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Touch matters: Exploring the relationship between consumption and tactile interaction

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For a long time, vision dominated scientific research related to consumption. However, in the past 15 or so years there has been a gradual but steady interest in how the other senses can impact upon aspects such as consumer decision-making, product evaluation, and attention. The tactile sense in particular has been hailed as having the capacity to alter consumer perceptions and at times even directly compete with visual input. This review looks at numerous aspects of how touch is linked to consumption, such as; why it is an important tool, when tactile input is useful, the role of interpersonal touch in consumption and applicability to sales techniques, whether a “tactile language” can be established and how need for touch can be measured. By doing so this review draws upon research evidence from multiple disciplines, including consumer psychology, marketing, cognitive psychology, and neuroscience. The review seeks to present the reader with a sense of why tactile research is important to consumer sciences.
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Social Semiotics
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Touch matters: exploring the
relationship between consumption and
tactile interaction
Cathrine V. Jansson-Boyd a
a Department of Psychology, Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge,
UK
Available online: 27 Sep 2011
To cite this article: Cathrine V. Jansson-Boyd (2011): Touch matters: exploring the relationship
between consumption and tactile interaction, Social Semiotics, 21:4, 531-546
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RESEARCH ARTICLE
Touch matters: exploring the relationship between consumption and
tactile interaction
Cathrine V. Jansson-Boyd*
Department of Psychology, Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge, UK
(Final version received 9 May 2011)
For a long time, vision dominated scientific research related to consumption.
However, in the past 15 or so years there has been a gradual but steady interest
in how the other senses can impact upon aspects such as consumer decision-
making, product evaluation, and attention. The tactile sense in particular has
been hailed as having the capacity to alter consumer perceptions and at times
even directly compete with visual input. This review looks at numerous aspects
of how touch is linked to consumption, such as; why it is an important tool,
when tactile input is useful, the role of interpersonal touch in consumption and
applicability to sales techniques, whether a ‘‘tactile language’’ can be established
and how need for touch can be measured. By doing so this review draws
upon research evidence from multiple disciplines, including consumer psychol-
ogy, marketing, cognitive psychology, and neuroscience. The review seeks to
present the reader with a sense of why tactile research is important to consumer
sciences.
Keywords: touch; consumption; marketing; affect; compliance; Internet shopping
Introduction
Marketers are increasingly attempting to make use of tactile stimuli in the hope of
enticing consumers to buy their products. This is a recent development as, in the
past, touch as a consumer communication tool has been rarely used. Previously,
the predominant view was that vision is the dominating sensory channel (for
example, Ernst and Banks 2002; Warren and Rossano 1991), even though it has
long been known that consumers gather sensory information from their environ-
ments so that they can navigate their way through them and make judgements and
evaluations as they go along. Basically their multisensory input (touch, smell,
hearing, taste, and sight) forms the basis for human cognition (Neisser 1976). It is
only in the past decade that an interest has appeared in the other senses and a
clearer understanding has emerged with regard to the important role that the
tactile sense plays in consumer evaluations. The result being that the emphasis
upon vision is no longer dominating consumer perception research. That is not to
say that vision does not play a very important role, but simply that touch can
(depending on numerous factors) at times rival or at least work alongside the
visual sense.
*Email: cathrine.jansson@anglia.ac.uk
Social Semiotics
Vol. 21, No. 4, September 2011, 531546
ISSN 1035-0330 print/1470-1219 online
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The importance of tactile input is evident from research conducted on children.
Touch is the first sense to develop in infants (for example, Atkinson and Braddick
1982; Miodownik 2005) and the hands are continuously used to acquire
information from the moment we are born (for example, Piaget 1952). Infants
and young children clearly use touch to explore and evaluate their surroundings
(for example, Bushnell and Boudreau 1991; Piaget, 1952), something that adults
also do but to a lesser extent. Since touch is so important during the early years, it
may be that it is the most relevant sense for scaffolding theoretical knowledge later
in life (Ackerman, Nocera and Bargh 2010). The underlying idea is that early
sensorimotor experiences, such as haptically interacting with the physical environ-
ment, will subconsciously influence judgements and actions later in life (Williams,
Huang and Bargh 2010). This is because the experiences form a support structure
for the development of conceptual knowledge which can then be drawn upon at a
later stage (Mandler 1992).
