If you’re looking for a whopper of an ecommerce sales strategy then “Incidental Haptic Sensations Influence Social Judgments and Decisions” by Ackerman, Nocera, and Bargh is unmissable.
The research paper details experiments carried out to determine if there is a link between the sensations of touching different surfaces and influencing people’s behaviour (AKA haptic sensations and social behaviour).
What they discovered is fascinating and has direct implications for the future of web design, conversion rate optimization and consumer psychology.
And with this in mind… (pardon the pun!)
What are haptic sensations?
What are haptic sensations?
Haptic sensations refer to the sense of touch and include all associative physical sensations such as pressure, texture, temperature, and vibration.
For example, we grip and manipulate objects, identify different textures and surfaces, and feel sensations such as pain, pleasure, and temperature.
Haptic sensations are also important for communication.
Through touch, we can convey a wide range of emotions and ideas, from a comforting pat on the back to a wet, floppy handshake.
Haptic sensations also help the development of motor skills and the formation of muscle memory.
For example, when we learn to play a bad-ass musical instrument or a new sport, our muscles develop a memory of the movements needed to complete a task.
This muscle memory is developed through repeat exposure to the haptic sensations that we associate with the activities, allowing us to perform them with greater accuracy and efficiency over time (and more than likely without having to conciously think about them too).
Visual depiction effect and Haptic Sensations.
Okay, so you’re probably thinking to yourself “Chris, you can’t touch something on websites, e-commerce stores and landing pages…“
You’re partially correct.
I suppose that if I wanted to sound profound (and a little pompous…) then I would retort: “a customer’s imagination transcends the limitations of the physical world as it is boundless“.
In my previous article, I dive into the fascinating world of the visual depiction effect and how product images and product descriptions can be used to help people to imagine touching surfaces and interacting with products.
You can’t underestimate the power of imagination and how it affects what we buy online. When you combine imagination with a sensation that we can feel with our body, something truly profound happens.
Elder and Krishna are pioneers when it comes to the visual depiction effect and their paper clearly demonstrate the enormous potential for e-commerce stores to get more sales.
So be mindful of the visual depiction effect as you read this article and why it’s a powerful ecommerce sales strategy.
Unconsciously influence people through touch.
Let’s compare two marketing campaigns by Heinz:
How does the above advertisement make you feel?
Compare the first advertisement to the second.
The first advertisement has a cold colour pallet with a mixture of rough and smooth surfaces. The second uses a mixture of deep, warm reds and smooth textures.
Which of the two has the more appealing product and how do each of the marketing campaigns make you feel?
Chances are that you’re more likely to feel positive about the second advertisement and three critically recognized researchers may know why.
Ackerman, Nocera, and Bargh knuckled down to conduct a series of experiments to test the texture of objects influences people’s social judgments and decision-making.
The results of the experiments are nothing short of remarkable as they provide credible evidence that incidental haptic sensations, those we experience during tasks unrelated to the judgment of social interactions, can unconsciously influence how we interpret information.
Haptic sensations of warm vs cold colours.
In their first experiment, participants in the study held either a warm or a cold pack before rating a hypothetical social interaction between two people.
Ackerman, Nocera, and Bargh found that participants who held a warm pack were more likely to rate the interaction positively.
However, participants clutching onto a cold pack were more likely to rate the interaction negatively.
The second haptic sensations experiment was built on the first by asking participants to choose between two gift options for a friend after holding either a warm or cold pack.
In other words…
If you use product images, brand colours and product descriptions on your website, then help the customer to imagine feeling warm.
Yes, you read that correctly…
People feel more positive about a brand that uses warm colours and invokes warmth.
It’s worth keeping this in mind for the next time you sit down to create an ecommerce sales and marketing strategy.
Psychology of spending more vs practical purchases.
Ackerman, Nocera, and Bargh also found that participants who held a warm pack were more likely to choose a gift that was considered socially more generous.
Those who held a cold pack were more likely to choose a gift that was considered more practical.
The main takeaway from this haptic sensations experiment is this…
If you get your customers to imagine feeling a warm sensation then on average, customers will be more generous with gift buying and spend more money.
This increases both your average order values and customer lifetime value.
And sure that I don’t need to express how vital this is for any business.
However, getting your customers to feel a cold sensation will have the opposite effect by making pragmatic purchases that fit within the constraints of their budget.
Regardless, these findings are fascinating and indicate that incidental haptic sensations influence a customer’s social judgments and decision-making when making a purchase.
Psychology of rough textures vs smooth textures.
In their third experiment, Ackerman, Nocera, and Bargh handed participants clipboards and then asked them to rate a person’s personality based on the written description.
Two clipboards were used for the experiment. One with a smooth surface and the other with a rough texture.
Participants who held the clipboard with a rough surface were more likely to evaluate the person’s personality as harsh and critical.
However, those who held the clipboard with a smooth surface typically held the opinion that the person’s personality was agreeable and easygoing.
These results suggest that haptic sensations influence social judgments and decision-making in subtle, but significant ways.
The authors of the paper hypothesise that this effect is due to the activation of embodied cognition, a theory that physical sensations can influence cognitive processes.
Furthermore, if proven true, then this suggests that much of our cognition is influenced by sensations we feel with or within our body.
The findings of this study also provide evidence to support embodied cognition plays a critical role in social behaviour.
Texture gradient psychology.
Texture gradient psychology is a field that has been studied extensively by researchers who continue to uncover a never-ending supply of evidence to better understand how the human brain processes visual information.
At its core, texture gradient is a visual cue that helps us determine the relative distances of objects from our viewpoint.
This is due to us perceiving a gradual change in the appearance of objects, with those that are closer appearing more coarse and distinct, and those that are further away appearing less distinct and finer.
This is regardless of which eye we use to look at objects and if we use one eye or both eyes simultaneously.
The most common example of how texture gradient works is a photograph of a crowd of people.
The people who are closer to the camera are coarse and with distinct features, sharp edges, and crisp lines.
However, depth in the photograph is achieved by making the people in the background out of focus.
They’re less distinct and have blurred edges and less-defined shapes.
The use of texture gradient in visual media is not limited to photographs but is also a common technique used in painting, drawing, and other forms of art.
By carefully varying the texture of different elements in a work of art, an artist can create the illusion of depth and distance, drawing the viewer’s eye into the scene and creating a sense of immersion.
Let that sink in for a moment…
A subtle change in texture creates the illusion of depth and distance.
This makes for a more engaging and immersive visual experience that captures the viewer’s imagination and senses.
In other words…
Texture gradient psychology triggers haptic sensations.
In conclusion to haptic sensations and web design.
It appears that we humans are even more complex (and weird…) than we can possibly conceive.
While it’s humbling to think that we may never truly understand the human mind, studies in psychology, such as Ackerman, Nocera, and Bargh’s paper, are an excellent contribution towards knowing aspects of what makes us tick.
Their research provides us with a clue towards discovering the relationship between physical sensations and social behaviour as their findings indicate that incidental haptic sensations can influence social judgments and decision-making in ways that we may not be aware of.
And sure, I’m a bit of a psychology nerd, but it fascinates and excites me that haptic sensations may have an impact on your website’s conversion rates.
This research highlights the importance of considering embodied cognition in social psychology and has practical implications for marketers and businesses online.
This is because a customer doesn’t have to use their body in order for you to invoke influence over their behaviour… All you need to do is to get them to imagine what it feels like.
That my friend is the power of psychology and web design. And that gives me a warm, smooth feeling inside… (See what I did there?)
So what do you make of haptic sensations as an ecommerce sales strategy to increase sales? Leave a comment below!