We've all been there. Though it seemed like a good idea at the time, our purchase of a major item doesn't bring the satisfaction we thought it would once we got it home. A huge case of "buyer's remorse" sets in.

A researcher at Kansas State University has studied buyer's remorse, and says the best way to avoid it is to make some mental effort, performing researching, gathering opinions and exploring options before making the final decision. Using websites like ConsumerAffairs.com, for example, can provide data with which to weigh that crucial buying decision.

Research by Jisook "April" Park, a Kansas State University doctoral candidate in psychology, studied consumer decision-making strategies to better understand the causes and remedies for post-purchase regret.

What causes regret?

"Regret is very interesting to me compared to any other negative emotion because it's based on how you think," Park said. "If you don't think about those 'what if' situations, you aren't really going to experience regret. People experience regret because they think about the past and what they could have done."

Consumer reviews posted at ConsumerAffairs.com often display a "if I had only known" tone, regardless of the product or service in question. All too often, consumers like Denease, of Coral Gables, Fla., upset at the performance of her new refrigerator, don't turn to the Web until after the buyer's remorse has set in.

"So that is when I decided to look online for help and boy, did the complaints come up," she said. "I've never seen so many complaints about one particular product. It seems I am at the beginning of the journey."

Two kinds of remorse

But that's just one aspect of remorse. For her research, Park differentiated regret from dissatisfaction or discomfort after buying an item. She sees two aspects of purchase-related regret: "I should not have bought this" and "I should have bought this."

To explore post-purchase regret, Park performed two types of studies that involved more than 250 K-State students.

In the first study, Park gave participants two types of decision-making situations. In one, students had to choose between two laptops and the other situation involved choosing between two pairs of jeans.

Participants had to use different levels of cognitive effort -- or different amounts of research -- to choose between the two. Based on this study, Park found that participants experienced less regret when more cognitive effort was invested and when a pair of jeans was purchased rather than a laptop.

Online and in-store purchases

Park also added online and in-store purchase factors to her first study, and told participants that two weeks after buying the laptop or jeans, they saw the same item either online or in stores for a cheaper price.

She found that participants experienced more regret if they bought an item online and later found it cheaper in stores than if they bought an item in stores and later found it cheaper online.

"Buying something in stores has different aspects," Park said. "You can actually feel and experience an item in stores and the emotions associated with touch are a very important decision factor. That's why we think online shoppers try to read comments of other buyers because they're trying to compensate for the fact that they can't touch a product in an online store."

While conducting research into a purchase can help reduce regret, there is no one-size-fits-all amount of cognitive effort to practice in order to reduce post-purchase regret, Park said. It varies for each person and situation.

"You have to make sure that the amount of effort that you put forth is justifiable to you," Park said. "If you're satisfied with the amount of effort that you have put in, then you are less likely to experience regret."