Buyer's remorse can be a terrible thing. At the time, the purchase of something – a sailboat or a new top of the line vacuum cleaner – seemed like a wonderful idea. But after a day goes by, you have a “what was I thinking?” moment.
Buyer's remorse often results after making a hasty decision, and sometimes with some added sales pressure. Usually there are ways to rectify the situation. In the most common example, you buy something at a store and, by the time you get it home, realize it was a mistake.
If you haven't opened the packaging you can probably return it and get a full refund. Most stores have policies allowing customers to return items that are the wrong size or color, or if the consumer just has a case of buyer's remorse.
Psychologists have looked at buyer's remorse scientifically, hoping to find ways consumers can avoid it. Researchers writing in the Journal of Consumer Research suggest there is a reason that consumers tend to suffer buyer's remorse more for expensive items than for cheaper ones – and it really doesn't have that much to do with the money spent. Rather, for an expensive, complex item – like a feature-laden big-screen TV – we perceive more value than there really is.
"We propose that when making an immediate decision between complexity and convenience, consumers believe that products with more features and functions represent higher value, even if the complex product might lead to more confusion over time," write authors Kelly Kiyeon Lee, of Washington University in St. Louis, and Min Zhao, of the University of Toronto.
Lee and Zhao use the example of two versions of photo-editing software, purchased for the specific purpose of creating a photo album two months from now. The choices include a more expensive program with a full range of image-editing features that is difficult to learn and use and a cheaper program that features a simple user-interface and easy installation but has fewer image-editing features.
The researchers argue that because the software will be used in the future, the consumer focuses on the features and not the steep learning curve. But when the time comes to start work, the consumer begins second-guessing the decision.
Lee and Zhao spent four years on the study, conducting a range of experiments that involved the trade-offs between complex and convenient products. They found that in almost all cases, consumers chose products with more features and options, even though they were more expensive and might be hard to use – a situation often leading to a bad case of buyer's remorse.
Think before you buy
To avoid buyer's remorse, keep the research done by Lee and Zhao in mind. Ask yourself how practical the purchase is to your need and whether the expense is justified.
There are legal provisions for some purchases that give consumers a “cooling off” period to change their mind when they realize they've made a mistake. These laws are usually limited to situations where there is typically a lot of sales pressure.
Timeshare sales provide a perfect example. That situation has generated plenty of buyer's remorse over the years. Fortunately, states have passed laws giving consumers time to rescind their buying decision. States have different cooling off periods but they typically run between three and 15 days.
Health club memberships provide another example where consumers sometimes get talked into an expensive membership before they have given it adequate thought. Most states have now passed consumer protection laws specific to health club memberships, giving consumers three to 15 days to change their mind.
The Federal Trade Commission Rule applies to purchases made by door-to-door salesmen, another situation that produces a lot of buyer's remorse. Passed in 1972, the rule gives consumers the right to cancel a sale made in their home if they do so within three days.
Currently, the Rule provides that it is unfair and deceptive for sellers engaged in door-to-door sales valued at more than $25 – the amount is being increased to $130 -- to fail to provide consumers with disclosures regarding their right to cancel the sales contract within three business days of the transaction.