Post-Purchase Behavior: Definition, Outcomes, & Steps

Ecommerce, Manufacturing, Retail
Happy Customer Receives Package

If you’re a retailer, manufacturer, or any business that sells a product, you have to receive and manage product returns. And that can be difficult if you don’t have the right type of supply chain software: Returns can be hard to predict, complicated to process, and make a big impact on your sales numbers.

While supply chain software like a returns management system can transform returns operations to be more efficient, fast, and valuable, the best product returns are those that never happen in the first place.

To help customers keep a product instead of returning it, you should understand post-purchase behavior and the decision-making process that consumers go through after a purchase.

What is Post-Purchase Behavior?

The definition of post-purchase behavior refers to the actions and reactions of a customer following a purchase. It encompasses their satisfaction or dissatisfaction with the product or service, likelihood of repeat purchases, and willingness to recommend the brand to others. This behavior is a critical component of the customer journey, as it can significantly influence customer loyalty, brand perception, and future sales.

Positive post-purchase behavior can lead to customer retention, repeat business, and brand advocacy. Conversely, negative experiences may result in post-purchase dissonance, characterized by returns, negative reviews, and a potential loss of trust in the brand. Understanding and addressing post-purchase behavior is essential for businesses to build lasting relationships with their customers and foster brand loyalty.

The Importance of Understanding Post-Purchase Behavior

Your relationship with a customer isn’t finished after the product is shipped out the door. By understanding their post-purchase decisions – how your customer feels and acts after buying your product – you can steer a positive experience, ensuring your product meets expectations and that you are nurturing a repeat buyer.

  • If the buyer has a negative experience or considers returning your product, understanding post-purchase behavior can help you save the relationship and create a repeat buyer, all while ensuring the customer gets what they need.
  • A happy customer will tell their friends, but an unhappy customer will tell everyone. Build a strong post-purchase relationship to keep customers coming back and recommending your product to others.

How to Understand Post-Purchase Behavior

Companies can use a variety of methods to gauge customer satisfaction, from product reviews and surveys to loyalty program memberships. However, the best way to proactively track post-purchase behavior is with returns tracking and analytics software.

Companies have come to understand the importance of managing and reducing product returns, and so returns management software is now a fast-growing area of supply chain management technology. Returns software fits neatly into your tech stack, integrating with your OMS, WMS and TMS to track and reveal returns data that includes:

  • Reason codes
  • The number of customer-initiated returns en route to your facility
  • Returns received by category or SKU 
  • Detailed costs of returns processing

Businesses without visible returns analytics have 10–42% more complex returns lifecycles – risking poor customer satisfaction. 

What are the 3 Post-Purchase Outcomes?

There are essentially three outcomes of post-purchase behavior, no matter the product or industry involved.

1. The Customer is Happy

You’ve set high expectations for your product or service, and have met those expectations. The customer is satisfied with the purchase. Congratulations!

2. Post-Purchase Cognitive Dissonance

“Post-purchase cognitive dissonance” is a fancy way of saying the customer wasn’t happy with the purchase. They have buyer’s remorse because the product didn’t meet expectations. The seller will now have to “save” the sale by offering a great customer return or exchange experience.

3. Customer Loyalty

Loyalty is the ultimate goal of a product purchase. Whether the buyer is a consumer or another business, you want someone who is loyal and keeps coming back for your product. Even if they make a return or exchange, their experience is so easy and seamless that they don’t hesitate to buy from you again.

What is Post-Purchase Dissonance?

Post-purchase dissonance, also known as buyer’s remorse, occurs when a customer experiences feelings of regret or uncertainty after making a purchase. This psychological discomfort arises when there is a conflict between the buyer’s beliefs and their decisions, leading them to question whether they made the right choice.

What Causes Post-Purchase Dissonance?

Several factors can contribute to post-purchase dissonance:

  • High Financial Stakes: The more expensive the item, the higher the risk of regret. Consumers are more likely to experience dissonance when purchasing high-value items that deviate from their usual spending habits.
  • High Emotional Investment: Products with significant personal or emotional value can lead to dissonance if they fail to meet expectations.
  • Complexity or Novelty: Products that are complex or unfamiliar to the consumer can create uncertainty and doubt after the purchase.
  • Lack of Information: Inadequate information about the product or its alternatives can lead to second-guessing decisions.

Examples of Post-Purchase Dissonance

  • Luxury Goods: A consumer might experience dissonance after purchasing an expensive watch or piece of jewelry if they later question the value or necessity of the item.
  • Technology: Buying the latest smartphone or laptop can lead to dissonance if the product does not perform as expected or if a new model is released shortly after the purchase.
  • Big-Ticket Items: Purchasing a new car or home can trigger dissonance, especially if the buyer feels they overpaid or the product has flaws that were not initially apparent.

Reasons and Examples of Post-Purchase Dissonance

Regretting a purchase happens most often when a consumer buys an expensive product that is out of their normal buying routine, like a fancy car or jewelry. They may be unhappy with the product’s performance, or they feel like they took on too much risk by paying a lot for an item. Whatever the root cause, the consumer suddenly has regret and is looking for ways to reverse their decision.

How to Reduce Post-Purchase Cognitive Dissonance

Creating an effective post-purchase flow requires excellent marketing, top-notch customer service, and a superb software infrastructure for managing necessary returns or exchanges. The ultimate goal is to foster a happy customer who is delighted with their purchase and to avoid a product return.