That the interest in tactile sensory experience is carried through into adulthood
becomes obvious in the way that consumers engage in products. Such interest is
referred to by consumer behaviourists as the experiential perspective that encourages
consumers to investigate multisensory psychophysical relationships (Holbrook and
Hirshman 1982). Evidence of an experiential perspective is notable from everyday
consumption experiences such as clothes shopping. When consumers shop for
clothes both visual and tactile senses are drawn upon to evaluate the suitability of the
garment. It is worth noting here that the tactile evaluation can at times be used as a
peripheral cue in the decision-making process (Peck and Wiggins Johnson 2011),
suggesting that tactile surfaces may affect us instantly on a subconscious level. So in
the case of clothes shopping, regardless of whether the tactile input acts as a
peripheral cue, when the material does not have a satisfactory feeling, the shopper
normally continues to shop elsewhere (Gladwell 1996). Clearly such everyday
consumer activities highlight the fact that touch has an important role to play in
understanding consumer behaviour.
Touch can be defined as ‘‘sensations aroused through the stimulation of receptors
in the skin’’ (Stevens and Green 1996, 1). Such a definition suggests that touch is
something that we experience not only through our hands but also through other
parts of our bodies. The word ‘‘haptics’’, on the other hand, has been specifically
used to describe the system involved in the pickup of information by the hand
(Gibson 1966). In this paper the use of the words ‘‘touch’’ and ‘‘haptics’’ will refer
only to tactile interaction by the hand as it is the main functional interest for
furthering the understanding of consumer behaviours.
This review will discuss how touch is a generally important tool in understanding
consumer behaviour, and in particular the role of touch in the likelihood of purchase.
Touch will also be linked to affect as well as what kind of products may be affected
by tactile input. It will also explore how interpersonal touch can be used to further
the understanding of consumer behaviour and compliance and how such knowledge
is of particular importance to sales staff. The paper then goes on to review how the
lack of tactile input affects consumers shopping on the Web and whether there is such
a thing as a ‘‘tactile language’’. Finally this paper also outlines how the need for
touch in consumer environments can be measured and if there are possible
drawbacks of using tactile information to evaluate products.
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Touch: an important tool
As already mentioned, the important role of touch in consumer environments stands
out when looking at consumer behaviour in clothes stores. An old marketing trick
has been to fold clothes and put them on shelves easily accessible to shoppers. The
underlying idea being that it creates a sense of mystery in that they cannot see the
entire garment and hence have to go up to it and unfold it before deciding whether it
is of interest. This ‘‘trick’’ has been used for years and many clothes retailers are still
using it. However, the reason as to why it is a successful marketing technique is not
because it creates a sense of mystery but much more likely to be due to the fact that it
generates tactile interaction. Recent research has pinpointed that consumers prefer
to choose products from stores where they are allowed to touch the products
(McCabe and Nowlis 2003). Such research may explain the retail successes of such as
GAP, American Eagle Outfitters, and Urban outfitters whereby clothes are
commonly folded and displayed on big tables.
From a consumer perspective it should also be evident that touch is an important
tool if it is considered that certain product features such as hardness, roughness and
weight, can only be genuinely be determined through tactile input rather than
through our visual sense (for example, Klatzky and Lederman 1992, 1993; Lederman
and Klatzky 1987; Lindauer, Stergiou, and Penn 1986). It has also been found that it
is difficult for people to shift their attention away from tactile input once it is focused
there much more so than it is for other modalities such as vision and hearing (for
example, Spence, Nicholls, and Driver 2001; Spence, Shore, and Klein 2001; Turatto
et al. 2004). Hence, once a consumer is paying attention to a product based on its
tactile properties, it is less likely that they will shift their attention to a competing
product or brand. If products can capture their audiences based on tactile input they
will have a clear advantage over their competitors, which is very important in
cluttered market places. Presumably it is a combination of factors such as these and
recent consumer-related tactile studies that have led many to propose that it is on the
whole mainly advantageous to let consumers haptically interact with products (for
example, Grohmann, Spangenberg, and Sprott 2007; Peck and Wiggins 2006;
Schifferstein and Spence 2008), and in particular when individuals have a genuine
‘‘need to touch’’ products whilst shopping (Peck and Childers 2003b).
There are even those who are particularly motivated to touch products just
because it is fun (Peck and Wiggins 2006), suggesting that providing consumers with
an enjoyable experience is also important and not just giving consumers the chance
to touch a product. As Seung-A (2011) pointed out, when buying a car the test-
driving experience (fun haptic interaction) is just as important as simply touching the
vehicle. This being because consumersdecision-making is affected by factors such as
steering wheel sensitivity, smooth handling, weight distribution, pleasant feelings of
driving, and so forth.
When consumers are driven by the fun element of touch, using some form of
communication that includes some kind of tactile interaction is more persuasive than
communicative tools without tactile interaction (Peck and Wiggins 2006).
