How Touchscreens Change Consumer Choices (and can bias mobile research results)

Touch screens are rapidly becoming the primary source of computer interaction. What role do touch interfaces play in consumer decision-making and behavior? Interface psychology and sensory marketing research show touchscreen interfaces have systematic effects on consumer choices and information processing. We will highlight the implications for improving consumer and respondent experience design.

Touchscreens trigger psychological ownership.

Touchscreens induce psychological effects that are distinct from using a touchpad or mouse to control screen content. When you touch content on a smartphone or tablet, it is very similar to touching an object in the real world. It activates imagery processing, which in turn cues mental simulation (Schlosser, 2003). Simply put, touchscreen interfaces generate effects highly similar to actual touch.

4 Factors at Play:

  1. Touch activates Psychological Ownership: Merely touching a product can increase perceived ownership. Touchscreen devices induce a perception of the endowment effect, whereby the touch creates an implied ownership (Brasel & Gips, 2014). Touching screen content, as opposed to using a touch pad to control a cursor arrow, makes products and information ‘feel’ a part of consumers. It removes the middle man. Reduces the psychological distance. It activates psychological ownership.
  2. Actual Ownership Amplify Touch: Whether consumers actually own the device also plays a role. When smartphones and tablets are personally owned they are perceived as one’s ‘extended self’, resulting in more intense relationship bonds with the device (Wang & Nelson, 2014).  For example, when a consumer owns a smartphone and uses it to shop, the ownership of the device AND the touch interface can help facilitate the purchase. Simply put, actual ownership can amplify the psychological ownership of what we touch using touchscreen interfaces.
  3. Interactivity with Pinch & Swipe: Touchscreen gestures create interactive experiences that move beyond basic visual sense. Touch stimulate senses and creates a more immersive experience which can mimic interacting with the actual, physical product (Naegelein & Spann, 2017).
  4. Products ‘Touchability’ Increases Attribute Saliency: When product decisions involve touch, the touchscreen interface can increase salience and processing the product’s tangible attributes (Brasel & Gips, 2015). For example, bed sheets or toilet paper, where touch and feel drive the choice, will increase emphasis on the haptic attributes (e.g., soft, firm, etc.). In short, touch interfaces can shift product attribute focus.

Brand Experience implications.

Generally speaking, touch benefits brands. The more direct and interactive the experience, the more senses are involved. When you touch things in store you are more likely to buy them. This applies to touching products on interfaces as well.

For example, if you are a brand manager for a clothing line having product images that consumers can pitch & swipe to see front and back, as well as, close ups of materials will create a more interactive experience. Additionally, by the consumer viewing the product on their own device, an extension of self, the desire to purchase is increased due to perceived ownership. Furthermore, the ability to simulate touching the product shift the some of the product attribute focus to the tangible attributes (i.e. the feel of the material).

Brands can benefit 2 ways:

  1. Add more touch to touchpoints and leveraging mobile for search and purchase, and
  2. Leverage the interactive gestures to induce psychological ownership (e.g., allow ‘pinch & zoom’ to get detail image).


  1. Brasel, A. & Gips, J. (2014). Tablets, touchscreens, and touchpads: how varying touch interfaces trigger psychological ownership and endowment. Journal of Consumer Psychology.
  2. Brasel, A. & Gips, J. (2015). Interface psychology: Touchscreens change attribute importance. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking.
  3. Naegelein, P. and Spann, M. (2017). Pinch or Swipe? The effect of touch-based information control on consumer choice. Unpublished Manuscript.
  4. Schlosser, A. (2003). Experiencing products in a virtual world: the role of goals and imagery in influencing attitudes versus intentions. Journal of Consumer Research.
  5. Shen, H., Zhang, M & Krishna, A. (2016). Computer Interfaces and the “direct-touch” effect: can ipads increase the choice of hedonic food?. Journal of Marketing Research.
  6. Wang, R, Malthouse, E. & Krishnamurthi, L. (2015). On the go: how mobile shopping affects customer purchase behavior. Journal of Retailing.
  7. Wang, Z. & Nelson, M. (2014). Tablet as human: How intensity and stability of the user-tablet relationship influences users’ impression formation of tablet computers. Computers in Human Behavior.

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Jason Martuscello

Jason lives and breathes behavior change. His personal transformation losing over 100 lbs drives his curiosity to source the latest science to deliver cutting edge solutions. His work cuts through the jargon, to provide unique insight, and applied solutions to today's most pressing business problems. Jason holds an MSc and an MBA.

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