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Touchscreens make you more impulsive while shopping, study shows

You'll likely shop more rationally on the desktop than on your phone.


Christina Bonnington


Posted on Sep 19, 2017   Updated on May 22, 2021, 4:55 pm CDT

If you think your Amazon shopping habit is getting the best of you, you could be right. Research out of the University of British Columbia found that shoppers are more impulsive when they’re shopping on their phones. Curiously, however, that behavior didn’t carry over with online shopping on the desktop.

The revelation comes via a study published in September’s issue of the Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services titled “Getting in touch with your thinking style: How touchscreens influence purchase.”

In a survey of 99 people, researchers found shoppers acted more “rationally” when they shopped online on a desktop versus when they used a handheld touchscreen device. On a touchscreen (an iPod touch, in this case), participants were more inclined to make “hedonistic” purchases. For example, purchasing a restaurant gift card instead of a more practical grocery store gift card.

“This research updates academic theory by investigating how newly evolved touchscreen technology affects consumer behavior,” the study’s authors write in its abstract. “Across three lab experiments with university students, we found purchase intentions differ across device and product nature.”

Based on responses to a test that measured thinking style, the researchers found that those who used a touchscreen for shopping also thought differently. On a desktop, shoppers’ thoughts were more analytical in nature. On the touchscreen, thoughts were more experiential and impulsive. (That certainly seems to align with our freewheeling swipe right/swipe left dating app mentality these days.)

The researchers think one reason for the contrast in shopper thought and behavior on the two platforms is because touchscreen devices are simply more fun to use. Rather than feeling like a task or a chore, there’s novelty and playfulness in swiping around and shopping on your phone. Along these lines, it could also be that we now associate desktops with work. Thus, the online shopping done on a desktop ends up feeling more practical or utilitarian.

So if you’re looking to cut back on your shopping habit, it may be a good idea to delete all those money-saving, one-click shopping apps from your phone. When you need to make an online purchase, use your mouse to find those deals instead.

H/T the Cut

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*First Published: Sep 19, 2017, 5:00 pm CDT