3 Ways Touchscreens Influence Online Shoppers


Welcome, retailers. Today’s lesson: the power of touch.

According to recent academic research, online shoppers more highly value a product if they touch an image of it using a touchscreen instead of pointing at it via a computer mouse or touchpad.

Yes, yes, the margin-squeezed skeptics among you are silently scoffing: What difference does it make how they click to our wares?

Quite a lot, it turns out.

Boston College professors, S. Adam Brasel and James Gips, whose research was published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, found that touchscreen shopping influences shoppers in three ways:

  1. They feel a stronger sense of psychological ownership.
  2. That sense of ownership triggers what’s known as the endowment effect: the perception that the product is worth more money than the selling price.
  3. If the product is one shoppers typically touch and hold at a brick-and-mortar store, such as apparel, the intensity of attachment and perceived value increase yet again.
 Professors Gips, Brasel                       (Boston College photo/Lee Pellegrini)

 Professors Gips, Brasel                       (Boston College photo/Lee Pellegrini)

The product choices in two study groups were college sweatshirts and city walking-tours, and the sweatshirts and tents. Participants who used tablets and selected sweatshirts were willing to sell them but for an average of 50% more than the asking price.

“Essentially, directly touching pictures of products generates feelings of ownership, causing you to act in many ways as if you already own the products,” Brasel and Gips wrote. “This can increase your perceived value of the product, make you more attached to the product, and more reluctant to give it up.”

Those responses can be the same type generated when touching the product in a physical store. After all, “we’ll hold the product in one hand and touch the product with the other hand,” Brasel told The Boston College Chronicle. “So the act of doing that on a tablet mimics our real-world experience much better.”

Brasel also said the findings could be helpful for retailers as online shopping increases, as does web access via tablets and smart-phones.

"It suggests they should be putting a lot of effort into optimizing their touchscreen versions of their websites, the ones designed for phones and tablets. And that you want as much direct touch as possible, and the pictures of your products to be as vivid and as real as possible because that will generate these ownership perceptions. Retailers should work with that and not necessarily against it.”

Class dismissed.

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