Cognitive Biases — Post-Purchase Rationalisation

Overlooking faults to justify a purchase

Michael Gearon
3 min readNov 24, 2018
Photo by JOSHUA COLEMAN on Unsplash

Post-purchase (or Buyer’s Stockholm Syndrome) rationalisation in a nut shell is when someone purchases a product or service then proceeds to overlook any faults or defects in order to justify their purchase.

A survey done a few years ago found that over 50% of people often or sometimes feel buyer’s remorse. When it sets in, your customers will overlook obvious faults or defects to justify their purchase decision. This can happen in many forms such as buying a new phone and then another better version comes out, it wasn’t really necessary to buy that product or going on a big splurge and spending for the sake of it.

It’s almost uncomfortable for a person to face their own truths when do they do purchase an item because it may defied their financial boundaries, mental boundaries or consumption boundaries.

We’ve seen this happen a lot around the holiday season where sentimentality and emotions are increased and retailers bombard people with sales like Black Friday, Cyber Monday and whatever else in between.

This rationalisation is based on the Principle of Commitment and the psychological desire to stay consistent to that commitment. Some authorities would also consider this rationalisation a manifestation of cognitive dissonance.

Cognitive dissonance essentially means that people struggle with two opposing thoughts, or behaviours.

Tavris and Aronson explain how our need to self-justify is indeed a natural part of being human:

As fallible human beings, all of us share the impulse to justify ourselves and avoid taking responsibility for any actions that may turn out to be harmful, immoral, or stupid. Most of us will never be in a position to make decisions affecting the lives and deaths of millions of people, but whether the consequences of our mistakes are trivial or tragic, on a small scale or a national canvas, most of us find it difficult, if not impossible, to say, “I was wrong; I made a terrible mistake.” The higher the stakes — emotional, financial, moral — the greater the difficult.

Buyer’s remorse happens more as we age.

This mostly comes down to life experience as we get older. An older person will have learnt (hard) lessons about finance and how money can easily disappear in a time of crisis like when the car breaks down or losing their job.

Compared to a younger person who doesn’t have those experiences yet, they don’t have anything to base their decisions on and therefore are more likely to splurge out and not regret their decisions. Much more about living in the moment.

The older audience will therefore rationalise their spend more than a younger person especially if it was an extravagant purchase that didn’t fit into their financial budget.

How can you build better products with this in mind

People will want to see the value in their purchase so make it feel that way. To prevent returns and people questioning whether they made the right decision then make sure your after purchase experience is as good as the before purchase.

Engage with your new customers, don’t just drop them off at the other end now they’ve brought your product. Through social media, email and other communications make it feel they are a valued customer. It’s far easier to maintain and resell to existing customers than it is to acquire new customers.

Finally make sure your customer service is top-notch, we all know and have experienced poor customer service and how it makes you feel. By demanding this high level of customer service across the board you will turn your customers into brand advocates and will be your sales people.



Michael Gearon

Senior Interaction Designer and Co-Author to Tiny CSS Projects