The things we touch while shopping can affect what we buy, according to studies by Bocconi Department of Marketing's Zachary Estes and University of Innsbruck's Mathias Streicher.
In "Touch and Go: Merely Grasping a Product Facilitates Brand Perception and Choice," published in Applied Cognitive Psychology, they conduct a series of experiments and show that blindfolded people induced to grasp familiar products (a bottle of Coke, for example) under the guise of a weight judgement task are then quicker in recognizing the brand name of the product when it slowly appears on a screen, include more frequently the product in a list of brands of the same category, and choose more often that product among others as a reward for having participated in the experiment.
The authors suggest that tactile exposure to the object "activated the conceptual representation of that object, which then facilitated subsequent processing of the given object."
In "Multisensory Interaction in Product Choice: Grasping a Product Affects Choice of Other Seen Products," published in Journal of Consumer Psychology, via another series of experiments, Estes and Streicher demonstrate that grasping an object can facilitate visual processing and choice of other seen products of the same shape and size. "For instance," explains Estes, "when you're holding your mobile phone in your hand, you may be more likely to choose a KitKat than a Snickers, because the KitKat is shaped more like your phone. What we find is that consumers are significantly more likely to choose the product that is similar to the shape of whatever is in their hand. For instance, when confronted with a choice between a bottle of Coke and a can of Red Bull, participants who held a bottle of Fanta were more likely to choose a bottle of Coke, but those who held a can of Fanta more often chose the can of Red Bull. These studies show that our hands can lead us to choose certain products."
However, there are two caveats to this effect, one situational and one personal. The situational constraint has to do with visual density. That is, some product arrays are very sparse, with plenty of space between the products, whereas others are very dense, with many products placed right next to one another. It turns out that when the visual array is overcrowded the hands have an even larger influence on product choice. "As visual perception becomes less reliable," the authors write, "tactile perception assumes a greater role in the recognition of object shape."
The second constraint is more personal: it depends on one's "need for touch," or how much people like to touch products while shopping. Some people really like to pick products up and feel them, and others don't. As expected, the scholars find that the hands have much more influence on product choice among those consumers who really like to handle products.
"These results have direct implications for product and package designers and marketing managers," Estes concludes. "For one thing, distinctive product shapes like Coca-Cola's iconic bottle design can provide a powerful source of brand identity and recognition. Second, consumers tend to choose products that are shaped like the things they often hold, like a mobile phone, a wallet, or a computer mouse when shopping online. Product designers could create packages that mimic those commonly held forms, and marketing managers can accentuate this effect of product touch by placing several products near one another, and by encouraging consumers to touch the products on display."
Watch Zachary Estes explaining his research: https://youtu.be/EJBvv3YZ004
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