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How To Sell More: Encourage Your Customers To Touch Everything

or: How To Overcome Bias: Don’t Touch Anything For Sale Anywhere


According to a new Ohio State University study, merely touching a product in a store can make you willing to pay more for it. It’s been known for a while that consumers tend to feel ownership of goods even before they buy them, but this study is the first to examine that phenomenon in any depth. Researchers have shown that it can take as little as 30 seconds after first touching an object for a consumer to grow attached to it, even something as insignificant as a coffee mug.

The researchers ran a study where participants were shown a coffee mug, and were allowed to hold it either for 10 seconds or 30 seconds. Then they were then allowed to bid on the mug in either a closed (where bids could not be seen) or open (where they could be seen) auction, and all participants were told the retail price of the mug. It turns out that people who held the coffee mug longer seemed not only more compelled to outbid others in an auction, but they were also more willing to bid more than the retail price for that item. Read on for a detailed description of the study, and some suggestions on what this phenomenon means in practical terms:

Participants in the closed auction were told the mug was worth $3.95 at the university bookstore, and participants in open auctions were told it was worth $4.95. Also, they were all informed that there were several identical mugs available for at the campus bookstore right next to the testing location. Everyone who participated in the experiment was given $10 and told that the winning bidders would have their bid amount taken out of their payment if they agreed.

The results:
The people who held the item for 30 seconds bid significantly higher than people who touched the mug for only 10 seconds. The average bid in the open auctions was $2.44 for people who touched the mug for 10 seconds and $3.91 for those who held it for 30 seconds. The closed auctions had similar results. People in the 10 second group bid $2.24 and those in the 30 second group bid $3.07.

Co-author of the study, Hal Arkes, said “We took the most minimal type of attachment; not a new car or a suit, but a mug. And we found significant differences in consumer valuations that begin in a matter of seconds.”

Another interesting aspect of the study was that some participants actually bid more than the retail price of the mug, even though they knew identical mugs were for sale right next door. People who held their mug for 30 seconds bid more than the retail price four out of seven times. Bids even went as high as $10 on two different occasions in the 30 second group. On the other hand, in the 10 second group, bids only went past the retail price once.

What does this mean for business owners?

If you’re selling a product, any product at all, you need to get your potential customers to handle that product. Get them to pick it up or handle it somehow, even if it’s only for 30 seconds. Let them try it out, let them feel like they own it, and they’ll be that much more likely to buy it.

For retail stores and people selling smaller products, that’s easy enough, but the same idea applies even if you’re selling real estate or something intangible like life insurance. You have to get the customer to feel a certain level of ownership of your product, before they actually buy it.

What does this mean for consumers?

As always, be aware that your brain is a tricky bastard. Remember that every human being has certain built-in biases, but that you can overcome them as long as you know how they work. When you’re shopping, try not to think of each item as a “one of a kind”; don’t get attached; and try to determine a price objectively before you pick something up, test drive it, or examine it in depth.