There are people who shall remain nameless who find it distinctly annoying to walk through a department store — or even a boutique — with me. Why? Because I touch just about everything. I pick things up, slide them across the racks, run the fabrics between my index and forefinger, you know the drill. If you have been shopping with people like me — and you’re not one of us — you may find it annoying as well, even more so if you’re on the hook for all or part of our credit card bills.
Why? Because, it turns out, the more you touch, the more you buy. And that’s not the only impact touch has on your bottom line. The impact of touch on consumer behavior is Wisconsin School of Business Marketing Professor Joanne Peck’s field of study (something you might ascertain from the multiple Slinkys and other purely tactile items that populate her office.) I spent some time with her recently and came away with some new insights for exercising a little more control over your wallet.
Keep your hands off the merchandise. When you touch something you’re considering buying — whether you’re squeezing a cantaloupe or test-driving a car — a couple of things happen. First, you gain information. You get a sense, Peck explains, for the weight of the thing. You can discern whether it’s hard or soft and what temperature it is. These are things you can’t tell necessarily just by looking at it. Second, and more important where your wallet is concerned, you gain a sense of ownership. This is called the “endowment effect.” Interestingly, the more you think you know about a category, the more you want to touch it, Peck explains. But unless you really want to buy it, try to keep your hands off. “The longer you touch it, the more likely you are to keep it,” she says. (Or the less likely you’ll be willing to give it up.) You’re also likely to pay more for the privilege.
Be aware of friendly touches from salespeople. Recently, Peck and her Ph.D. student Andrea Webb have been looking at the influence of human touches on spending as well. They’ve learned that when it comes to touching — and being touched — the world is divided into four types of people: Touch enthusiasts who like both touching others and being touched (25-30% of the population), touch avoiders who do not like touching others or being touched (25%), touch accepters who aren’t comfortable initiating touches but are okay receiving them (35%) and touch pursuers who are comfortable initiating touches but not with receiving them (at 9 or 10%, Peck says they’re the “weirdest group — for them it’s a control thing.”).
How does all this impact your shopping behavior? If you’re an “enthusiast” or an “accepter” and you’re okay with being touched — and most people are — a light touch on the arm by a salesperson or a waiter is likely to lead you to buy more, she explains. If you’re not okay, it’s likely to make you uncomfortable and less likely to purchase. But the lesson for retailers is clear: People who are receptive to being touched outnumber those who are not okay by about two-to-one. If you’re trying to increase your sales, directing your staff to be a little touchy is likely to be a smart move. (Whether going into a store and touching a salesperson is likely to net you a better deal remains to be seen.)
A few additional guidelines from their research to keep in mind? The closer you are to the equator, the more comfortable people generally are with touch. The same is true with older people. And women are more comfortable initiating touch than men are. Just tread carefully. Shortly after my meeting with Peck, I was in a restaurant with a female friend. A waiter (male) touched her on the shoulder. We’re both pretty touchy people, but the gesture struck us as unusually brazen. We felt more uncomfortable than inclined to spend more. We didn’t splurge on dinner and, when we paid the check, we left an average — not supersized — tip.
Jean Chatzky is a member of the DailyWorth Experts program. Read more about the program here.