Bobby Seagull is known for his logical mind, but he admits that even he has been prone on occasions to making an impulse purchase.
“The reality is we are humans, we see flashy ads and see things that are trendy or fashionable and want to get them.
“It’s about trying to make people more mindful of their decisions, because the reality is that, even myself, I’m a mathematician, I’m very logical, but even myself I get caught up by something in the moment.”
Seagull says that during lockdown, he snapped up a games console deal – “and I ended up using the item five times in the next year.
“So it doesn’t matter how logical you are, people need to have a mindful period before they make a purchasing decision.”
The former University Challenge contestant has teamed up with credit provider Vanquis, which recently carried out some consumer research into impulse buys.
Based on the tipping point at which people tended to be more likely to be happy with a purchase than regret it, Seagull has calculated that shoppers should take pause for at least two days and 21 hours after finding an item they want to buy before splashing their cash.
Cost per use
Calculating the “cost per use” can also be a good way of working out whether a purchase may actually be worthwhile.
Seagull explains: “That really makes people take a step back and think, so I’m getting this item, this is the initial outlay, and actually, over time, this will be the cost.”
Items regularly used around the house, for example, will end up costing just a small amount on a “per use” basis.
But some other items, whether it’s clothing or gadgets, for example, may not be used as often.
Impulse purchases can be particularly hard to resist at times when we find ourselves being bombard by retailers with “special deals” and “limited time offers”.
Emotions may overwhelm logic as we feel excited by the idea of getting a bargain, or fear missing out.
Seagull says that when we go into shops or scroll on our phones “things are designed to be attractive to you. There are some things that we need but maybe others that we don’t quite need at that time.
“If people can wait a bit, it means that they can do research, do comparisons, or they can chat to someone, a friend or family member to see if they really need that item.”
After that “little internal cooling-off period”, people can then decide whether they want to go ahead with the purchase.
“We want you to minimise your regret,” says Seagull. “Because I think that’s the worst thing, where people buy something and actually they don’t use it many times at all and they end up regretting it.”
Setting a budget and having long-term spending goals in mind can also be a good way to avoid buying regrets.
Seagull says that, just like everyone else, he can sometimes find retailers’ deals attractive. But normally, in his day-to-day life, he creates a budget, so he knows how much he is spending on discretionary purchases.
He explains: “All purchases are essentially trade-offs because we have budgets, if we purchase an item… it means that reduces our ability to spend on something else, let’s say maybe a holiday, or saving up. So everything that we do is a trade-off.”
In some cases, you may find that you get more than just an opinion by chatting to a friend or a family member about an item you are considering buying.
“By talking to other people you may find someone else has it and they can give it to you or sell it to you for half the price,” says Seagull.
He mentions that he also bought some headphones during lockdown, intending to use them for calls, “but as it turned out I didn’t really use the headphones at all”.
Seagull gifted them to a relative who enjoys listening to music on headphones, who was “very thankful”.
So even if you do experience buyer’s regret, remember that your unwanted item doesn’t have to end up languishing in a cupboard.
It could still be put to good use if it turns out to be just what someone else is looking for.
People can find out more about avoiding buyer’s regret and use Vanquis’s “cost per use” calculator at vanquis.co.uk/mindful-spending.