Another important aspect of touch is what happens when consumers are deprived
of tactile interaction. When consumers are prevented from touching products it affects
the judgement decisions that they make (Peck 1999; Peck and Childers 2003b). This is
most probably because tactile attributes are an integral part of product expectations
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(Schifferstein and Spence 2008) and such expectations appear to be (at least partially)
driven by previous experiences (Jansson-Boyd and Marlow 2007). Therefore, if
consumers expect to touch products and are not allowed to do so, it can lead to a sense
of frustration, especially if the individual has a general need for tactile interaction
(Peck 1999; Peck and Childers 2003b). Furthermore, such consumers also tend to be
‘‘less confident in their judgements’’ (Peck 1999, 191) due to the fact that they cannot
draw upon their tactile experiences. The fact that the judgements consumers make
about tactile attributes are driven by previous experiences (Jansson-Boyd and Marlow
2007) also explains why familiar products that have been altered haptically can be
deemed to feel unfamiliar (Schifferstein and Desmet 2007).
Tactile affect
One reason why touch plays an important role in how consumers perceive products is
because tactile input is linked to affect. By altering the tactile surfaces, it has been
proposed that it is possible to make consumers feel connected to a product on an
affective level (for example, Schifferstein and Hekkert 2011). There are some
neuroimaging studies that support such suggestions, in that it has been demonstrated
that regions of the orbitofrontal cortex are activated by pleasant touch and that such
activation is related to the affective aspects of the touch (Rolls et al. 2003). Hence it
presents the possibility that when consumers experience a haptically pleasant product
it triggers an emotional response that may be the factor that drives the evaluation of
that particular product. Consequently, by making consumers feel emotionally
connected to products they are ultimately making them feel closely connected to
them, and this in turn increases likelihood of purchase and repeat purchase.
Does touch affect consumer perception for all types of products?
To date it has not been clearly mapped out for what type of product categories tactile
input will influence consumer perceptions. Products with characteristics that are best
explored by touch (such as the softness of a jumper) have a positive effect on product
evaluation (Grohmann, Spangenberg and Sprott 2007; McCabe and Nowlis 2003).
The majority of products researched so far have been those that commonly require
some tactile interaction by consumers, such as such as pens, fleeces and DVDs (for
example, Grohmann, Spangenberg, and Sprott 2007; Jansson-Boyd and Marlow
2007; McCabe and Nowlis 2003). From such product research it is evident that there
are advantages of letting consumers touch the products as it generates a more
favourable product perception overall. So it is clear that if consumers are not allowed
to touch products that they expect to touch, their evaluations will be negatively
affected by such a constraint. Even though we know that products vary in the
diagnosticity of touch, it is not known if there is some kind of hierarchy in regards to
whether some products are more important to touch than others. For example, it may
be that clothes items and mobile phones are more important to touch than jewellery
and shoes. Establishing which products are more important to touch would be helpful
for marketers and retailers in that it would give them a chance to prioritise what
products should be made more readily haptically accessible to shoppers.
Something else worth investigating is to what extent, if any, tactile input can alter
the perception of products that consumers do not normally spend a lot of time
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touching. So far there is no real evidence to suggest that in such situations touch has
an important role to play. Marlow and Jansson-Boyd (2011) tested this empirically
by the use of fast-moving consumer goods (FMCGs). In their study they let
participants explore soap and biscuit boxes visually and haptically to establish which
of the senses influenced the evaluation more. Their results suggest that a consumers
perception of the packaging of FMCGs is affected more by vision than touch.
However, even though vision was the dominant sense in determining overall
likeability of the products evaluated, it was found that tactile input functioned as
an intermediating factor that helped increase or decrease the overall evaluation. This
raises some questions with regard to when marketers should encourage consumers to
engage in extensive tactile interaction prior to purchase.
Interpersonal touch as a means to consumer compliance
Interpersonal touch is perhaps not something that is commonly discussed when
applying touch to consumption. However, it really ought to be as it is an important
part of understanding consumer behaviour. The important role touch plays in social
interactions (for a review, see Gallace and Spence 2010) is just as applicable to
consumer environments as they are to general social settings.
One aspect of interpersonal touch should be of particular interest to consumer
behaviourists is that it can be a powerful tool in getting people to comply, something
that has been termed the Midas touch (Crusco and Wetzel 1984). One early study
demonstrating the ‘‘Midas touch’’ effect was by Fisher, Rytting, and Heslin (1976).
They tested the affective and evaluative consequences of library clerks touching
students lightly on their arms when the clerks checked out the studentsbooks.
