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How Touchscreens Can Improve Product Evaluations

Marketers know that digital interfaces change the shopper’s experience, but what about “touch interfaces”?  Recent research from Boston College professor S. Adam Brasel shows that products are valued more highly by shoppers when those products are chosen via a touchscreen than when selected using a touchpad or mouse.

At MSI’s May conference, “Marketing in a Multi-channel and Multi-screen World,” Brasel will discuss his research and marketing implications. As more consumers migrate to tablets and touchscreens, "the interfaces that people use to access content can fundamentally change the way they see that content. Everything from screen size to resolution to interactivity can affect how they respond,” he notes.

Research in the bricks and mortar world has established that touching a product can boost perceived ownership and magnify the “endowment effect”—the tendency to ascribe more value to something that is owned. The question is, does merely touching an object’s image on a digital screen also boost perceived ownership and the endowment effect?

In a study published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, Brasel and coauthor James Gips designed an online shopping scenario, where students browsed assortments for sweatshirts and New York City walking tours using one of three computer interfaces (mouse, wireless touchpad, or touchscreen).  A questionnaire measured perceived ownership (e.g., “I feel like [product] is already mine”), and the endowment effect was measured as the amount of money shoppers would accept to part with their chosen product once they had already made their choice.

They found that the endowment effect was greater for products selected on touchscreen interfaces than touchpads or mice.  On average, touch-screen shoppers wanted significantly more money (about $68) than people using the mouse ($47) or the touchpad ($44) to part with their item, and the effects were stronger for the more “touchable” sweatshirts than for the walking tours.

In a second study, Brasel and Gips investigated whether actually owning the digital device altered these effects. In this experiment, half of study participants brought their iPads and half brought their laptop computers. They were asked to shop for sweatshirts and tents, first on their owned device then on a lab’s iPad or laptop.

Similar to the first study, touchscreens generated stronger levels of perceived psychological ownership and endowment compared to touchpads, with roughly twice as strong endowment effects on the iPad when compared to the laptop. This effect was even stronger when subjects used an iPad they owned and when their sense of ownership was more salient (i.e., when they were more “emotionally attached” to their device), while device ownership didn’t affect results for the laptop.

The marketing effects of digital interfaces has been relatively understudied, and Brasel’s study raises a number of intriguing questions.  Has the increasing use of tablets in restaurant and product showrooms changed consumer behavior?  How do customer service encounters differ when they are conducted on touchscreens versus computers?  Does textural “dissonance” (between the screen’s glasslike surface and a cashmere sweater, for example) affect product evaluations?

In the future, Brasel and Gips conclude, marketers may pay as much attention to the digital interfaces used to access content as they do to the content  itself. “Marketing interfaces have the potential to serve as a strong prime within consumer behavior, changing goal salience and preference functions across a number of important customer dimensions.”

Related links

Retailing in a Global, Multi-Channel World

(2012) [Conference summary]

Design Meets Marketing: Service Innovation by Design

(2008) [Conference summary]

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