The online retailing market has prospered tremendously (Statista 2019). Consumers are, nevertheless, unsure about buying fresh food online (Kühn et al. 2020). The low need for online grocery purchase is surprising, since consumers maintain that they perceive saving time and convenience as benefits of online shopping (e.g., Kühn et al. 2020). It is therefore important to understand what lies behind consumers’ reluctance to purchase fresh food online, especially healthy produce. Consumer psychology provides an explanation by highlighting touch’s pivotal role in consumer behavior (e.g., Peck and Shu 2009). When shopping online consumers do not have “the possibility of touching and feeling products before purchasing them to reduce uncertainty” (Herhausen et al. 2015, p. 311), resulting in negative expectations of online offered produce.
Our research shows that these negative expectations influence consumers’ produce perception even after they have experienced such products (after tasting experience). A lab experiment allocated participants randomly to either an ‘offline’ or ‘online’ condition. In the offline condition, participants selected four apples (one of each presented type) from a basket mirroring a local supermarket context. These consumers believed, during a subsequent degustation, they were going to taste the chosen apple. We, however, served random tastings of each apple type. In the online condition, participants saw a fictive online shop on a computer and were told they were going to taste the apples shown. A local store’s assortment served as the product pool in both conditions. The offline condition results show that participants rated their tasted produce better and were willing to pay more than those experiencing the online condition. The second lab experiment incorporates a third condition: online, using a direct touch interface (e.g., a tablet’s touchscreen). This experiment replicated study 1’s results but used tomatoes, ultimately resulting in higher produce consumption in the offline vs. the online condition. Further, study 2 offers online retailers a solution by addressing consumers’ haptic experience. Using a direct touch interface during the online purchasing process compensates for online retailing’s negative effects on consumers’ product evaluation, taste, WTP, and consumption amount.
Results show that negative expectations impact product evaluation after product experience, as consumers do not learn from the degustation process. Online retailers should therefore not just use freebies to address consumers’ negative expectation, but invest in strategies that increase their prepurchase expectations (e.g. image, reputation) (Biswas and Biswas 2004; Yazdanparast and Spears 2013). Online retailers could actively push direct touch usage via mobile apps to exploit direct touch interfaces’ positive impact.
- Direct touch interface
- Online retailing
- Sensory marketing