Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Buyer's Remorse (and how to avoid it)

Shopping. It is a past time that divides people into those who see it as a treat and those who regard it as a chore. Without doubt, I fall into the former category, and find it possible to dedicate entire days to the sport. Fiance, however, is a member of the latter persuasion and stubbornly refuses to be dragged out of it, despite my attempts to convince him otherwise.

It takes all my powers of persuasion, and Fiance to be in distinct need of an item, before he will willingly agree to accompany me on a shopping trip, and even then he will only concede to a fleeting meeting with the wondrous goods on offer. I have come to accept that this will always be the case (although I will always endeavour to change his mind - persistence may win out in the end). 

Since I started working full time again, it transpires that the majority of my shopping trips are now restricted to hour long bursts at lunchtime. Fortunately, there is a big shopping centre within a 10 minute drive from the office, so I get to satisfy my purchase cravings pretty easily and as regularly as I like. Unfortunately, an hour long shopping burst for me is the equivalent of an amuse-bouche - a mouth-wetter, something to build up your appetite for more - which often leaves me feeling like I have been denied a potentially wonderful opportunity. Who knows what could have been waiting in that shop I didn't have time to check out?

This reminds me somewhat of an article I read last week - a BBC Magazine piece entitled 'The Strange Psychology of Panic Buying' by . Reading it was like knowing that someone had shone a torch into my head and written down my precise thoughts and actions during any given shopping trip. For example:

"Most shoppers attach greater significance to potential loss - missing out on a bargain - than they do to a reward like having bought something that was needed. The purchaser thinks if they don't buy the item at that instant they might miss out entirely"

So, so true. The one winning argument I know I can fall back on when I'm trying to convince myself to buy a particular (un-needed) item is that "I may never have the opportunity to own this quite nice item at this price ever again. Could I live with myself if I walked away? Unlikely. That's it, random item - you are mine. I am buying you".

Take today for example, when I went on a lunchtime jaunt to Debenhams to see if there was anything I could spend the rest of my Christmas gift card on. I was delighted to find the end of the sale had gotten even better as it started to invite willing customers to buy one item and to get one free. Bloody brilliant. I was totally willing.

This is where my cunning started to kick in - if I found one item I liked, I needed to make sure I could find a second item of comparable value, so as to make the most of the deal. It was, without doubt, the best time to look at the more expensive items - available to me at a knock down price, with double the fun at no extra cost.

This is a most appropriate point to bring in another quote from the Beeb's article:

"...when an item is discounted, consumers focus on the discount as opposed to the actual price of the good, even if the ticket price is still high, says Dr Denison. "You're thinking 'this is a bargain' rather than 'this costs £100'.""


When contemplating a reduced item, I will always compare the original price with the one I am being asked to part with. I can unscientifically confirm that the chance of me making a purchase is exponentially related to the distance between the starting and the current figure, even if the current figure is much higher than I had intended to spend in the first place.

Obviously, whether I need the item or not is completely irrelevant.

This is why I ended up taking three coats, a dress and three tops into the changing room with me this lunchtime. I don't need coats. I have a wardrobe's worth of coats, most of which are ignored as I consistently elect to wear one of a favoured few. However, when coats are reduced and on a buy one get one free offer, then all of a sudden I do need coats, mainly because TWO COATS FOR £50 IS AWESOME. The same can be said for each of the other items I had lugged along with me.

This is where the final point from the article becomes significant. Here's Dr Denison again:

"But if a shopper hasn't gone through a rational process because of time constraints or other elements of stress, they may feel guilt or anxiety, referred to as "buyer's remorse"."

Now, I wouldn't go so far as to say I have suffered anxiety after buying myself something nice, but I have definitely returned home with an impulse buy and a nagging question about whether I really needed it, a flicker of guilt making its presence known at the edge of my conscious. Oh yes, I know this "buyer's remorse" and I do not like it.

So, to avoid experiencing it, I deployed my (slightly irrational) attempt at a rational process strategy as soon as I entered the store today - by which I mean I decided to pick up all manner of goods, try them on, and if they looked good, they would be mine. The key to success was not caring for suitability - the dress was dry clean only, the BOGOF item to go with it was a handwash only jumper (I don't often do trips to the dry cleaners, and I don't think I have ever handwashed an item), one coat had a small pull in the sleeve, another was two sizes too big (but to give me credit - it looked small on the hanger) and one of the tops was two sizes too small.

In a way, I had transferred the responsibility of decision making to Fate - and I wasn't prepared to feel guilty about owning something that I wanted and that happened looked good on me. I mean, what am I meant to do when an item that should be too small for me actually looks so totally awesome that it would be a crime to not make a purchase?

The beauty of this simple approach is that it works both ways and left me in a win-win situation - when I saw that two of the coats buried me, and that the dress was baggy round the hips, I said goodbye to them and walked happily away from the store with two tops (that cost me a grand total of £6.60), knowing that I had got a bargain and that I hadn't spent money on things that didn't look right.

The fact I left more things behind than I purchased was a psychological plus too - especially because I knew all along that the one thing I needed less than coats was tops.


  1. I discovered your blog through a google alert, and I really like your post. I'm glad you enjoyed the article so much. I had a lot of fun writing it and could relate to everything the interviewee said too!

  2. Really glad you liked the post! Thank you for taking the time to let me know - and for providing such an interesting article for me to blog about in the first place. It certainly struck a chord!

    Meanwhile, Fiance has just read both post and article - after which he confirmed that shopping should be treated as a practical matter and he doesn't understand how anyone can approach it with such a slap-dash attitude! This is probably why he won't go shopping with me...