Post-Purchase Rationalization on Social Media and its Implications for Marketers
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Post-Purchase Rationalization on Social Media and its Implications for Marketers

By Navin Nayanar & Shruti Mohan

Most people believe that their purchase decisions result from a rational analysis of product alternatives. However, these decisions are largely influenced by emotions based on factors such as brand loyalty, advertising, product packaging and retail ambience.

Harvard Business School Professor, Gerald Zaltman said,

95% of our purchase decisions take place unconsciously – but why, then, are we not able to look back through our decision history, and find countless examples of emotional decisions? Because our conscious mind will always make up reasons to justify our unconscious decisions.1

Buyers often tend to experience remorse regarding such emotionally-led decisions, and these are then rationalized in an attempt to justify the choice. This rationalization is based on the principle of commitment and the psychological desire to stay consistent with the commitment. This psychological phenomenon is known as “post-purchase rationalization”. It is a cognitive bias where buyers, after having invested considerable time, money, and effort on a purchase, try to convince themselves that the purchase has been worth it.  It is also known as choice-supportive bias, or Buyer’s Stockholm Syndrome.

In most purchase decisions, people tend to obey their emotional brain. When a person chooses Product A instead of Product B, he or she unwittingly tends to downplay the faults of Product A and amplify the negatives of Product B to rationalize that he or she has made the right choice.

People buy with emotions and justify with logic.2

This is especially true of products that are considered premium, regardless of which category they belong to.

This expression of rationalization usually occurs with the buyer’s friends, family, or peers. With the emergence of social media platforms, these relationships have moved online and so have the expressions of rationalization.

As social media experts, we come across post-purchase rationalization quite often, more so during any launch analysis of premium products such as smartphones.

For example, in the case of a recent analysis we did where the objective was to analyze pre- and post-launch reactions to a premium device, we noticed that people were going out of their way to justify their purchase of this $1000+ product. The device, unfortunately, did not receive very favorable reviews from reputed tech websites. These unfavorable reviews conflicted with the perceptions of the product that buyers had formed in their minds, thus creating conflicting thoughts, also known in consumer psychology as cognitive dissonance.

As a result of this, a lot of buyers were calling out on various social platforms that the reviews were not true and should not be relied upon. These posts, in many instances, were accompanied by images and videos to make their points stronger. Some even berated similar competing products. All these are classic indications of post-purchase rationalization.

The display of such behavior on social media is often an attempt by buyers to resolve their cognitive dissonance so that the idea that their choice is correct is dominant in their minds, versus the thought that the product is not a great one, especially for that price.

“According to the professional review, “It’s meant for Android users who use the XYZ suite regularly. To be honest, that probably isn’t you and I”

I hysterically disagree. There are a LOT of people that use both Android and XYZ. And ABC, the #1 Android maker works VERY closely with XY to incorporate their apps in their phones.

My quick personal opinions. 1) I am biased. 2) This IS BUGGY! WAY too much for the cost. But thankfully that is a software issue and can be fixed with updates in time. 3) I am in love with the hardware. The Bezels don’t bother me in the slightest, and I HATE bezels.

In a nutshell, I’ve been using this thing all morning and I still haven’t put it down.”

Here the buyer admits that the device is buggy but is quick to downplay the problem by saying it is a software issue that can be fixed with updates. He does the same thing with the bezels. While he admits he hates bezels in general, he says the ones on this device do not bother him at all, which sounds a bit far-fetched. He ends by stating that he has not been able to put down the device since he started using it, which comes across as a brazen attempt to establish how right his choice is.

Another example we saw was a user posting pictures on Reddit to justify the quality of the camera of the device because a lot of the professional reviewers had written negatively about it.

I took some awesome pics with my [device]. I don’t listen to YouTubers. They say the same sh** the person prior to them said.

When a user posted a picture on Reddit taken using the device with the caption: I mean, that’s some decent detail (camera), another user responded: You don’t have to try and convince anybody. If it’s good enough for your purposes, then the camera isn’t an issue for you.

All these are signs of people attempting to resolve their cognitive bias. They post their experiences with the product on social platforms to seek approval from friends, family, and even other buyers unknown to them to achieve this. In some cases, people have recognized and pointed this out, like in the last comment above where the fellow buyer says there was no need to convince anyone.

So what does this mean for organizations?

We believe that organizations must go beyond collecting and summarizing ‘reactions’ and ‘reviews’ on social media for their recently launched products. They must not restrict themselves to just the text but should try to read between the lines to comprehend what users are truly trying to convey through their words and what could be the reason to say what they were saying.
 

In the case of expressions of post-purchase rationalization, organizations should make efforts to resolve their customers’ cognitive dissonance by assuring them that they have absolutely made the right decision. This should ideally be done in a personalized manner.

One of the ways to address cognitive bias could be an email that is addressed to the buyer congratulating them on their purchase, promising them support to get the best out of the product and have easy access to problem resolution. This would go a long way in helping buyers tilt the balance of their dissonance firmly towards the belief that they have made the right decision by buying the product, resulting in delight and loyalty.

Course5’s experienced team of social media research and analytics professionals has the expertise to help brands understand what their customers are truly expressing on social media and recommend ways to act on these insights to gain deep customer satisfaction and loyalty.


Citations:

1. When to sell with facts and figures, and when to appeal to emotions, Harvard Business Review | January 26, 2015
2. How the Brain Buys Online, Inc.com, June 2014
Shruti Mohan
Shruti Mohan
Social media analyst with demonstrated history of working in the primary research industry, skilled in tracking and interpreting changing consumer behavior and its implications on...
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