As online retailing continues to rise, understanding consumer behavior in these environments becomes ever more important—particularly regarding the limitations that discourage shoppers from buying.

Live Chatting Can Compensate for Shoppers’ Inability to Touch Products Online

As online retailing continues to rise, understanding the nuances of consumer behavior in online shopping environments becomes ever more important—particularly regarding the inherent limitations that discourage shoppers from buying. Two Adelphi researchers have examined some aspects that had previously not been studied, and revealed important lessons for online retailers.

Specifically, they looked at the relationships between consumers’ need for touch, key variables of technology acceptance (perceived ease of use, perceived usefulness and perceived enjoyment) and shopper loyalty toward e-retailers.

The study, “Need for Touch and Two-Way Communication in E-Commerce,” by Associate Professor Yun Jung Lee, Ph.D., and Assistant Professor Zachary Johnson, Ph.D., both in the Department of Decision Sciences and Marketing in the Robert B. Willumstad School of Business, and Sujin Yang, Ph.D., of Sungshin Women’s University in Seoul, South Korea, was published in the Journal of Research in Interactive Marketing.

Many consumers are frustrated by the inability to touch products while shopping online. Touching products in a brick-and-mortar environment provides tactile information to shoppers and enhances enjoyment. Therefore, a major goal of the study was to discover how e-retailers can compensate for consumers’ need for touch.

Categorizing need for touch as either instrumental (related to achieving a goal) or autotelic (related to enjoyment), Dr. Lee and Dr. Johnson looked at how these differing types of need for touch affect consumers’ acceptance of online shopping and their loyalty toward e-commerce sites. They also investigated the potential of three means of consumer-retailer communication for reducing the need for touch: emails and bulletin boards (text-based asynchronous), real-time audio such as phone calls (audio-based synchronous), and real-time texting such as online chatting (text-based synchronous).

Respondents to a widely emailed survey invitation were screened regarding their most recent shopping experiences at any one of 11 major e-commerce sites within the previous year. Sites selected for the study offered all three communication options being investigated. The screening yielded 556 suitable participants, who were then queried about their internet usage, online shopping and the study variables, along with perceived quality of the communication. For the three types of communication, only live online chatting garnered significant positive results.

“Our most important finding is that synchronous text between sellers and consumers is the most influential factor to compensate for consumers’ need for touch when they cannot touch products online,” says Dr. Lee. “Consumers tend to prefer live text.” Additionally, regarding both autotelic and instrumental need for touch, high-quality synchronous texting increased users’ perceived enjoyment, which in turn led to increased loyalty.

One vital lesson for online retailers is that they can compensate for shoppers’ need for touch, increase shoppers’ enjoyment and boost loyalty by providing live texting as a means for consumers to gather more information about products.

However, Dr. Lee points out, most live chatting consists of unadorned text appearing in a small, featureless window alongside the website. The sensory experience of live chatting could be greatly improved, further reducing consumers’ need for touch and increasing enjoyment and shopper loyalty. Doing so would especially benefit shoppers having a high autotelic need for touch, she says. The technology for implementing visual and auditory features currently exists and is not difficult to incorporate into website design, but is not widely used.

“Retailers’ live chatting should be well designed. They should make sure it’s enjoyable. Most are very plain now,” says Dr. Lee. “Live chatting is just one small window, but that window could be designed better with color, relevant images, animations and sound effects as part of the text chat to enhance the shopping environment, and consumers will perceive the website as more enjoyable.”

Dr. Lee also recently investigated consumer behavior in the mobile shopping context, and she is planning to study a new service from a major online retailer involving the ability to order clothes and try them on before paying. “Shoppers can have the tactile experience right there at home. This changes the dynamics,” she says. “I want to see how this changes consumers’ attitudes toward online shopping.”

For further information, please contact:

Todd Wilson
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