How to Help Your Customers Rationalize Post-Purchase

So, your customer just converted. The money is in the bank, the notification is with your order fulfillment team and your customer has started to second-guess herself.

In an Neuromarketing article, The Simple Way to Minimize Buyer’s Remorse, John Carvalho wrote, “[…] once we make a decision, the ‘grass is greener’ effect kicks in and we question our choice.”

He continued, “The good news is that scientists studying ‘choice closure’ have found that encouraging specific post-purchase behaviors can minimize buyer’s remorse and maximize satisfaction with the decision.”

Through progress emails, words of affirmation and acts of closure, you can help post-purchase rationalization kick in and do its psychological thing.

1. Progress Emails

We all know transaction emails are important, right? As it turns out, they’re actually quite neglected, despite how powerful they can be.

“LaurenLauren Smith, Litmus:

“Transactional emails, like email receipts, are frequently neglected. However, 64% of consumers consider transaction confirmations the most valuable messages in their inbox. In addition, they have significantly higher open, click, and conversion rates than bulk mailings.

In addition, Experian found that order confirmation emails generate about $0.75 per email, while bulk mailings typically generate around $0.13 per email—that’s nearly a 6-fold increase in ROI!” (via Litmus)

Unfortunately, the typical transaction email is, “Your package has been shipped!” Seems like an awful waste of an email given the stats Lauren shared.

Talia has some ideas for improvement…

Talia WolfTalia Wolf,

“Once you understand your customers better, we’ve found that the best way to deal with these concerns is by sending progress emails.

If a customer is waiting for a product to arrive at their doorstep, you can update them on the package’s progress – not just “your package has been shipped” like most companies do, but prior to that (e.g. “We have just finished brewing your favorite coffee. Next up: Packaging!”

Simple notes like these get customers excited and keep their interest levels up. You can also send them an image of the package or a picture of your team working hard to get their package to them.”

A few companies come to mind when I think “great transactional emails that show progress”. Here they are…

Example: zulily

You know the importance of clarity as it relates to your call to action. A vague button is a conversion killer. Well, a vague post-purchase process is a post-purchase rationalization killer.

In your first email post-purchase, highlight the next steps and note how long they’ll take. Set expectations and show that you’ll be in touch regularly, that you’re easy to reach.

Here’s how zulily does it…

zulily Post-Purchase Email
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Everything is clearly articulated. There’s no doubt or uncertainty about next steps. Plus, “Do a happy dance!” hits on words on words of affirmation (more on that later).

Example: Zappos

Zappos does something similar…

Zappos Post-Purchase Email
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Note the “FREE Shipping Both Ways” notice, the customer service number and the 24/7, 365 support. That’s reassuring. It says to customers, “You didn’t make a mistake. We’re sure of it. We’re willing to put money on it.”

Of course, below this personable copy, there is shipping information galore, including a tracking number that customers can use whenever they’re unsure about their package’s status.

Example: Threadless

Threadless goes for a simple approach, but it comes to mind because of expectation setting…

Threadless Post-Purchase Email
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“Your order has been submitted and sent to our fulfillment team. If all of the items ordered are in stock, We estimate that time to be about 5-8 days. We will be sending you another email when we ship your order.” Simple, but effective.

Still, they could have added a few other clarifications. What if all of the items ordered aren’t in stock? 5-8 business days or…?

Progress emails reassure your customers that they can trust the decision they made. They haven’t been abandoned post-purchase, they haven’t made a mistake in trusting you / your product. Get bit more creative and specific than “Your package has been shipped!” and an order number.

2. Words of Affirmation

This was mentioned briefly above at the pre-conversion stage. However, it’s so powerful that it deserves a more in-depth look.

Normally, when you think of “words of affirmation”, you think of a guy standing in the mirror, verbally reassuring himself that a big presentation will go well. That’s self-affirmation.

Words of affirmation are actually, by definition, (a) emotional support or encouragement or (b) the act of affirming something.

When your customers are entering the post-purchase rationalization stage, they begin using words of self-affirmation. It’s your job to use words of affirmation to reinforce their self-affirmations.

Example: Evans Cycles

Look at the copy here…

Evans Cycles Post-Purchase Email
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“Congratulations”. No “Thank you”, no “We appreciate your business”. Just a simple congratulations on making such a smart decision. That’s affirmation.

It’s simple, it’s subtle, it’s about the customer not your business.

Example: JOY

Here’s that same concept again…

JOY Post-Purchase Email
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The name of the company is JOY, of course, but they imply that they’re essentially shipping happiness. Anyone can imitate that strategy. When there is no doubt in your mind that the customer made the right decision (and it’s subtly reinforced in your copy), there is less room for doubt in your customer’s mind.

This email affirms that the decision the customer made was smart.

3. Acts of Closure

Above, John mentioned the concept of “choice closure”. This one is dead simple. For post-purchase rationalization to kick in, it has to set in that the purchase has been made.

As obvious as it sounds, it’s important to remind people that they bought something. That is, of course, what you’re doing with progress emails and words of affirmation. However, there are other opportunities throughout the entire funnel.

“[…] be constantly on the look out for subtle acts of closure that will help your consumers reassure themselves that they have made the right decision. They’ll be happier, and so will you,” wrote John.

Here’s just one example of a subtle act of closure: Have your customer tell their friends about their purchase. Telling another person about something helps create a sense of completion.

That’s why telling your colleagues and friends about your goals can actually prevent you from achieving them… they already feel complete!

Examples: BestBuy and Sephora

Take a look at how BestBuy does it…

BestBuy Post-Purchase Email
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And now Sephora…

Sephora Post-Purchase Email
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Even rating or reviewing a product for strangers can help create a sense of closure. Imagine how powerful getting a customer to tell everyone they know (say, via social media) that they purchased your product. (How irrational would they seem if, two weeks later, they were confessing they should have looked elsewhere?)

For best results, send this type of email request as soon after the product is received as possible.

You want your customer to affirm to himself (and others) that the product is a good choice as quickly as possible, in the midst of post-purchase rationalization.


Partially because a solid product review is valuable for future customers, but mostly because it signals a conclusion in the middle of post-purchase rationalization, when opinion of your product is high. So, the memory formed about your product is “5/5, I made a great decision” vs. “3/5, good quality, but…”


Post-purchase rationalization happens because customers are held captive by their purchasing decisions, even if the product falls short. [Tweet It!]

We convince ourselves that we made the right decision primarily because we don’t like to admit we’re wrong, we place a higher value on things we already own and our brain stores memories in a choice-supportive way.

This makes it more difficult for you to answer an important question: Why do people buy your product? To uncover the truth, you’ll need to use customer surveys.

Also, when post-purchase rationalization fails, buyer’s remorse sets in. The last thing you want is your customers regretting their decision, right? If they do, chances are they won’t be coming back.

Fortunately, you can optimize for post-purchase rationalization by…

  1. Finding the most common source(s) of remorse via customer surveys and fixing them.
  2. Using progress emails to set expectations and reassure customers that they made a smart decision.
  3. Using words of affirmation at each touchpoint to reinforce your customer’s self-affirmations.
  4. Asking for ratings / reviews or social shares immediately post-purchase, which creates a sense of completion in the middle of post-purchase rationalization and helps your customer’s brain store your product as a positive memory.