As people around the world boot up their computers to begin their shopping this holiday season, Atefeh Yazdanparast Ardestani, associate professor in the School of Management, offers insights into online consumer decision making that might make you think twice about your purchase.
Yazdanparast studies the psychology of consumer decision making, and has researched the ways in which digital technology shapes our purchasing decisions. Her previous research, “Can Consumers Forgo The Need To Touch Products?”, co-authored with Nancy Spears of the University of North Texas, revealed that a positive mood, price promotions, and a level of product expertise all influence our online shopping decisions, especially when the opportunity to touch the products we’re looking to purchase is not feasible.
And while many shoppers are already returning to malls and stores to shop in-person this year after restricting their movements due to COVID, others are happy to continue to do their shopping online in the safety and comfort of their homes.
Of course, there is a challenge to online shopping, Yazdanparast notes.
“The inability to touch products has remained a major limitation in online shopping,” she wrote.
While image zoom tools can help a viewer get a close-up view of a product, they aren’t always reliable, Yazdanparast notes. And technologies that provide artificial touch sensations (yes, there are some!) are still not feasible for most retailers. Consumers may find the detail they seek in product reviews, or in carefully crafted product descriptions, she says.
“When retailers explain how the product would feel, it can compensate for the inability to touch the product and help consumers feel more confident about their purchase,” says Yazdanparast. It also works when manufacturers use text that appeals to a shopper’s emotions at the beginning of an item’s description, before the dry, technical product specifications.
“Feel-good vignettes or appeals that ask the consumer to imagine how great they will feel upon buying the product are effective strategies,” she wrote.
It may not come as a surprise that consumers who are in a good mood tend to spend more. So what are online retailers doing on their webpages to set the stage for a sale?
“E-store layouts and other visual elements that make a retailer’s website ‘socially warm’ may foster a positive mood,” Yazdanparast wrote.
Yazdanparast also found that in the absence of touch, the color of a product has been shown to influence consumer perceptions. For example, if a shopper is looking to purchase a product in which softness is desired (i.e., bedding, towels or fabrics), the consumer tends to associate light colors with softness and dark colors with roughness; this is a form of “perceptual bias.”
“So if you’re deciding between a dark blue sweater or a light blue sweater, you automatically assume the light blue sweater is softer, when in reality the products feel exactly the same,” she wrote.
So this year, as you settle into your couch in search of holiday deals, take note of your “surroundings” in cyberspace and keep these things in mind as you fill up your shopping cart and head to the “check out” line.