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Smart Psych: 3 Practical Ways to Use the “Endowment Effect” to Drive More Sales with Touch Devices

Want to boost restaurant sales? Put your menu on a touchscreen tablet.  Want to boost in-store sales of services? Allow consumers to explore on a touchscreen device in-store. Want to sell stuff online?  Make sure you have touchscreen-first e-commerce strategy.

These are implications from new research, widely reported this week, to be published in the  Journal of Consumer Psychology.  Touch something you like, and you’ll want it more. Even if it’s a just a virtual touch via a touchscreen.

But how do we use this insight to drive more sales, apart – that is – from ensuring that your retail strategy – online or offline – makes use of touch-devices ?

First let’s quickly recap the psychology; which is all about ownership and control.

Touching creates a (mis)perception of psychological ownership (probably because we can control stuff we touch) and ownership creates a perception of increased value.

This tendency to value stuff we own more than identical stuff we don’t own is known as the ‘endowment effect’, and it’s part of a general ‘status-quo bias’ and aversion to giving up stuff (‘loss aversion’). But psychcobabble aside, the bottom line is that if you touch something you like,  you’ll want it more. Even, as this new research found, if that touch experience is via a touchscreen (compared to a mouse or touchpad). The effect is particularly strong for sensorial things that we want to touch pre-purchase  (like sweaters, as opposed to intangible services or experiences).

Based on this research, here are three ways – to be validated – to drive sales with touch devices.

  1. Allow people to use their own personal touch devices to enhance in-store/venue browsing.  In-store tablet stations are great, but the study found that the touchscreen endowment effect was particularly strong for personal touchscreen devices – it’s as if we are treating our personal touch devices as an additional sixth sense, augmenting the effect.
  2. Use vivid imageryparallel research on haptic imagery has found that the endowment effect increases with the vividness of the stimulus.
  3. Allow customers to manipulate images (pinch, turn etc) – a mediating factor between touch and psychological ownership is control – the more you allow people to manipulate haptic images, the more likely the touchscreen endowment effect will occur.


Brasel, S.A. & Gips, J., Tablets, Touchscreens, and Touchpads: How Varying Touch Interfaces Trigger Psychological Ownership and Endowment, Journal of Consumer Psychology (2013)

Written by
Dr Paul Marsden
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Digital wellbeing covers the latest scientific research on the impact of digital technology on human wellbeing. Curated by psychologist Dr. Paul Marsden (@marsattacks). Sponsored by WPP agency SYZYGY.