Sunday, July 24, 2011

Regret and Disappointment: Do Customers Respond Differently?

One might think that there is little difference between regret and disappointment yet the reference point for regret is external (encompassing both the chosen option and the foregone alternatives), whereas the reference point for disappointment is internal (encompassing only the chosen option). Disappointment generally leaves one powerless with a tendency to want to get away from everything and not wanting to do or have any association with the outcome (Zeelenberg et al. 1998). Regret, on the other hand, involves feelings of responsibility and results in not being able to get away from such an experience (Das and Kerr, 2010, p.172).

Neel Das and Anthony Kerr explain that “regret is experienced as a result of a comparison between what is and what might have been, where regret may arise as a result of an unfavourable decision-making process or an unfavourable product choice. The important notion to appreciate is that an unfavourable decision-making process is separate from an unfavourable product choice, and individuals may experience regret from either one or both,” (p.172).

Further Marcel Zeelenberg and Rik Pieters suggest that regret is a cognitive emotion, in that it “contains all the elements typical of emotional experiences” (p. 6) such as a sinking feeling, thoughts about opportunities lost, and thoughts about mistakes made and the desire to correct them, if given a chance.

From a customer perspective Das and Kerr state that “only highly involved consumers are likely to adopt a long-term motivational perspective in terms of decision making. In contrast, consumers with low involvement are likely to take a short-term decision-making perspective and not separate an action relating to a decision into separate phases. In other words, highly involved consumers are more likely to separate the source(s) of regret, whereas less-involved consumers would simply recognize that the regret emotion exists without distinguishing the particular source(s) of the emotion.” They furthermore highlight how “regret is viewed as a cognitive emotion; where high need for cognition individuals have a greater tendency to think elaborately on relevant information, compared to low need for cognition individuals,” (p.175).

So what does this mean for customer behaviour and what can organisations learn from understanding the principles of regret and disappointment. Kowalski (1996) describes consumer complaint behaviour as behavioural expressions of dissatisfaction or unfavourable attitudes directed toward an individual, a situation, or an object. Using the disconfirmation paradigm as his basis, Kowalski expressed that complaint behaviour reflects dissatisfaction from an exchange generated from a negative disconfirmation of expectancies. Yet existing regret research in marketing has found no effect of regret on consumer complaint intentions (Tsiros and Mittal 2000). Research has shown that although satisfaction affects complaint intentions, the effects of regret are mediated via satisfaction (Tsiros and Mittal 2000). Essentially, one may be satisfied with the product but may experience regret when a foregone alternative is perceived to perform better than the chosen product. In such a situation, it is not likely for one to complain to the manufacturer (of the chosen product) about another product that is perceived to outperform the chosen one. Switching to a better-performing product in the future is the likely outcome, (Das and Kerr, 2010, p.177).

Also another important factor is that ‘responsibility’ is an important precondition for regret. The more responsible one feels for the decision action, the more regret one is likely to experience subsequent to an unfavourable result (Zeelenberg et al. 1998; 2000). While responsibility is likely to drive the feelings of regret, it may also help consumers adjust their behavioural intentions accordingly. Das and Kerr explain this by stating “regret arising from the decision-making process may be looked upon as an outcome of procedural accountability, and regret arising from the product choice a result of outcome accountability,” (p.178).

In conclusion it should not surprise us to find that the greater the intensity of the regret experienced, the lesser the likelihood of repurchasing the product and the greater the likelihood of switching to a different product in the future.

But what is really interesting is that neither Tsiros and Mittal (2000) nor Zeelenberg and Pieters (2004) found any effects of regret on complaint intentions; which is something organisations need to be aware of in respect of their strategy towards customer service and customer loyalty. Just because your organisation hasn’t had any complaints doesn’t mean the customer is happy with the product or service.

So how are you going to find and retain those customers that regret their purchase from you and next time will buy from one of your competitors?


Das, N. and Kerr, A.H. (2010). "Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda": A conceptual examination of the sources of post-purchase regret. Journal of Marketing Theory & Practice; Spring2010, Vol. 18 Issue 2, p.171-180.

Zeelenberg, M. and Pieters, R. (2007). A Theory of Regret Regulation 1.0. Journal of Consumer Psychology, Volume 17 Issue 1, p.3-18.

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