Study: Touchscreen Devices Influence Guilty Pleasure Purchasing

Online shopping is an entrenched retail experience that has fuelled impulse purchases, deal hunting and even bizarre buys from shoppers who have had a bit too much to drink.

But just how we engage in online shopping is influencing what we’re adding to our virtual shopping cart, according to a new study by University of British Columbia educator Ying Zhu that was recently published in the Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services.

The Faculty of Management professor and co-author Jeffrey Meyer examined how touchscreen technology influences consumer behaviour, specifically thinking style and purchase intentions.

“Touchscreen technology has rapidly penetrated the consumer market and embedded itself into our daily lives. Given its fast growth and popularity, we know surprisingly little about its effect on consumers,” said Zhu in a media release.

A series of experiments with university students showed that consumers are more likely to purchase hedonic products–otherwise known as guilty pleasures—while shopping with touchscreen technology, whereas using a desktop device will lead to more practical purchases.

“The playful and fun nature of the touchscreen enhances consumers’ favour of hedonic products, while the logical and functional nature of a desktop endorses consumers’ preference for utilitarian products,” said Zhu.

Their research found that touchscreen devices like a tablet or mobile phone evoke a stronger experiential thinking style, while desktops evoke a stronger rational thinking style. That means that buying a product through a touchscreen will actually enhance someone’s preference towards those guilty pleasures. The convenience and portability of touchscreen devices also makes it easier to give into those impulses surrounding guilty purchases.

“These results may well be a game-changer for sectors like the retail industry,” said Zhu.

Zhu’s consumer behaviour study is adding new insights to a fast-growing phenomena with limited academic research. By next year, it’s expected that nearly half of all e-commerce transactions will be from online shopping with tactile technologies, explained Zhu.

If you’re trying to curb splurging online, shop from your laptop instead–just not one with a touchscreen.