We have all bought things that didn’t turn out to be quite as wonderful as we thought they would be. Maybe it was something small, like a new houseplant. Maybe something big, like a car. Whatever it was, once we saw the flaw, we either learned a lesson or we rationalized our purchase to make it seem like we’re just fine with the choice we made.
Post-Purchase Rationalization is when we choose not to admit that we made a bad decision. Instead we double down on convincing our friends and family – and ourselves, let’s face it – that we’re quite happy with our choice.
If you need a cognitive bias to make you feel better about the poor buying decisions you’re making, post-purchase rationalization is the go-to bias. Of course, if you don’t learn the lesson because you’re too busy denying that your choice was a bad one, you can expect to keep making similar mistakes.
Marketers have all kinds of tricks for triggering your post-purchase rationalization. They are skilled in using it to their advantage to sell you stuff you don’t need, to impress people you don’t know. When you see ads that feature people being thrilled with their purchases, know that you’re being set up.
Every time you’re asked for a review, it is to help create a sense among your contemporaries – strangers or friends — that “this” whatever it is a “must-have” item. Marketers know you’re far less likely to give a bad review simply because post-purchase rationalization makes us all want to white wash our negative experiences. Is it any wonder that the other name for post-purchase rationalization is “Buyer’s Stockholm Syndrome?”
Post-purchase rationalization is particularly strong for things that cost a lot of money. Most people spend time doing some research. After deliberating, the purchase is made. If said choice is then found to be lacking, we are unwilling to admit we didn’t do a good enough job with the research or that we were fooled. So, instead, we insist that we’re fine with whatever piece of crap we’re stuck with.
Since loads of our purchases are made emotionally –you know you like to shop when you feel a little down – we default to things like brand loyalty to justify choices that aren’t serving us well. And if a company is smart enough to send us an email that tells us what a great choice we just made, we’re happy to believe it. So we share our choices on social media further validating our “good” decisions, even when those decisions suck. We are so determined to appear consistent, we actually tell ourselves stories to justify our actions.
Impulse shoppers are the kings and queens of post-purchase rationalization. They turn wants into needs to excuse spending money they don’t have or money destined for another job.
“I was so blue after he broke up with me, I needed a new haircut. I went all in and got a new colour too. I just love it,” they said as they yanked the hat down over their head to cover what was clearly a bad choice.
“All my friends have the new phone so I bought one too. I did a lot of research and am happier with my new phone,” they said as they shove the new phone into their pocket and reach for their old phone to take a picture.
“Yah, I know the other gaming console has way more games available, but I’m really happy just playing this one game that works on my system,” they said as they sighed and turned off the TV.
If you think you’re alone in experiencing buyer’s remorse and the subsequent post-purchase rationalization, you aren’t. Studies have shown that people regret fifty percent of their buying decisions. Ouch! That’s a lot of denial, isn’t it?
If you want to make better buying decisions, you have to be willing to admit when you’ve made a bad one. Instead of convincing yourself that you were right all along, look to how you may have been manipulated so you aren’t manipulated in the same way again. Skip the flash sales, get rid of the daily deal notifications, and use a list whenever you go shopping. If it’s not on the list, don’t buy. And when you do buy and are disappointed, take one for the team: be willing to share your disappointment and save your friends and family from similar mistakes.