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If you touch, you will buy

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Staff writer |
hand mugConsumers are often told that if they break an item, they buy it. But if they just touch an item they may also end up buying it.


Researchers from Ohio State University and Illinois State University tested how touching an item before buying affects how much they are willing to pay for an item. A simple experiment with a coffee mug revealed that in many cases, simply touching the coffee mug for a few seconds created an attachment that led people to pay more for the item. The results found that people become personally attached to the mug within the first 30 seconds of contact.

People who held the coffee mug longer than a few seconds seemed not only more compelled to outbid others in an auction setting, but they were also more willing to bid more than the retail price for that item.

"The amazing part of this study is that people can become almost immediately attached to something as insignificant as a mug. By simply touching the mug and feeling it in their hands, many people begin to feel like the mug is, in fact, their mug. Once they begin to feel it is theirs, they are willing to go to greater lengths to keep it," said lead author of the study James Wolf, who started the work while he was a doctoral student at Ohio State.

Previous research had documented that many people begin to feel ownership of an item long before they actually acquire it. But this is the first study to demonstrate that strong feelings of ownership can begin in as little as 30 seconds after initial contact, said Wolf, who is now an assistant professor of information systems at Illinois State University.

To explain how touch can affect a person's valuation of an object, the researchers tested 144 people at a large university. People were asked to bid on mugs in either an open or closed auction after inspecting a coffee mug firsthand for various lengths of time. Participants were given the mug at the beginning of both experiments. People in the short-duration treatments were asked to inspect a coffee mug for 10 seconds, while those in the longer treatments were asked to inspect it for 30 seconds.

After inspection, they were asked to bid on the mug. Those in closed auctions were asked to write down their maximum bid on a piece of paper for a mug worth $3.95 at the nearby university bookstore. They then flipped the paper over so no one could see their bid during the auction.

Those in the open auctions, on the other hand, were allowed to see other bids. Participants in open auctions placed their bids for a mug worth $4.95 through a computer-based auction similar to eBay, where they could see the current high bid and time remaining in the auction.

The results showed that people who held the item for 30 seconds bid significantly higher than people who touched the mug for 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 in the 30 second experiments. This finding was also consistent for those in silent auctions, with people in the 10 and 30 second experiments bidding $2.24 and $3.07, respectively.

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