Afterwards the students were asked to answer a questionnaire that measured how the
personnel and the library facilities were viewed. The results showed that students
who were touched rated the clerk significantly more favourably than did those who
were not touched.
Brockner et al. (1982) also pinpointed how interpersonal touch can lead to
compliance. In their study they asked users of a public telephone to return a dime left
in there. A light touch on the arm made during the request increased compliance
from 63% in the no-touch condition to 96% in the touch condition. This affect was
also found by Steward and Lupfer (1987), who had college students rate their
instructors after having been touched (or not) by their instructors. Instructors who
had touched their students were more likely to be rated as patient and understanding.
Another example of consumer compliance can be noted from a study by Eaton,
Mitchell-Bonair, and Friedmann (1986). They asked staff who worked in a home for
elderly to combine verbal encouragement to eat with interpersonal touch. When
doing so the elderly ate more and consequently consumed more calories and protein.
The effect lasted for several days after tactile contact had taken place, which is rather
remarkable but clearly demonstrates how strong the impact of interpersonal touch
can be.
The affect of interpersonal touch on compliance is also clearly evident in
consumer related settings. For example, Crusco and Wetzel (1984) examined the
effects of different types of touch in a restaurant setting. The waitresses were
instructed to briefly touch customers on the hand, on the shoulder, or not at all as
they returned the change to the customer once they had paid the bill. The results
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showed that customers who had been touched tipped more than those who had not
been touched.
The increase in consumer compliance through the use of interpersonal touch is
also notable from Horniks studies. He found that interpersonal touch increases
shopperswillingness to take part in interviews (Hornik and Ellis 1988), and that
when consumers were touched by a requester (to taste a new food product in a
supermarket) they were more likely to go a long with the request (Hornik 1992).
The impact of interpersonal touch upon compliance seems to be a cross-cultural
phenomenon as it has been found to be equally successful in cultures whereby touch
is not really an integral part of the culture (for example, Crusco and Wetzel 1984) as
it is in those where it is an integral part (for example, Jourard 1966). Most
aforementioned studies were conducted in non-contact cultures (where interpersonal
touch is not an important part of the culture), but also in contact cultures, such as
France, interpersonal touch has been found to generate compliance. For example, it
has been found that women are more likely to comply with filling in surveys when
touched by another female (Gue´guen 2002). Interestingly, the compliance to fill in
surveys were unaffected by whether the participants had noticed the tactual contact
or not. The fact that women who were touched by another woman were more likely
to comply is yet another example that it matters whether the person touching is male
or female (Willis and Hamm 1980). More recently it has also been found that the
touch of women is more influential than that of a man. This was shown by Levav and
Argo (2010) when they set out to explore how physical contact affects financial risk-
taking. They used undergraduate business students to test if they would risk more
money in an investment game if a female experimenter had patted them on the back,
rather than just talking to them, or if a man did the patting. The findings
demonstrated that both female and male students who were lightly touched by a
woman on the back were more likely to take bigger financial risks. It should be noted
that in this study patting on the back by men did not have a negative effect, it just
simply did not have any effect at all. Levav and Argo suggest that the effectiveness of
the female touch is because it ‘‘may evoke feelings that are similar to the sense of
security afforded by a mothers comforting touch in infancy’’ (2010, 808). If Levav
and Argo are correct in that there is a link between touching and feelings of security,
it provides a neat and simple explanation for why those being touched are more likely
to comply with requests. In contact cultures such as France it has also been found
that people are more likely to comply with requests in general if they have
experienced interpersonal touch such as a request to look after a dog whilst the
owner goes in to a pharmacy, where animals are prohibited (Gue´guen and Fisher-
Lokou 2003a).
It should be pointed out that interpersonal touch can be equally useful to the
consumer as it can be for a waitress or market researcher in that also they can
take advantage of how it can lead to compliance. For example, if a consumer wants a
free bus ride. Researchers found that bus drivers are more likely to give a passenger a
free ride if they touch him at the same time as making the request (Gueguen and
Fischer-Lokou 2003b).
It is not entirely clear why interpersonal touch is so effective when it comes to the
increase of compliance. Several explanations may be feasible, including that the
person being touched interprets the action as a sign of trust and that they are liked
by the person who touched them (Rose 1990). Another explanation may be that
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there are receptors in the skin that code what is deemed to be pleasant touch
(McGlone et al. 2007). However, such explanation cannot account for touch on the
palm of the hands, as those particular receptors that code pleasant touch are not
present there.
Sales techniques
Clearly a good understanding of interpersonal touch is essential for sales people as
most sales staff want their targets to comply with what they are proposing.
