s a public log that should reinforce the things customers love about your brand.

6. Invest in your unboxing experience

As a digital retailer, you have fewer touchpoints to wow your customers versus brick and mortar stores.

Think about it; the unboxing experience is the first time customers physically come into contact with your products. 

So, it’s the perfect opportunity to tell your brand story, build loyalty, encourage social shares, and reduce post-purchase dissonance. 

D2C supplement brand heights use unboxing as an extension of thier brand

If you’ve ever unboxed an iPhone, you know how much time and effort Apple invests in the experience. 

Everything from the excitement-building slow slip of the box lid, to the satisfying ‘pop’ as you remove the phone from the box is designed to reinforce that you’ve made the best purchasing decision possible.

Now, you don’t have to go to such extreme lengths. Since most brands do nothing, even a tiny amount of effort can go a long way.

Obviously, your unboxing strategy depends on your brand and what you’re selling. But for example, suppose you sell guitars. Including a handwritten thank you note and a free set of strings is going to leave a serious impression on customers.

Unboxing alone may not be enough to offset serious customer gripes, but it certainly helps to build loyalty when it’s deployed along with the other strategies in this post.

Reduce Post Purchase Dissonance Today!

The most important thing to understand about post-purchase dissonance is that the sale doesn't end with the sale. In fact, the sale is just the start of your relationship.

Just as with personal relationships, if you don’t invest time and effort to make them worthwhile, they’ll eventually wither and die.

And with the costs of customer acquisition on the rise, building solid customer relationships is the best long-term growth strategy. 

Start by gauging your customers' level of contentment after they buy something. Scour your help desk and return data to find out where the most likely source of discontent is coming from. Then take steps to address it, measuring as you go to assess the level of impact.

Minimizing post-purchase dissonance is an integral part of your overall retention strategy. Use the tactics in this article to drive more customer happiness, and ultimately more sales in the long-term for your brand.

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