Clearly Define & Understand the Post Purchase Flow

Understanding the customer journey after a purchase is crucial for reducing post-purchase dissonance. Use data to analyze your customer’s post-purchase behavior. Key touchpoints include order confirmation, shipping updates, and satisfaction surveys. By mapping out and optimizing these interactions, businesses can ensure a smooth and reassuring customer experience, reinforcing confidence in the purchase.

Provide a Transparent & Accessible Returns Policy

A clear and accessible returns policy can significantly reduce post-purchase dissonance. Customers feel more secure knowing they can return or exchange a product if it doesn’t meet their expectations. This transparency builds trust and can turn a potentially negative experience into a positive one.

Use Post-Purchase Emails & Messaging to Engage with Customers 

Post-purchase emails and post-purchase messaging play a vital role in maintaining customer engagement and satisfaction. Ensure you have the correct post-purchase messaging– this can include thank-you notes, product care tips, and special offers. By staying in touch with customers after their purchase, businesses can provide ongoing support and encourage repeat business.

Real-Time Tracking With Shipping & Delivery Notifications 

Providing real-time tracking and delivery notifications is essential for a positive post-purchase experience. Customers appreciate being informed about their order’s status, which reduces anxiety and builds anticipation for the arrival of their purchase.

Highlight Reviews On Your Site to Educate Shoppers

Featuring customer reviews on your website can help educate potential buyers and reduce post-purchase dissonance for future customers. Reviews provide social proof and can help set realistic expectations, which is critical to customer satisfaction.

Find the Reason Behind the Post-Purchase Dissonance 

Identifying the root cause of post-purchase dissonance is crucial for addressing and preventing it. By analyzing customer feedback and returns, businesses can pinpoint areas for improvement and take proactive steps to enhance the overall customer experience.

4 Steps to Improve Post-Purchase Behavior

The first step to improving post-purchase behavior is to offer a great product that meets customer expectations. Here are four additional ways you can influence post-purchase behavior and increase the likelihood of a happy customer.

1. Offer Proper Product Documentation

Boost a customer’s confidence that you have the right product for their want or need: Offer plenty of photos, detailed descriptions, and reviews. Shopify estimates that more than half of online returns are due to sizing issues, while others find that 22% of items are returned because they look different in person than online.

To lessen this risk, use virtual dressing rooms, detailed measurements, a variety of images and other ways customers can be sure they’re choosing the best item.

When Shopify implemented 3D product visualization, return rates reportedly dropped 40%. By equipping a shopper with the right information, you’ll lessen the chance for buyer’s regret while matching the right item with the right customer.

2. Focus On Customer Service and Support

Companies like Amazon have set the bar for quick returns and refunds, while others like Athleta’s “Give-it-a-Workout” guarantee lessen the chance of buyer remorse by letting customers try out a product without losing the opportunity to return it if needed.

When a customer contacts you post-purchase, offer them well-trained support staff, fast processes and easy online tools like live chats and a returns initiation portal. Although they probably aren’t excited about the hassle of a return or product exchange, making the process as smooth as possible – don’t forget to offer apologies when appropriate! – can move a consumer from disgruntlement to content.

3. Returns Management

If a return can’t be avoided, you can improve the customer experience by making the return process fast and frictionless. Post your returns policy in multiple places on your website (more than half of customers read a return policy before buying for the first time!). Be very clear about deadlines and any shipping or restocking fees.

In addition, self-service ways to initiate a return paired with optimized internal workflows will create a great experience that keeps customers loyal.

 “We’ve seen a massive difference in giving customers the returns portal. They love how easy it is and how they can always see the status – and it costs so much less for us to manage.”

– ReverseLogix Customer

4. Understanding Customer Feedback

It’s especially important to gather feedback from customers with post-purchase dissonance. What don’t they like about the product? Why do they have regrets? Can there be a repair or an exchange instead of a return?

By using returns management analytics, you can gather and examine returns reasons to capture trends and react proactively to issues. For example, if customers are returning a certain item consistently because of quality issues, check with the manufacturer to see if materials have been altered and whether that changes your decision to sell the item.  

How Returns Can Improve the Customer Experience

Returns can’t be completely avoided, but forward-thinking companies can view returns as an opportunity to connect with customers; as a way to gather feedback, improve products, and cement loyalty  – even when a product misses the mark the first time around.

According to Multi-Channel Merchant, retailers lost $218 billion in 2021 due to eCommerce returns – making eCommerce returns management a key focus area for improving the customer experience while lowering returns management costs.  

If a customer has buyer’s remorse and decides to return an item, the first thing a company should offer is a hassle-free returns experience. Retail returns management software should offer a branded returns portal with vibrant product images, drop-down fields and automated notifications that make it fast and easy for a customer to start the return or make an exchange.  

On the seller side, an RMS can set rules and options that lessen the cost of returns management, such as:

  •  Incentives to make the return at a store rather than by mail (in-store returns are typically less costly to process)
  • Set up policies to incentivize exchanges over refunds, retain revenue, and keep customers coming back
  • Speed up returns by automatically approving, rejecting, or flagging returns and exchanges for review based on conditions you set
  • Prioritize customer convenience with return options: Drop-off locations, box-less returns with QR code, sustainable options, etc.
  • Set rules for approved buyers to receive an instant credit or refund

ReverseLogix RMS users have improved customer satisfaction 15-25% on average.

Returns management software not only impacts the efficiency and cost-savings of processing returns, but it’s a game-changer for reacting to post-purchase behavior.