Monday, June 15, 2009

STI: Buy first, regret later

June 14, 2009

Buy first, regret later

I never learn, do I? Why do I keep making mistakes when I shop and then suffer buyer's remorse?

By Sumiko Tan

My favourite advertisement on TV right now is the one by Heineken.

You've probably seen it. A house-warming party is on and the woman of the house shows a gaggle of girlfriends her bedroom. Then, ta-da, she opens a door and, lo and behold, there lies her walk-in closet.

Her clothes, shoes and bags are beautifully displayed like in a high-end boutique. The girls squeal with delight, excitement and envy.

Meanwhile, noise emerges from outside. It's her husband and he's been showing his buddies around. They've just discovered his walk-in fridge filled with, of course, ice-cold Heineken beer, and are hyperventilating with happiness.

It's a genius of an ad - witty, funny, great twist at the end and a clever take on the different fantasies of men and women.

Mostly, though, I love the woman's walk-in closet.

I don't have a walk-in closet. I want a walk-in closet. I want to wake up each morning and fling open the doors to a walk-in closet - better still, a room - filled with the most gorgeous clothes arranged by colour and length, shoes of every heel height and colour laid out in rows and rows, and bags of every size and texture displayed like in a shop.

But even if I had a walk-in closet, I wonder if it'll look anything like the one in the Heineken ad.

You see, I'm not a savvy shopper. I'm always making wrong and useless purchases. My wardrobe right now is laden with mistakes - too many black items, too many clothes of similar design and too much stuff that don't suit me and which I never wear.

It boggles my mind why I'm not a cleverer shopper. It's not for want of experience. I love shopping. In my lifetime I must have covered the equivalent of several marathon miles in the malls I've trawled.

I should know by now what style suits me, what a good buy is and what would make a good addition to my wardrobe - and yet I keep making mistakes and suffering buyer's remorse.

Luckily I'm not incompetent when it comes to bags, shoes and accessories. Rarely have I bought anything I regretted. But clothes are my downfall.

At the recent Club 21 sale where prices were slashed by up to 80 per cent, I bought about 12 items of which three will never see the light of day, not because they are bad buys (they are gorgeous) but because they were the wrong buys for me.

For example, I bought a lovely, black, floor-length halter-neck gown - but what occasion would I ever have to wear it?

I also bought a glittery gold mini-dress - and I've not worn a mini-anything since my 20s.

Then there's that black woollen skirt, but haven't I always known that wool makes my bum look big and I don't like my bum looking big?

It's not just clothes that I make mistakes on when I shop. It can be anything.

I was out at my neighbourhood mall and came across some makeshift fruit hawkers. One was selling bundles of big red lychees. I asked him if he had those with tiny seeds and he pointed to lychees sold in sealed woven baskets. I got one basket, which cost $12. He said that if I bought two baskets, it'll cost just $20.

Sucker that I am, I got two baskets. When I reached home, I opened them. Sure enough the lychees had tiny seeds but they were all also unripe and extremely sour.

My mother said I should have got the hawker to open the basket to check if the lychees were ripe. I should have even asked to taste one fruit to check for sweetness.

But how was I to know a shopper could do that? I thought of marching back to the hawker to demand a refund but I'd already opened both baskets. In any case, it was my fault for not checking and I also didn't want the hassle. But I felt stupid every time I looked at those lychees.

But, at least, the amount here wasn't large. Buyer's remorse really hits hard when you've made a big purchase then wonder what all that was about.

I've recently been harbouring a desire to re-learn how to play the piano. I'd taken lessons when I was young but gave up after several years. Some of the keys on my 40-year-old piano at home don't work anymore and the piano is too old to be repaired. In any case, I reckoned a new one would inspire me more. And with the Great Singapore Sale on, the model I was eyeing came with a 15 per cent discount.

So last Sunday, I bought a piano. It wasn't an impulse buy because I'd already sought a musician friend's advice and had done my Internet research.

But it blew a bigger hole in my pocket than I'd budgeted. Worse, there are apparently so many Singaporeans buying pianos that I won't get delivery of mine until the end of July. I don't regret my purchase but I hope that my enthusiasm for the piano is still there when it finally arrives. Meanwhile, I rationalise to myself that it will - or should - give me hours of pleasure for the rest of my life, and if you break down the cost by day, it really isn't that much.

Buyer's remorse can hit a consumer for various reasons.

Usually it's because you'd paid too high a price for a product and now regret spending outside your means.

But it can also be that you'd bought the wrong item, or that, after your purchase, you discover a newer model is due out soon.

It can be that you were talked into buying something you didn't really want, or that what you bought got you into trouble with someone at home.

Buyer's remorse is a two-step process.

Before you buy something you covet, you are filled with anticipation of the joy it will give you. But once the purchase is made and, should any of the situations above occur, you feel deflated, unhappy and much poorer. Regret sets in and you even want to destroy what you've bought just so there's no reminder of how the market had got the better of you.

The thing about shopping in Singapore unlike in, say, the United States, is that there isn't a returns culture, which would go some way to negate buyer's remorse should it hit you.

A Sunday Times survey of 55 shops along Orchard Road earlier this year found that only seven have a refund policy. Customers, too, tend not to seek refunds or to exchange items unless they have clearly been cheated by a retailer.

A more active returns policy would be a boon for folks like me. But in the end, you should be responsible for what you buy.

Consumer experts often give this advice for guarding against buyer's remorse:

Don't buy on impulse;

Plan your purchases before you go shopping and keep to that list;

Make informed purchases. Do your research and shop around first;

Never be pushed into buying something, either by a salesman or a well-meaning friend;

Set a budget and stick to it;

Check the item's return policy.

But when all is said and done, it's pointless to regret what you've bought. Just make the best of it.

That gown I got at the Club 21 sale? Who's to say I can't wear it at home (while tinkering with the new piano, ha ha?) That glittery, gold mini-dress? It'll actually look nice paired with black tights.

And that unflattering woollen skirt? Well, okay, so there's only so much one can do to mitigate a wrong buy, but salvaging two out of three is pretty good already.

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