It is important to study the underlying mechanisms through which consumers’ desire for touch forms, because it can help online and offline companies to develop effective strategies that can compensate for and satisfy consumers’ desire for touch. Up to date, existing research on why consumers’ desire for touch forms can be categorized into four research perspectives: information processing perspective (consumers show a strong desire for touch to process product-related information), motivational perspective (consumers show a strong desire for touch to solve problems or to experience hedonics), decision-making perspective (consumers show a strong desire for touch to facilitate their decision-making), and innate personality perspective (consumers’ desire for touch is innate and relatively stable). However, none of these perspectives is able to explain why when being in different states of cognitive experience (i.e. encountering threats to personal control and not encountering such threats), the same consumer’s reaction to touch differs. The two-process model of perceived control argues that threats to personal control cause individuals to exert forces and control over environment. While touching a product implies that a consumer can move, hold and grasp the product and exert physical control over it. Thus, the current research proposes that the cognitive experience of low feeling of threats to personal control is the antecedent of consumers’ strong desire for touch. More important, we will also examine the underlying mediation mechanisms and boundary conditions of the proposition above.
Four experiments were conducted to examine whether, why and when threats to personal control would (not) increase consumers’ desire for touch. Experiment 1 investigated the core assumption that after controlling individual differences in desire for touch, consumers’ current desire for touch will be still influenced by an important situational factor, that is, whether they are facing with threats to personal control. The results of Experiment 1 showed that after controlling their scores of Need For Touch, participants who encountered with control threats responded faster to touch-related words than those who did not face control threats, suggesting that low feeling of threats to personal control is an antecedent of consumers’ desire for touch. Experiment 2 further investigated whether consumers’ desire for touch was only affected by control threats. Importantly, this experiment further found that need for control was a mediator, ruling out other alternative explanations. Experiment 3 provided supports to H2 that the main effect of threats to personal control on consumers’ desire for touch was moderated by whether they were offered with an opportunity to strengthen their self-value. Finally, Experiment 4 showed that the moderation effect of strengthening self-value reported by Experiment 3 disappeared when consumers’ self-esteem was low (vs. high).
The cognitive experiential perspective reported by the current research can enrich our traditional understanding on why consumers show a strong desire for touch. Also, this perspective can significantly advance existing research on affirming one’s self-value and research on self-esteem.