MADISON, Wis., Nov. 18, 2014 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- With the holiday season around the corner, retailers are decking their stores with a bevy of holiday shopping deals and special promotions to lure shoppers into stores. One advantage that brick and mortar retailers have over online merchants is the opportunity to interact with shoppers and employ the power of interpersonal touch to draw more of consumers' holiday shopping dollars. A new study from the Wisconsin School of Business (WSB) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison finds that the effect of touching shoppers depends on the individual comfort level of being touched.
"Interpersonal touch can be a powerful tool in influencing a shopper's behavior," says Joann Peck, associate professor of marketing at the Wisconsin School of Business and co-author of a new study detailing consumers' comfort levels with interpersonal touch.
"As little as a light touch on the arm has been known to evoke strong positive responses in shoppers leading to greater restaurant tipping, trying a sample in a store or even purchasing a new product."
Unfortunately for sales associates, however, Peck and fellow research study co-author Andrea Webb, Ph.D. candidate at the Wisconsin School of Business, found that such positive reactions were not universal. Indeed, when it comes to interpersonal touch, especially when involving a stranger, individual tendencies and preferences can vary greatly and affect their perceptions of the service provider.
"There is well documented evidence of the positive effects of touch, but less attention has been paid to situations in which touch may be perceived negatively." Webb explains. "Retailers should be wary of each individual's comfort level with interpersonal touch or risk turning shoppers off for good."
One of the study's participants went so far as to say, "If a salesperson touched me on the arm I would feel uncomfortable, leave the store, and never come back!"
To further understand the implications of touch, Peck and Webb conducted an experiment involving university tour guides and campus visitors. Guides were instructed to touch each visitor on the arm during a walking tour of campus. Visitors were later surveyed on their perceptions of the university campus as well as their personal comfort levels with interpersonal touch. The study found that only the visitors uncomfortable with touch evaluated the tour guide and the university campus less positively after being touched.
These results demonstrate that comfort with interpersonal touch can influence what a consumer thinks about a service provider and how that consumer perceives an experience. Whether it be tour guides on a campus tour, wait staff in a restaurant, or a retail employee, the way a service provider interacts with customers affects the customer's experience. Retailers should take note that an interpersonal touch, a seemingly minor act, can have major influences on consumer behavior, including their wallets.
SOURCE Wisconsin School of Business