You’re more likely to splurge on products when shopping on a touchscreen, study finds

KELOWNA, British Columbia — A new study shows that you are more likely to splurge on unnecessary items when shopping on a touchscreen as opposed to shopping on a desktop.

Researchers at the University of British Columbia’s Okanagan Campus recruited nearly 300 students at the school to take part in three different experiments that examined their online purchasing habits.

Person using smartphone for online shopping
A new study finds that people are more likely to splurge on unnecessary items while shopping on a smartphone as opposed to a desktop.

The study determined whether the participants leaned toward what they referred to as “utilitarian” or “hedonic” purchases. Utilitarian products were considered items of need, such as bread or shampoo, whereas hedonic purchases were viewed as pleasurable goods — like a massage or movie tickets.

In one study, 99 students were randomly split into two groups, one with 50 participants, the other with 49. The group of 50 was assigned to use a desktop computer while the others used an iPod Touch for the experiment. The students were then shown either a utilitarian product or a hedonic product and asked to use a scale to judge how likely they’d be to purchase the product.

Study author Ying Zhu found that students were more likely to purchase the less practical items on their phones.

“The playful and fun nature of the touchscreen enhances consumers’ favor of hedonic products; while the logical and functional nature of a desktop endorses the consumers’ preference for utilitarian products,” Zhu explains in a university news release.

Zhu claims that her findings found that desktop users were more likely to use rational thinking when it came to spending money online, while touchscreen products saw students opening their wallets more for products that weren’t so rational — what she refers to as “experiential” thinking.

“Overall, what we learned is that using a touchscreen evokes consumers’ experiential thinking, which resonates with the playful nature of hedonic products,” she says. “These results may well be a gamechanger for sectors like the retail industry. But my advice for consumers who want to save a bit of money is to put away the smartphone when you have an urge to spend on a guilty pleasure.”

In other words, smartphone or tablet users should shut down their device if they feel the urge to splurge — unless a little retail therapy is what the doctor ordered, of course.

The research was published in the Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services.


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