Salespeople of any kind should also be aware that it may affect the way in which
their personality is perceived. It has been established that the personality of a person
that is instigating interpersonal touch can be viewed more favourably than it is for a
person who is not touching another individual. This was explored in a study where a
male confederate tried to sell a second-hand car. The seller either touched the buyer
on the forearm or he did not. Afterwards the buyer was asked to fill in a brief
questionnaire about the car seller. The results showed that when the seller had
touched the buyer on the arm he was attributed with more positive personality
characteristics compared with when he had not touched the buyersarm (Erceau and
Gueguen 2007).
However, it is not only interpersonal touch that should be of interest to sales staff
but also how tactile elements can be utilised to alter the way in which a particular
person is perceived. For example, Williams and Bargh (2008) showed that peoples
perception of a target person changed depending on whether they held a cup of hot
coffee or a cup of iced coffee. The person who held the cup was clearly unaware of
the impact the coffee cup had on their perception.
Furthermore, sales staff should be aware that there are individual differences in
regards to consumersneed for touch and that tactile inputs affect customers
evaluations differently (for example, Citrin et al. 2003; Peck and Childers 2003b). It
is therefore not necessarily advisable to encourage all customers to engage in
extensive tactile interaction. For example, women have been found to favour tactile
input more than men (Citrin et al. 2003). Meanwhile others have suggested that age-
related differences should be taken into account (Spence and Gallace 2011).
‘‘Changes in brain volume normally mirror the pattern of loss that characterizes
behavioural performance with aging’’ (Gutchess 2010, 5), and as some sensory
cortices are more affected by aging (Raz 2000) it is possible that touch may no
longer be as effective in its assistance of making judgements of products. However, it
is not only the tactile sense that is affected by age. Other aspects of human
functioning deteriorate too, such as memory and attention (for example, Massimi
and Baecker 2007; Gutchess 2010). Bearing in mind that tactile information can
impact on consumersbehaviours irrespective of whether they are aware of the
tactile sensations (for example, Crusco and Wetzel 1984), it is possible that tactile
input may provide an elderly shopper with a persuasive input in favour of a
particular brand or product (Spence and Gallace 2010). Consequently, sales staff
should consider carefully when it is most appropriate to include tactile interaction
into their ‘‘sales pitch’’ as it may be more advantageous for some individuals than it
is for others.
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Internet shopping
If tactile inputs are an integral part of the consumption experience this raises the
question of how they affect Internet shopping. Clearly shopping online deprives
consumers of any tactile interaction and consequently it ought to impact upon the
consumer decision-making process. Bearing in mind that consumers who have a
high need for touch and are deprived tactile stimulation can become frustrated, this
could affect the judgement decisions that they make and knock their confidence for
making judgements (Peck 1999; Peck and Childers 2003b). It appears feasible to
assume that Internet shopping will not be suitable for everyone. Simply put, those
with a high need for touch are unlikely to find shopping on the Web desirable.
Perhaps this can (at least partially) explain why there has not been a major growth
for Internet firms aiming to cater for retail consumers (Zuckerman 2000). In the
United States in 1999, Internet shopping only accounted for approximately 3% of
shoppers total spending (US$185 billion) and it was proposed that 12% of online
purchases made would be returned due to unsatisfactory product information
(Quick 1999). More recently it has been estimated that approximately 27% of
clothing purchased online in Canada is returned (ELC 2008), and approximately
16% of shoppers in the UK frequently return purchases (Bourke 2011). It is
therefore hardly surprising that it was established relatively early on that the lack of
sensory (all senses, not just touch) experience was a deterrent for consumers to
shop online (Phillips et al. 1997). Clearly the idea that multisensory input is a
barrier for shopping online may be product specific, in that certain products may
require less multisensory investigation than others. McCabe and Nowlis (2003)
found that products with material properties such as clothes or carpets are more
likely to be purchased in retail environments where consumers can physically
inspect the products. However, for products such as packaged goods, consumers
seem equally willing to purchase them online as they are in-store.
The lack of multisensory (and tactile input in particular) integration into
online shopping is undoubtedly an important challenge to be overcome by many
companies (Spence and Gallace 2011). To date there is little research trying to
establish how such a problem can be overcome. However, it may be that the answer
can eventually be found in the use of three-dimensional virtual touch systems. For
example, Seung-A (2011) investigated three-dimensional virtual touch created by
Novint Falcon haptic interfaces and how it affected consumer behaviour in the
interactive marketing of automobiles. Novint Falcon is a haptic technology that
interfaces with consumers through the sense of touch. Basically, it provides
consumers with a sense of touch with computer-generated environments and
essentially makes the stimulus seem real and tangible. Seung-A found that those
who are good at gathering information through touch evaluated the products in a
more positive manner and enjoyed the test-driving experience more. It is clearly
highly debatable whether a device such as Novint Falcon could in any way be
utilised by Internet retailers. However, it may indicate that there will be future
technology that can be coupled to the Internet and in some way provide the tactile
information needed to encourage online consumption by consumers with a high
need for touch. As Tan (2000) pointed out, that even though progress has been
made in regards to haptic interfaces, such research has not yet become common-
place and consequently there is still a fair bit of work to be done within this area.
