The role of haptic touch on product evaluation in different shopping situations
Human beings are credited with five senses i.e. vision, audition, smell, taste, and touch. The sensory evaluation process, the evaluation process involving senses, (Martinez, 2007) is utilized by us for evaluation and usage of products and services too. However, marketers have mostly utilized verbal and visual means of communication as the main channels to present information to the consumers. Lately, the research on multisensory nature of consumption has highlighted the non-verbal and non-visual aspects during product evaluation and subsequent purchase decision (Hirschman & Holbrook, 1982; Maclnnis & Price, 1987). This has spawned a number of studies on smell, taste, and touch . The growth of non-store formats (online, catalogue, and teleshopping) as well as evolution of modern stores is changing the way consumers shop and this has further emphasized importance of understanding the role of touch in shopping process. Although studies of touch involve different areas of the human body, the primary studies of interest involve using the hands as the principal sources of input to the touch perceptual system. The term 'haptic' is used to describe the information gained by an active movement of hand or arm. Peck and Childers (2003) proposed the haptic information framework which examined the product, individual and situational factors that affected use of touch information during product evaluation. While the framework addresses the consumer and product related characteristics, it does not extend beyond describing touch and no-touch situations in consumer shopping situations. Kotler (1974) proposed that situational factors help to convert behavioral intentions into buying behaviour. Belk (1974) suggested that situation variables can substantially enhance the ability to explain and understand consumer behavioral acts. Moreover, situational variables may be influenced by marketers in contrast to consumer characteristics which already exist and are not amenable to marketer's influence (Nicholls & Roslow, 1996). The research stream examining the consumer behavior related issues concerned with effect of sales person's touch on consumers has also suggested situation as an important variable. With the given research context in touch literature, this study examined the role of haptic touch in different shopping situations. In line with the study objectives and the taxonomy of situational variables provided by Belk (1975), the study looked at the role of haptic touch during shopping situations describing time constraints, task definitions, and mood. A set of eighteen hypotheses were developed and tested in three different experiments. As no previous study has been done in India related to haptic information processing, it was decided to conduct pre-tests to understand the role of different stimuli in Indian context which determined choice of product, manipulation for time constraint intervention, manipulation for task definition intervention and manipulation for mood intervention. The pre-test also validated the different scales in Indian conditions before their use in main study. The data was collected from 383 students spread over five management institutes in Western India. The first experiment tested hypotheses pertaining to the interaction between time constraint and touch. The analysis showed that while the main effect of touch was significant, the main effect for time constraint was not significant. In the second experiment, which tested hypotheses pertaining to the interaction between task definition and touch, the role of touch in the purchase was not significant but the effect of task definition was significant. This, along with significant interaction effects, pointed towards Importance of motive of purchase for shopping involving touch. In the third experiment, the main effects of mood as well as touch were significant. This highlights the role of mood in shopping when touch conditions were provided to the consumers. This study extends the haptic information framework by incorporating a set of new situation variables. It is the first study to examine the role of three new situational variables viz. time constraints, task definitions, and mood on product evaluation process in touch and no-touch situations and how they influence the product attitude and purchase intentions. Also, this study is among the first studies to examine the role of touch for product evaluation in the Indian context. Overall, it contributes to better understanding of the role of touch in shopping situations. The study helps the managers at retail stores to understand that touch situations, as provided by retailers through display, get affected by cues provided under different situational contexts. The importance of motive for shopping as a significant cue during shopping process involving touch is also highlighted. The findings are especially significant for retailers of high sales volume product categories e.g. fruits, vegetables, clothes, and portable electronics where consumers explore variety of options during product evaluation and purchase decision.
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