BRITISH COLUMBIA: Research examining the influence of touchscreens on purchase decisions suggests that smartphones, and touchscreens more broadly, evoke a strong experiential thinking style, which can lead to more impulsive decisions.

The study, by University of British Columbia academics, Ying Zhu and Jeffrey Meyer surveyed 99 students and found that participants behaved more “rationally” when shopping at a desktop computer compared to a touchscreen device.

“When participants are on their touchscreen device they lean towards a way of thinking where pleasurable products — things we don’t usually need — seem more interesting, and so they are more likely to make the purchase,” Ying told the Cut.

With touchscreens, “the novelty and fun generated by finger movements create experiential and affective feelings, in alignment with the playfulness and emotional nature of hedonic products,” Ying and Meyer wrote.

One experiment found that on touchscreens, participants were more likely to buy a restaurant gift card – a hedonic purchase – rather than a more rational grocery gift card. The researchers observed the opposite in desktop users.

Meanwhile, another test within the study measured participants’ thinking style on a scale from experiential (impulsive) to rational (careful), and found that touchscreens created more experiential thinking among users, while desktops elicit more rational consideration.

In part, says the psychotherapist and academic, Natasha Sharma, the research adds to a growing body of research suggesting that if people touch a product, they are more likely to purchase it.

“This is because touch releases emotion, and gives us a sense of connection to an item”, Sharma added. “In a store, we have to make an effort to find items, carry them to a checkout counter, pull out our wallet, and pay, and all of those steps give our brain time to be less emotionally driven and impulsive”.

Data sourced from the Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services, The Cut, Psychology and Marketing; additional content by WARC staff