Why Getting Customers to Touch Products Magically Boosts Sales

Encourage customers to shop with their hands, and watch your products fly off the shelves.
When a customer physically touches a product they’re interested in, they’re more likely to buy it. (Photo: MintImages/Shutterstock)

Shopping in a brick-and-mortar is an inherently tactile experience. Customers pick up merchandise off the shelves, handle and examine the product and run their hands over the packaging. Sure, they might put the products back in the wrong spot, but letting customers get their hands on your merchandise is actually a great way for retail stores to increase sales.

“Having an undecided customer hold a product generally makes the customer more likely to complete the purchase,” said Bruce Sanders, author of “Retailer’s Edge: Boost Profits Using Shopper Psychology.” “Not only that, but those customers become willing to pay a higher price for the product.”

Here Sanders, a consumer psychologist, reveals the magic behind the sales-boosting power of touch, and offers tips for getting your customers to shop with their hands.

Behind the magic of touch

According to Sanders, when a customer physically touches a product they’re interested in, two things happen: they’re more likely to buy it, and they think it’s worth more money. But why does something as simple as handling an item have such a powerful effect on consumer behavior?

“Touching the product gives the customer a sense of ownership. They begin to form an attachment to it, and they don’t want to let it go,” said Sanders.

bruce sanders

“Touching the product gives the customer a sense of ownership. They begin to form an attachment to it, and they don’t want to let it go.” -Bruce Sanders (Photo: Bruce Sanders)

Getting hands-on with merchandise also helps shoppers feel confident that they’re choosing the best product.

“It gives them a sense of mastery from evaluating the product,” he explained. “Consumers poke the melons or rub the sweater, then put the item back and do the same to another one until they’ve decided it’s time to choose and they have sufficient information to make a choice.”

Finally, sensory interactions make shopping a more enjoyable activity. And when customers experience pleasure, studies show they’re more likely to spend money.

Related: 6 Sensory Branding Ideas to Grab Customers by Their Emotions

Remove barriers to getting hands-on

So how do you get customers in right mindset to feel their way around your store? First, start thinking about reasons your customer might be averse to touching a product, said Sanders.

“Customers have less interest in an item on a rack or shelf when they’re thinking about who else previously touched it. They feel disgusted at the idea the product could have been fondled by others.”

Instead of giving customers hands-on access to all merchandise, offer sample products they can feel, he said. This helps maintain the new, fresh quality of the majority of merchandise that a shopper might want to take home.

“If an item has a good tactile sense to it, hang signs that say ‘touch me,’ ‘feel me’ or ‘hold me’ around a sample. But have others nearby that are packaged or folded so people feel like no one touched it,” said Sanders.

You can also install a disinfectant wipe dispenser (with a wastebasket nearby) that customers can use on their hands after holding a product to reduce the fear of germs.

“Always keep the dispenser stocked and be sure the waste basket is emptied frequently,” Sanders advised. “Few things stimulate thoughts of contamination more than does a receptacle overflowing with used disinfectant wipes.”

The more clean and inviting your touchable products are, the more likely customers will feel them and want to bring them home.

Related: 4 Types of Shoppers and How to Appeal to All of Them

Use sensory language


Hold an item and use ‘touch words’ to encourage a shopper to make a purchase. (Photo: Iakov Filimonov/Shutterstock)

Language can heighten a shopper’s awareness of how an item feels, thus boosting your chance of a sale. As your customers hold a product, ask them to describe it, said Sanders.

“If a customer is trying to make a choice between two cashmere sweaters, ask them to run their hands over it. And rather than you generating the words, get the customer to use their language to describe it.”

Having the salesperson hold the products in front of a shopper can have a similar effect on sales if they use sensory language.

“Gently rotate the product or run your hands over it while using touch words like soft, warm and fluffy to describe your own sensations,” he said.

This can be an especially useful approach for unique, high-priced items that are too fragile to let customers handle on their own.

Related: 5 Simple Steps to Successful Upselling

Package products in touchable materials

While sweaters, scarves and pillows beg to be touched, not every product feels great in your hand. You can capitalize on customers desire to touch these items by packaging them in pleasant materials, said Sanders.

“For example, people will obviously be hesitant to get their hands around a paper cutter in an office supply store. But if it’s packaged in a well-designed, sleek box that makes it feel like a good, rugged item, that would help.”

Remember, it’s not just about how the package looks, but how it feels in the hands, as well.

Related: The 4 E’s of Retail Success

Make contact with customers

The influence of touch surpasses merchandise. One study found that after a retail employee briefly touched customers’ arms, they increased their shopping time, purchases and overall positive feelings toward the store.

“And positive feelings toward a retailer increase the potential for financial profitability,” said Sanders.

That being said, the approach could backfire if used inappropriately. Only touch a customer when you’re 100 percent confident that he or she won’t be offended, said Sanders.

“Shake hands, bump fists, place a hand on the arm — whatever is culturally and socially appropriate,” he said.

Related: The Friend Zone: Boosting Sales by Focusing on Relationships

Tactile sensations influence our behavior in more ways than we might realize. Keep it in mind as you develop the retail strategy at your store to help boost sales and connections with customers.

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