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We know that one way to design an engaging experience is to design for emotion, e.g. as outlined in Aarron Walter's book of the same name.

Part of the process of designing for an emotional response is to engage the user, lift moods and generally put the user in a good frame of mind about your product or service and the environment in which you present it.

However, providing such an engaging experience may have a downside. Literally.

Mood induction wears off after about 10 minutes or so. If you design for an emotion, and (say) a person makes a purchase, how can you perpetuate the emotion you designed for - or how can you design against the potential comedown after the purchase?

The stage when users are most likely to cancel a purchase is when they get the guilt trip afterwards (a postdecision dissonance), commonly referred to as buyer's remorse.

Is it even possible to design for emotion but at the same time to design defensively against remorse, guilt, depression?

Of course this also raises the question of dark patterns. Should you design against buyer's remorse - is it responsible design?

Can you, and should you, design against buyers remorse?

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I'm really not sure about what your context here is. A web app that sells people houses? A monthly subscription to your web site? A non-web user experience? A web site that sells people information on how to get their girlfriend back, and comes with a free set of ginsu knives and an e-book on making money online? –  Warren P Jan 7 '13 at 15:29
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If context is important then it's a typical e-commerce site that sells products in exchange for my hard earned children's inheritance. For the sake of argument, let's say, like Amazon as opposed to an online supermarket. But it could apply to many services too, like insurance online. –  Roger Attrill Jan 7 '13 at 15:39
    
Okay that makes sense. –  Warren P Jan 7 '13 at 15:57

4 Answers 4

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Buyer's remorse is a defensive mechanism broadly associated with cognitive dissonance. You'd typically expect to find it where a purchaser had misgivings about their purchase for some reason - either they had difficulty choosing between multiple options, or they weren't sure about some other aspect (the trustworthiness of the seller, the necessity for the purchase in the first place).

For once, the Wikipedia article on Buyer's Remorse has a lot of pertinent information and its references make for some interesting reading.

Given that Buyer's Remorse is a stressor triggered by a negative reaction to the purchase, the user's experience would be improved if it could be removed in some way. As such, I don't believe that making efforts to reduce it is necessarily a dark pattern. However, removing it should be based on the root causes of the problem, not simply masking the symptoms.

For instance, it would probably be possible to lie to the customer about their purchase to make it better align with their purchasing goals, or even to attempt to manipulate the customer's perception of their own goals. While this might be effective, this would be a dark pattern as it involves a deliberate and malicious manipulation of the user in order to affect a purchase.

Alternatively, there are methods which are more ethical. For example:

  • Presenting less choice to the customer (see also the Paradox of Choice) could, according to Barry Schwartz, reduce the cognitive load on the decision process and therefore work to reduce the "what if I had picked something else" feeling.
  • Following up with a confirmation email which reinforces the benefits of the product. Since users have short memories, they might focus more heavily on the hit to their wallets post-purchase and forget the benefits that brought them to the purchase decision in the first place.
  • Assuring the customer of a simple and effective returns process (and perhaps also following up with this). This allows customers to ignore worries about the quality or effectiveness of the product, with the knowledge that it can be returned if it isn't fit for purpose (making the cost of a mistaken purchase minimal).
  • Making sure the purchase aligns with the customer's goals in the first place. By presenting a full perspective on the product and guiding the customer to an appropriate item, you make it more likely that they will have a product that they will be satisfied with.
  • Managing expectations is important too. If the customer believes the product to be something it isn't, then that's a problem. If you can outline the limitations of the product more fully, then the customer can take them into account before the purchase decision happens.

It's my opinion that buyer's remorse is inherently negative to the user experience, and that it is both possible and ethical to design to reduce it. However, as with all marketing, it's important to do so by solving the problems that cause the customer to react negatively, rather than designing around the problem by manipulating the customer.

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+1 for a thorough and thought-out answer. –  AndroidHustle Jan 7 '13 at 13:50
    
Japanese electronics products used to come with a feel good statement: eg "Congratulation on your purchase of a Yamaha NS-10M STUDIO. Monitor Speaker System! The NS-10M STUDIO has been pain- stakingly designed to offer superior near field monitoring performance" yamaha.com/yamahavgn/Documents/ProAudio/ns10ms.pdf –  PhillipW Jan 7 '13 at 19:02

If you can design for emotions, you can design for which type of emotions you’d like to have. Taking a look at what game producers do and you have the answer there. All the games are designed with emotions and some games even react to the way the gamer is playing. All the emotions like guilt, sadness and remorse is a part of the overall gaming experience for that category of games.

Other games are designed to empower other (positive) emotions, such as engagement, joy and happiness. So there are much proof of that you are able to design for the creation of different emotions.

We can agree on the fact that emotions can be enforced through design, which makes it possible to design against buyer’s remorse. But this is more of an ethical question than a technical question. The whole purpose of having a business is to make money. And you can only make money in the long run by having happy customers. You don’t get happy customers if they feel cheated or betrayed to buy something they didn’t need or didn’t want. You really need to make that clear at first before you start selling anything. The goals of the business, and the strategy should be made first, before you start selling.

But this is also a business question, and as such some of the Sales tips of preventing buyer’s remorse can be addressed in design.

  • Sell the product, don’t hype it. Under-promise and over-deliver, not the other way around.
  • Get objections out before the sale, not after it. Objections prior to the sale increase the likelihood of satisfaction after the sale. Before you close a sale, make sure that whatever might upset the buyer later is air and resolved.
  • Involve the buyer emotionally. Create emotional involvement by uncovering the buyer’s pain and revealing how your product or service will reduce or eliminate that pain.
  • Get a commitment, not just an order. A contract without a commitment is buyer’s remorse in the making. After the sale, ask questions focusing on commitment and what you can do to increase it.
  • Help buyers plan for remorse. Rather than hiding from buyer’s remorse, bring it out in the open.
  • Get an agreement on actions in case buyer’s remorse sets in. Make a contract with your client about what they’ll do if they begin to question their decision.
  • Describe what happens once the contract is signed. Make sure there will be no surprises or rude awakenings.
  • Follow-up Use e-mail, phone calls, cards, letters and visits. Remain visible and accessible.
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Positive confirmations work brilliantly, e.g. "You just got the best deal!" - congratulating someone without patronizing them. At my job you see that people specifically design confirmation pages to reassure the customer that they made a great choice. Furthermore, their translators take cultural differences into account. Geographically speaking, the average northern American reacts differently to a text than a south-east Asian would to the same text.

As for how responsible it is... Could you clarify this question? If you're aren't selling the customer something he doesn't want or need, then you shouldn't feel guilty about providing them with a good experience after the fact. On the contrary, I'd say it's irresponsible to leave them feeling anything less than good.

Buyer's Remorse can and should be prevented, in my opinion. The design aspects are varied and depend on a lot of things, but copy and cultural awareness, especially in the case of multilingual websites, are arguably even more important.

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Generally speaking, buyers remorse comes from feeling that you got a bad deal after all the emotions or the novelty die down. So if you've overpaid or bought something that is poor quality or does not suit your needs, then you will generally feel that.

I don't see a place in the design of the sales / marketing experience that will help with this other than trying to make sure that you give your customers a good deal in the first place. The problem is that this usually goes against most business' goals of selling more units at a higher price.

If you're talking about the UX of the products themselves, then you can design for buyers remorse by making your product as great as possible.

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