You`re likely to pay more for goods you can touch

Washington: Disagreeing with popular predictions that online shopping would soon take over shopping in stores and malls, researchers have suggested that people are almost 50 percent more likely to buy products they could touch as compared to the ones with pictorial representation.

While it`s true that online commerce has had an impact on all types of retail stores, it`s not time to bring out the wrecking ball quite yet, said a team of researchers from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech).

Most behavioural theories assume that the form of the presentation should not matter, noted Caltech`s Benjamin Bushong.

"However, our experiments show that the form in which the items are presented matters a lot. In fact, our research measures in monetary terms just how much those different displays matter," he said.

Initially, the Caltech team made these measurements by presenting foods to hungry subjects in three different forms: in a text-only format; in a high-resolution photograph; and in a tray placed in front of the subjects.

As it turned out, there was no difference between the values subjects put on the food depicted in the text and in the picture.

But the bids on the food on the tray right in front of the subjects were an average of 50 percent higher than the bids on either of the other two presentations.

"While the food experiments` results were intriguing, we couldn`t stop there," said Antonio Rangel of Caltech.

After all, the smell of the food might have made it more appealing to the experiment`s subjects.

And so, the team chose different goods to present-a variety of trinkets from the Caltech bookstore-and again measured the effect of display on willingness to pay.

The results were the same as during the food experiments. The subjects were willing to pay, on average, 50 percent more for items they could reach out and touch than for those presented in text or picture form.

"We knew then that whatever is driving this effect is a more general response," said Rangel.

The team``s initial hypothesis was that the behaviour is driven by a classic Pavlovian response.

"Behavioural neuroscience suggests that when I put something appetizing in front of you, your brain activates motor programs that lead to your making contact with that item and consuming it.

"We hypothesized that if there`s no way for you to touch the item, then the Pavlovian motor response would be absent, and your drive to consume the item thus significantly lessened," explained Rangel.

To test this hypothesis, the team put up a plexiglass barrier between the subject and the items up for bid. And, as predicted, once the possibility of physical contact with the item had been extinguished, the value the subjects gave to that item dropped to the same level as the text- and picture-based items.

"Even if you don`t touch the item the fact that it is physically present seems to be enough. This Pavlovian response is more likely to be deployed when making contact with the stimulus is a possibility," added Rangel.

The findings were published in the American Economic Review.