Buyer's remorse? How about not-buying remorse?

Imagine driving several hours to a destination retailer such as Ikea. You plan to buy a rug, but decide to browse lamps. Since you are unlikely to drive all the way back to return them, these items constitute a limited purchasing opportunity – either you get it now, or you pass on it forever. A groundbreaking new study in the December issue of the Journal of Consumer Research finds that these now-or-never situations create a notable exception to buyer’s remorse. Instead, consumers are more likely to experience immediate regret for not making the purchase.

"Some of our most important decisions in life, such as whether or not to accept a job or marry someone, have a limited window of opportunity and are often not easily reversible," write Lisa J. Abendroth (Boston University) and Kristen Diehl (University of California - Los Angeles). "We show a different temporal pattern of regrets for limited purchasing opportunities."

Prior research on regret has found that people regret the things they've done more in the short-term and the things they’ve failed to do more in the long-term. However, Abendroth and Diehl found in both a field study and a controlled experiment that consumers in limited purchasing situations initially regretted non-purchases more than purchases. Over time, purchased items were regretted more, but only if the item was seldom used or of poor quality. "Physical presence serves as a reminder of a poor purchasing decision," explain the authors.

"In limited purchase opportunities, non-purchase denotes missing the chance to own something desirable, which consumers may perceive as a forfeiture situation," write Abendroth and Diehl. "This feeling of loss can be avoided by purchasing the item in question, but causes regret for consumers who do not purchase the item."

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Lisa J. Abendroth and Kristin Diehl, "Now or Never: Effects of Limited Purchase Opportunities on Patterns of Regret Over Time." Journal of Consumer Research: December 2006.


Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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