Thursday, June 28, 2012 Marketing Research Blog
How Does Touch Affect Consumer Behavior? by Joann Peck

Have you ever noticed that some shoppers are drawn to touch store merchandise? Some consumers like to handle all sorts of products, even those that they do not intend to buy. Store managers have recognized that displays which allow customers to touch items can lead to increased sales. However, marketers may wonder under what conditions this increase in sales is most likely to occur. Does it depend on the consumer or on the type of product? Does the appeal of touch apply only to point-of-sale behavior or could it apply to other marketing situations as well?

I have developed a body of research, published in leading marketing journals such as Journal of Marketing and Journal of Consumer Research, on the influence of touch on consumer behavior. Touch researchers have learned that there are variations in people’s “need for touch”—their preferences and motivations for obtaining product information by touching the product. Moreover, certain product categories—those that vary in texture, weight, hardness, and temperature, all of which can be appreciated best through touch—are more likely to encourage touch prior to purchase. These findings have important implications for managers. Point-of-purchase signs, displays, and packaging that encourage people to touch the product may increase the likelihood that consumers will make a purchase.

Most marketing research related to touch focuses on touch’s persuasive effect when it enables consumers to glean information on specific product attributes. However, my research goes beyond this limited application and finds that touch can influence consumer behavior even in theabsence of useful product-related information. For people with a high “need for touch,” a marketing communication that incorporates touch leads to increased customer response and greater persuasion. This is especially true when the touch provides neutral or positive sensory feedback. For example, a fundraising request from a non-profit organization that incorporates an attachment that is pleasant to touch (such as a feather or a soft fabric swatch) may persuade certain recipients to donate to the organization. Even for people with a lower “need for touch,” a marketing communication that incorporates touch clearly related to the message is more persuasive than one that does not include an opportunity to touch.

This research implies that touch could be incorporated into a range of marketing messages—fundraising solicitations, direct-mail catalogs for clothing or furniture, print advertising, and product packaging—as a way to increase persuasion. To hear more about my research on touch, tune in to Wisconsin Public Radio’s University of the Air on Sunday, July 1 at 4:00 p.m. CST.