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Tactile language
Research evidence mainly points towards tactile interaction being something positive
within consumer environments. What researchers have yet to establish is whether
there is a genuine tactile language. Is it possible that different materials and textures
may have constant meaning and consequently communicate different kinds of
information to consumers? Equally, is it possible that certain types of design features
that generate certain types of tactile interaction alter the way in which products are
perceived? To date, very little is known about whether there is such a thing as a tactile
language.
We know that the tactile dimensions of a product have the capacity to change
the aesthetic appreciation of products (Jansson-Boyd and Marlow 2007), but we do
not know whether those same dimensions have constant meaning. Research studies
aiming to explore this suggest that people have already established preferences for
tactile input even when they have not previously been exposed to the stimuli
(Jansson-Boyd and Haggard 2006; Jansson-Boyd 2008). It appears that for totally
unfamiliar stimuli, people like certain tactile patterns more than others and that
they are consistently rated in a similar fashion. This was evident when Jansson-
Boyd and Haggard (2006) asked people to haptically and visually explore stimuli
that they had never previously encountered and then rate each one for
attractiveness. Their findings showed that people had a clear preference for stimuli
that were made of one kind of texture over visually identical stimuli made of
different textures. This is in line with previous research findings that have found
that there is some consensus in regards to what kind of tactile input is perceived to
be pleasant (Essick et al. 2010). The idea that tactile input may generate preferences
and mould perception should be taken into account when designing and
manufacturing new products. However, it is unlikely that materials which have
the capacity to alter perception for new stimuli will generate the same kind of
evaluation if attached to an already familiar product. In the case of existing
products it is much more likely that previous experience will guide consumer
perception of tactile input (Jansson-Boyd and Marlow 2007). At this point it is
probably safest to test materials on a decent sized population in order to establish
whether it is suitable for use when designing or redesigning a product. Similarly, it
should also be tested if certain design features may convey an underlying message.
This is important as it has been found that the way in which the product design
guides tactile interaction also appears to have an effect upon the way in which
products are perceived. For example, McDaniel and Baker (1977) found that when
potato chips were put in bags that were harder to open, consumers believed that
the chips actually tasted better. A similar study was also conducted by Krishna and
Morrin (2008). They investigated if the firmness of a cup affects the judgement of
water. However, their results were slightly less straightforward in that they
suggested that not all consumers are influenced by haptic cues. Those who are
high in the autotelic need for touch (i.e. those that appreciate tactile input and like
to touch products) are less affected by cues such as firmness of a cup, whilst those
who are low on autotelic need for touch are more likely to be influenced by such
haptic cues. Unfortunately, research in this area is sparse and few have looked at
the implications of different forms of tactile language, whether it be texture based
or design based. Consequently, it is imperative to explore this further before any
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real conclusions can be drawn (Spence and Gallace 2011). Perhaps Sonnevelds
(2007) work could be utilised as a starting point for investigating tactile language.
She proposed a framework consisting of five domains based on peoples verbal
descriptions of haptic experiences. The framework depicts the experiences in terms
of movements, physical sensations, affective behaviour, gut feelings and tactual
properties. Each domain helps to establish influential factors that contribute to why
people think that stimuli are haptically pleasant or unpleasant (Sonneveld and
Schifferstein 2008). Sonnevelds work is clearly not aimed at establishing a tactile
language, but nonetheless it could help underpin the very basics of what may be
the beginning of a tactile language in that it distinguishes between pleasant and
unpleasant tactile stimuli.
As far as tactile language is concerned, there is also another factor to take into
consideration and that is to what extent products need to be haptically congruent
with the visual input. In most consumer scenarios it is the visual sense that is going
to (at least initially) guide the consumer. Consequently, it appears feasible that
products ought to feel the way they look. This has become increasingly notable from
the way in which product designers have utilised tactile features to reinforce the
visual image of a product (Howes 2005; Spence and Gallace 2011). For example,
Andrex toilet tissue, Jeep, Oil of Ulay, Velvet toilet tissue, Toyota and Cadburys are
examples of brands that have at some point (if not consistently) at least mentioned in
their advertisements that their products feel the way they look.
