As online retailers continue to draw sales from brick-and-mortar stores, how can the physical locations compete?

It could be a simple as reminding consumers that they can touch the merchandise, says Rajeev Batra, professor of marketing at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business.

And reaching out to consumers with the right mindset is equally important, according to Batra and colleagues in a new study examining the effect of product touch on consumers’ willingness to buy.

“In this context, it is important to identify what strategies offline retailers can utilize to fight back,” Batra said. “As online and offline retailers differ in their inherent ability to offer consumers the opportunity to physically touch a product prior to purchase, we studied the thought processes of consumers who rely more on pre-purchase touch to make purchase decisions—thus becoming more susceptible to marketing efforts from offline retailers.”

Study participants were evaluated considering the purchase of a mug, a computer mouse and a pen in the three separate experiments.

Using varied product categories, researchers found that when consumers’ mental representation of products is relatively concrete, they rely on the availability of product touch to determine if they want to buy the product being evaluated.

Concrete thinkers increase their desire to purchase after touching the target product. For those who think of products in the abstract, their desire to buy a product is unaffected by touch entirely.

“These results show for the first time that consumers’ cognitive styles affect their decision-making in the online and offline retailing environments,” Batra said.

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