Pandemic purchases. Why are we regretting what we bought?

Nov 19, 2021 |1 min read

Reading this article last week on UK consumers’ regretted purchases made me think about which pandemic behaviours are here to stay and which are simply a flash in the pan.  The holy grail of research just now.

So what do behavioural theories tell us that might provide some clues?  If we use Fogg’s Behavior Model[1] to explain what happened, we made these purchases because the elements that drive behaviour came together: Motivation (M), Ability (A) and Prompts (P).

The pandemic motivated (M) us to take action.  For example, to finally start that DIY project we’d never got round to or nudged us to learn a new skill.

We had the ability (A).  That’s not just about being physically able to do something, but it could be about having the time to do something or spend time learning how to do it, or simply having the technology and the internet connection to make that fatal purchase.

And it’s likely a prompt (P) helped us along the way and triggered us to make the purchase.  Examples might include an advert with a great offer, hearing about your friend or neighbour’s latest great purchase, a media article about other people’s new hobbies, or just walking past that chipped paintwork or peeling wallpaper that needed repairing!

All these factors came together to make us take action.

But why have we sold or given away so many of our new purchases?

A few factors may be at play.  Firstly, we need to ask ourselves whether we were really motivated to take action?  I suspect in many cases motivation is perhaps not the right word to use, but instead we were filling time when we simply couldn’t do other activities that we’re usually more motivated to do.  And even if we were motivated, it was potentially short-lived.  Secondly, as pandemic restrictions lifted, we had the ability to do other things with our time which potentially de-prioritised our new purchases and their associated activities.

So it seems that the behavioural theorists know us better than we know ourselves, and regretted purchases was an inevitable outcome of the unusual circumstances we found ourselves in.  Perhaps we shouldn’t be so hard on ourselves after all.

[1] https://behaviordesign.stanford.edu/fogg-behavior-model