How to measure the need for touch
The need for touch is one of the essential factors setting ‘‘genuinely tactile
consumers’’ apart from those that have little or no desire to touch products.
Consequently, it is also important to have an understanding for how such differences
between consumers can be measured. The fact that consumers differ significantly in
the amount of touch they engage in while shopping (Peck and Childers 2003a) may
mean that marketers might on occasion wish to pinpoint such consumers in advance
so that they know what their target audiences may expect from their promotional
materials.
To date, two scales have been specifically designed to measure the need for touch
by consumers. The first scale was designed by Citrin et al. (2003) in order to measure
how need for touch may affect Internet consumption. In their study, 272 participants
were used to create a reliable factor that could be use as a measurement and they
ended up with six statements that had a factor loading higher than 0.82 on their
principal components factor analysis. Examples of statements included are: ‘‘I need
to touch a product in order to evaluate its quality’’,‘‘I feel it necessary to touch a
product in order to evaluate its physical characteristics’’, and ‘‘I need to touch a
product in order to create a general evaluation of it’’.
The second scale was designed by Peck and Childers also in 2003 and is called the
‘‘Need for Touch Scale’’. This particular scale was rigorously tested and retested on
several occasions prior to publication and tested on over 2000 participants. Their
scale consists of 12 statements (categorised into autotelic and instrumental
dimensions) that are designed to measure individual differences in preference for
tactile information. Both scale dimensions were found to have factor loading above
0.7 and high levels of reliability. The autotelic dimension is about ‘‘touch as an end in
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and of itself’’ (Peck and Childers, 2003a, 431) and is representing a hedonic
dimension of consumption. It is based on Holbrook and Hirschmans (1982) idea
that consumer involvement can be for fun and enjoyment. Statements tapping into
this include: ‘‘When walking through stores, I cant help touching all kinds of
products’’ and ‘‘I find myself touching all kinds of products in stores’’. Peck and
Childers (2006) found that there is a link between autotelic need for touch and
impulse-purchase behaviour. What they demonstrated was that consumers that score
more highly on autotelic need for touch purchase more impulsively than those who
score lower on the autotelic dimension.
The second dimension of the ‘‘Need for Touch Scale’’, instrumentality, is about
relating touch to actual purchase. Hence looking at how influential the touch is to
purchase outcome. Examples of statements measuring this include ‘‘If I cant touch a
product in the store, I am reluctant to purchase the product’’ and ‘‘The only way to
make sure a product is worth buying is to actually touch it’’.
Both scales would be useful in testing consumersneed for touch, even though
there are some differences between the two scales. Citrin et als scale makes use of one
generic factor in trying to establish the need for touch, whilst Peck and Childers
distinguish between different types of individuals in their need for touch. Both scales
require that consumers are genuinely aware of how they behave whilst in store. There
are those that have proposed that consumer behaviours are often acted upon
subconsciously (for example, Dijksterhuis and Nordgren 2006; Dijksterhuis and
Smith 2005; Dijksterhuis et al. 2005; Janiszewski 1990; Zaltman 2003) and
consequently would be unable to answer such questionnaires accurately.
Possible pitfalls of using touch in marketing contexts
Clearly the role of touch in consumption is not straightforward, especially since there
are still a lot of gaps to fill in as far as research is concerned, in order to have a clearer
picture of the role of touch. Nevertheless, research has provided enough evidence to
use as pointers to make the retail environment more effective.
Tactile interaction can be deemed a costly function compared with vision in that it
takes more physical energy to touch products than it does to just looking at them
(Jones and ONeill 1985). This is most probably why products with geometric
properties are less likely to be picked up in retail environments (Hoyer 1984). In
contrast, ‘‘pleasurable’’ tactile objects (e.g. an animal skin) are more likely to be
touched (Koran et al. 1984). Even though this clearly shows that some products
encourage tactile interaction, the research itself is too generic to provide exact
recommendations for which products should be made accessible to consumers for
physical examination.
Another possible downside to letting consumers touch products is that it can lead
to tactile contamination. It appears that consumers do want to touch products whilst
in-store. However, that is not to say that they wish to touch the very same products
that have been touched by other shoppers (Argo, Dahl, and Morales 2006).
Retailers may also wish to be cautious in letting consumers touch products
deemed to be made of poorer quality. Grohmann, Spangenberg, and Sprott (2007)
found that when participants in one of their studies were asked to haptically evaluate
high-quality products, touch had a positive effect. However, when participants were
asked to touch and evaluate low-quality products the effect was negative. This
Social Semiotics 541
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demonstrates that it is not always beneficial to let consumers touch all types of
products as it can decrease overall evaluation and presumably also decrease
likelihood of purchase.
