Buyer's remorse: avoiding credit card purchase regret

By Marianne Curphey


We all make regrettable purchases. Such regrets used to be simply a lapse in judgment while at the store - a dress you didn't bother trying on that still had price tags on it, a set of dumbbells purchased 2 January that you haven't lifted since then.

Now, thanks to online shopping and one-click purchasing on sites such as Amazon, it's easier than ever to make questionable purchases - especially if you're shopping from your couch with a bottle of wine.

Maybe not surprisingly, one in 20 people have bought goods online after consuming alcohol, a 2016 study by online marketplace found. While many drunken purchases end up being funny once the purchaser sobered up (like the person who bought 100 tiny top hats for their pet toad), some are much bigger hits to the pocketbook (like a £6,500 Volvo).

Dennis Hussey, money adviser at National Debtline, says that in an age of smartphones and shopping apps, people are more prone to making snap decisions, either under the influence of alcohol or because they have an impetuous nature.

"Be aware that decisions you make in the heat of the moment might not be the best and could have unexpected outcomes," he says. "Ask yourself, ‘Do I need it, can I afford it, have I the funds to pay for it?'"

Taming impulse temptations
David Lewis, a psychologist, author and broadcaster, says an impulse is something that happens very quickly - a "want" becomes a "must," and often, we experience remorse when our brain finally catches up with our emotions.

"The internet has made it so easy to buy," he says. "The best way to avoid making the wrong purchase and have those feelings of regret is to give yourself some thinking time."

This is easier when shopping online than in a physical store, where items are intentionally placed near the counter and salespeople may encourage you to add them to your purchase.

"The phrase a shopkeeper does not want to hear is ‘I'll think about it,' because when someone has walked around the block, they have time to consider whether they really want to make the purchase or not," Lewis says.

He recommends being alert to the strategies used by shops to encourage you to buy - such as having items positioned at the check-out (both virtually and in-store), and bargains for items you don't need.

Preventing the ‘sip and click'
A new app aims to help people avoid spending too much after you've been drinking. DRNKPAY connects your debit and credit cards to a breathalyser or wearable biosensor to analyse alcohol intake and limit certain purchases.

Before you begin drinking, you might select the number of drinks you plan to have and the types of purchases that might need blocking, such as pubs, takeaways or online shopping. The restrictions are active for 12 hours.

The idea, says Francesco Scarnera, CEO of financial services consultancy iBe TSE, which developed DRNKPAY, is to block your "weak points" so that you won't be able to make drunken and ill-advised purchases.

The free app is expected to be available by the end of 2017.

The one drawback: you must set up your limit before you begin drinking, so a casual night out that turns into an all-nighter might lead to some unwanted spending if you haven't blocked purchases before you get too buzzed.

You can try other apps and browser extensions to prevent intoxicated purchases, such as parental controls, or the Google Chrome extension Blocksite, which allows you to block certain websites on certain days or times.

You also may be able to set up a text message alert with your banking app to notify you when your account balance is below a certain point, or to let you know each time your card is used. The extra notification may be enough to help you snap out of it and leave shopping sites where you're filling your cart.

Finally, you can turn to some tech-free techniques, such as physically hiding your card (or your laptop or tablet, if card numbers are stored on them) as soon as the bottle of wine comes out.

Returning goods, services
Whether a few cocktails, a broken heart or just a bad day has you emptying your wallet, you do have return options - if you act fast.

According to Gemma Boore, a corporate and commercial solicitor at Bates Wells & Braithwaite London LLP with a specific interest in consumer rights and protection, you have 14 days to cancel normal goods and services. You can even contact the seller before the goods are despatched to cancel the order.

This is thanks to the Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013, which took effect in June 2014 and extends the amount of time you have to cancel products or services you have bought online.

"The 14 days start when you receive the goods, or, if you are buying a service, when you have confirmation that the service will begin and you have all the information and terms and conditions," she says.

The 14-day period is a minimum cancellation period; the seller can choose to extend the cancellation period, so it's worth checking the terms and conditions. And you can always cancel your order before your goods are despatched, rather than waiting until they arrive.

If you purchase a service, the provider should not start providing the service before the end of the 14-day cancellation period, unless you specifically ask them to do so.

"If you do request a service starts straightaway, you still have the right to cancel, but you must pay for the value of the service that is provided up to the point you cancel," Boore says.

And if your adventures lead you to purchasing goods that are faulty or from an untrustworthy site, Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act has you covered.

Exceptions to the Consumer Contracts rules include:

  • Airline tickets.
  • Digital music.
  • Websites that act as an intermediary between consumer and supplier (such as Amazon Marketplace).
  • Purchases from non-UK sellers.
  • Goods made to a personal specification.
  • Perishable goods, such as food and flowers.
  • Newspapers and magazines (but not books).
  • Gaming, betting and lottery products.

Resist the urge to splurge
Whether you might be likely to shop under the influence or just tend to go overboard when in stores or online, experts say apps, bank alerts and old-school tools can help you rein in your spending that you might regret in the morning or when your credit card bill comes.

And it's just smart to always keep in mind that online and physical stores are doing all they can to make it easy for you to part with your money.

Buying online particularly is fraught with temptation. "Examples are three for two, bargains, free shipping or postage when you spend a set amount," Lewis says.

"Every shop these days is a machine designed to sell you something."

See related: Consumer Rights Directive gives advantages to online shoppers, Retailer refusing a refund? A credit card may help

Updated: 28 June 2017