Shopping via Tablet Messes with Your Head

If you hope to stick to a budget this holiday season, you might want to stay away from buying gifts online with a touchscreen tablet: A new study by Carroll School of Management researchers finds that shopping for products on a tablet can make you feel like you already own them — and if you feel like you already own something, you’re more likely to buy it.

In “Tablets, Touchscreens, and Touchpads: How Varying Touch Interfaces Trigger Psychological Ownership and Endowment,” which is being published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, Egan Professor of Information Systems James Gips and Associate Professor of Marketing Stevan Adam Brasel examine the so-called endowment effect — the idea of overvaluing things we own compared to things we don’t own — and how it is affected by such interactive technology as touchscreen tablets.

Since research has shown that simply touching — or even imagining touching — an object produces a feeling of ownership, say Gips and Brasel, what happens in an age when the object’s image is on the touchscreen of an iPad, smart phone or similar device?

The Carroll School researchers had separate groups of people surf online for a sweater and a city walking-tour service using a touchscreen, touchpad, and normal computer mouse in one study, and sweatshirts and tents on iPads and laptops in a second study. After choosing a product, participants were asked how much money it would take for them to sell their product if someone else wanted to buy it. Those using the touchscreen wanted almost 50 percent more money for their chosen product than those using the mouse or touchpad laptop.

Explaining the reason for such elevated perceptions of ownership, Brasel says, “This is the first evidence that we know of exploring this endowment effect via touchscreen interface. When we reach out to grab a product in the real world, we’ll hold the product in one hand and touch the product with the other hand. So the act of doing that on a tablet mimics our real-world experience much better than when we’re operating a mouse that in turn moves a pointer that is on some unconnected screen we’re not even holding.“

Brasel and Gips found that sense of ownership is magnified when the purchasable item has a touch component to it.
“There’s a much more natural fit with a product that actually has touch as a real dimension, like a sweatshirt,” says Brasel. “Touch isn’t really a relevant dimension of a city tour. So we see this effect become much, much stronger for products that have very strong touch-based importance to them.”

Given that consumers are projected to spend as much as $82 billion on online shopping this holiday season, Brasel says the study results — while not examining likely purchases with a touchscreen tablet — could be promising for retailers.
“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. It does seem like E-commerce is moving toward tablets and other touch-based devices, so this effect is only going to get more important in time, rather than less.”

The study may open some eyes in the marketing industry on how consumers are targeted, add the authors.

Study Considers Impact of Touchscreen Technology on Shopping Choices“One of the key things we try to argue across all of our work is that marketers need to pay more attention to the interfaces people use to access content,” says Brasel.  “We’ve spent a whole lot of time as marketers exploring the content itself, like ‘How do we make this website more useful?’ ‘What happens if we use this site versus that site?’ Or ‘What about this ad versus that ad?’

“But what this work is starting to show is the interfaces that people use to access that content can have as strong of an effect on consumer behavior as the content itself. As marketers we need to do more research into interfaces because they can drastically change how we process identical content.”

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