Closing remarks
There is no doubt that touch has an important role to play in many different aspects
of consumer behaviour as this paper clearly shows.
The capability of increasing the likelihood of sales (for example, Peck and
Childers 2003b) is the key to why touch should be acknowledged as an important
tool. Such an increase can be done through direct tactile contact with a product (for
example, Peck and Childers 2003b) but it may also be done through persuasion by
using interpersonal touch (for example, Erceau and Gueguen 2007; Hornik 1992).
The fact that tactile interaction may trigger an emotional response (Rolls et al. 2003)
further strengthens the argument that touch is a vital part of marketing. On the
whole it seems that there are more advantages with letting shoppers touch products
whilst in-store (for example, Grohmann, Spangenberg, and Sprott 2007; Peck and
Wiggins 2006) and that hampering such interaction may decrease likelihood of
purchase (Peck and Childers 2003b).
As the results mainly lean towards consumers being allowed to touch products,
this also presents some difficulties for industries whereby tactile interaction cannot
be encouraged, such as for Internet and catalogue shopping. Clearly a high amount
of research is required before there is a solution in regards to how consumers can
engage in virtual tactile shopping.
On a final note it is also worth remembering that researchers have not yet
established a tactile language. As there is plenty of research demonstrating the
importance and flexibility of touch, there have been very few attempts to pinpoint
whether there is such a thing as a tactile language. If marketers and manufacturers
are genuinely hoping to communicate on a tactile level with their consumers, then
more research is clearly required. In order to ‘‘map out’’ a tactile language there are
many lines of inquiry that can be made. For example, research may be conducted to
investigate if the meaning of a tactile input is constant or whether it is more fluid in
nature (such as colours) in that it may change with context and consumer experience.
Notes on contributor
Dr Cathrine Jansson-Boyd is a researcher and senior lecturer at Anglia Ruskin University,
Cambridge, UK. Her research and teaching focuses on consumer psychological areas. In
particular, her area of research specialism is the influence of touch upon product evaluation
and aesthetic judgement. She has recently written two books about consumer psychology and
has published several articles in scientific journals. Cathrine has acted as a consultant for
many companies on consumer psychology-related aspects such as tactile influence, decision-
making, and packaging.
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A child's first tactual experiences with objects mostly involve being touched. Once children grow old enough to reach out and touch what surrounds them, their tactual experiences become active. And although children are aware that they are the active agent in kicking the ball and riding the bicycle, it is not always clear whether they are cuddling the toy or whether the toy is cuddling them; touching becomes interactive. This unavoidable reciprocity is characteristic for the sense of touch. Seeing does not imply being seen, neither does hearing imply being heard. But touching implies being touched simultaneously. Touching and being touched are integrated into one phenomenon, the tactual experience. This chapter describes the meaning of touch, based on a literature overview approaching touch from different perspectives, and discusses the five domains of tactual experience with background information for each specific domain. It provides an overview of the different domains from which tactual experiences can be described and explored. In addition, it discusses the Tactual Experience Guide, which summarizes those different domains. This guide helps people to describe their tactual experiences with objects, by offering a consistent framework of the different aspects of tactual experience (the content of the tool), and by offering a format that guides people through this experience (the design of the tool). Throughout the chapter, the descriptions of the different aspects of tactual experience are illustrated with examples derived from the Tactual Experience Guide. Furthermore, it discusses the development of product designers' aesthetic sensitivity for the tactual experience in human-product interaction and recommendations for future research in the field of tactual aesthetics.
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This chapter highlights the roles of the various senses and their interplay when people interact with different products. Besides highlighting the key theoretical debates in this area, the discussion centers on empirical data gathered in well-controlled experimental studies, as well as on survey data. It also highlights a number of examples where the theoretical principles of multisensory perception have actually been incorporated and tested in the design of everyday products. It describes a particular topic and then critically discusses a number of scientific studies that have investigated this topic. Typically, each topic can be characterized not only by its content but also by the specific approaches and research methods that are used. Additionally, where possible it outlines how this knowledge is used or can be used in the development of new products. It reviews what happens when people switch their attention between different sensory systems. Given that the senses typically do not work in isolation, but rather operate as an integrated whole, it discusses the links that people experience intuitively between phenomena occurring in different sensory modalities and the ways in which sensory information from the different modalities is integrated into a holistic product experience. Furthermore, it highlights some of the important emerging challenges currently facing researchers and designers in the area of multisensory product design.
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