Business Psychology - Latest Findings

Article No. 28
Customer Psychology Findings, by James Larsen, Ph.D.

Customer Response to Touch

Amazing reactions to touch offer new ways to influence decisions.

Jacob Hornik, from the University of Chicago, recently completed three experiments testing brief touches between sales clerks and customers and had truly phenomenal results. Typically, clerks touched customers lightly for 1/2 second on the upper arm. It was a touch so quick and natural, that shoppers don't realize they'd been touched.

In his first experiment, employees of a large book store stood at the entrance all day handing out 4-page catalogues. People who entered alone were approached by employees. They were handed a catalog, and either touched lightly on the upper arm or not. When these shoppers went to the cash register to stamp their parking coupons, the experimenters questioned them to learn if the touched group differed from shoppers who weren't touched.

There a difference!

The touched group shopped 63% longer, spent 23% more, and had a much higher opinion of the store. Females were more strongly influenced than males, but not by much.

In his second experiment, 4 female product demonstrators approached lone shoppers in a grocery store and invited them to sample a new snack product. They also handed them a coupon for the product and pointed out its location on the shelf. In alternating hours they either touched shoppers lightly on the upper arm as they handed the coupons, or they didn't.

Big differences again!

The touched group tasted the snack more often (30% more), and they bought the product more often (49% more). The effect was strongest for females: 92% of the touched females tasted the product and 71% actually bought it!

His third experiment was more complicated. It zeroed in on the sex of the person doing the touching, this person's attractiveness, and the sex of the person being touched. He conducted it in a restaurant with 248 mixed couple diners. The touch was given by the waiter or waitress to either the man or the woman - a one-second touch on the upper arm as couples were asked if they had enjoyed their meals.

Big differences again!

When the woman was touched by an attractive waitress, tips were 44% higher than average for this restaurant, averaging nearly 20% of the bill. When the man was touched, tips were also higher, but not as much. Experimenters questioned these diners outside the restaurant, and those in the touched group gave both the service and the restaurant much higher ratings than untouched couples. The rating for service was 100% higher and the overall rating for the restaurant was 50% higher. These diners would be returning another day.

Touch has many meanings: closeness, warmth, being cared for, affection - all comfortable feelings. Stimulating these emotions with a touch brings a response, and in these experiments, it was always positive. It improved evaluations of the setting, it stimulated a positive regard for the employee, and most important, it increased compliance with requests: "taste this sample," "buy this product," "tip this waitress." Timing is also important. Touches should come shortly before actions you hope to influence.

Business meetings would seem awkward if they began without a round of handshakes. Professor Hornik has shown that subtle touches, in settings where handshakes don't occur, have a powerful influence on people.

Try teaching your people to do this. Tell them to touch every patron coming into their area, either a hand shake or a half-second upper arm touch as they're being distracted. People should not notice they've been touched. Tell them to be sure not to miss people who are alone. Your most attractive people will have the strongest impact. Hornik's results came immediately, so you probably won't have long to wait to learn if this works for you, too.

And if your setting isn't a retail environment, don't feel left out. Important people still come into your area and a touch will positively influence them, too.

Reference: Hornik, Jacob (1992) Tactile Stimulation and Consumer Response. Journal of Consumer Research, 19 (December), 449-459.

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