The Simple Way To Minimize Buyer’s Remorse


Guest post by John Carvalho

closed menuWho hasn’t had buyer’s remorse? That post-purchase anxiety about a decision is all too common. Did we pick wisely? Should we have spent more? Or less? What about the item we could have bought but didn’t – once we make a decision, the “grass is greener” effect kicks in and we question our choice.

The good news is that scientists studying “choice closure” have found that encouraging specific post-purchase behaviors can minimize buyer’s remorse and maximize satisfaction with the decision.

Closing the Menu

A study that will appear in the Journal of Consumer Research examined behavior in a restaurant setting. It found that the very act of closing the menu and returning it increased the customer’s eventual satisfaction with their food choice. Why did this physical act of simply removing other choices from view increase choice satisfaction? Let’s back up for a second and consider a powerful quirk of human behavior.

Heavy Metaphors

Current research on metaphor and cognition has suggested that people understand and experience abstract concepts through concrete physical experience. For example, holding a heavy object can actually signal related conceptual knowledge around touch and weight. Because weight and seriousness are metaphorically connected, rating the same job applicant’s resume while it’s attached to a heavier clipboard actually cues a more serious (“weightier”) perception of that applicant. Essentially, we find a similar idea to hold true here in the decision-making process. Physically “closing off” a choice allows us to feel emotional closure.

This is easy enough to enable if you are running a restaurant – don’t leave menu cards on the table. Instead, use folder-style menus that will be closed and collected.

Achieving Closure

But what if your business is online? How can you create a purchase experience that allows customers to feel that their decision to purchase has been completed? Could a shopping site show customers with their recently viewed (but not purchased) items and have them consciously click through and discard them as a final step before paying? Abandoned shopping carts are the scourge of ecommerce sites – would this approach increase or decrease orders that are never finished? It’s another step (never a good thing in a sales funnel), but it might reduce hesitancy to complete the order process.

During an in-person sales pitch, could physically removing objections/alternatives from view once they’ve been eliminated facilitate a successful close?

Resolving the Paradox of Choice

The range of choices to offer customers remains a challenge for marketers. On one hand, choice paradox research suggests that when people have a large number of choices, their satisfaction diminishes. (And, actual sales can go down – see More Choices, Fewer Sales.)

On the other hand, behavioral research suggests that consumers like the feeling of having a large number of choices. This new study offers a way to bridge the gap – offer your customers choices, certainly- but be constantly on the look out for subtle acts of closure that will help your consumers reassure themselves that they have made the right decision. They’ll be happier, and so will you.

Do you have a clever way of achieving “choice closure” in your business? Share your ideas in a comment!

  1. denise lee yohn says

    great post! prompted a thought related to choice closure: you know how at nice restaurants the waitstaff congratulates you on making an excellent choice?! while it can seem hokey at times, more often than not it makes me feel good about the choice i just made. i wonder if the same dynamic could be replicated online? perhaps after you add something to your cart, instead of the typical “item added –continue shopping?” messaging, the brand could say “excellent choice! xxx # of people also chose this item,” “you’ve got great taste!” or some other affirming message. done with the right tone, it could provide a sense of choice closure and convey brand personality too! — denise lee yohn

  2. Roger Dooley says

    I like that idea, Denise! Anything that reduces the feeling of, “Gee, now that I put it in my cart, did I buy the right thing?” would be a plus.

  3. John Carvalho says

    Denise, not only that, but some of those suggestions tie into powerful ideas of social proof. People very much like to know that they have not only made the right choice, but they’ve made the choice has been implicitly “OK’d” by others. Very insightful!

  4. Diego says

    Something we are trying with some success among our customers is always the desired product reduce to three options presented as “the three best options.” Furthermore, when access is essential cart is opened on a small screen, but without losing sight at any time the screen which offers the product offering.
    Finally, the appearance on screen real comment, positive and successful for the last two customers who purchased the product.
    Barriers remain close, but we are gradually adapting.
    A future breakthrough will occur with new payment systems through mobile telephony.
    Pardon my English if something is not understood, Greetings

    1. Roger Dooley says

      Sounds like a good approach, Diego!


  5. Jean Mast says

    reading your article is like seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. I’ve been having choice-making issues and it’s just hard for me to convince myself that I did the right thing. Now I know better. Thanks a lot

    1. John Carvalho says


      I’m glad it had information you found valuable to you!


  6. nalts says

    Reinforcement of choice is critical. That comes from seeing other people who have made the same choice, or even seeing TV ads advertising the product you just purchased. Oddly, I infrequently see a company “congratulating” a customer for his/her purchase. Imagine the impact of a salesperson looking sincerely at you and saying “I bought that too- you’ve made an excellent choice.”

  7. John Carvalho says

    Good points!

  8. Anil Pillai says

    Very interesting article , (a silent cheer to good ‘ol Leon Festinger 🙂 )
    As part of my doctoral thesis, I’m currently researching the co-relation between Customer Experience and Cognitive Dissonance in B-B and high value/high risk purchase decisions .Some interesting co-relations between specific post purchase experience cues that can potentially mute dissonance emerge. Simple things like writing a note to a customer enclosing pictures of other successful users contribute 🙂

  9. Pete Austin says

    Interesting theory. I always assumed that restaurants took away the menu to make it harder for you to change your mind or dispute the bill later – either of which would be quite expensive for the restaurant, because of making extra work for their staff.

    If the effect is real, I’d expect restaurants to have a lot of separate menus – for starters, main course, dessert, drinks and liqueurs/coffee – each produced at the appropriate time. But most restaurants only have one or two of these and I have never seen the full set. Do you have a theory as to why restaurants do this?

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