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How Real-World Retailers Can Better Compete With Ecommerce Researchers found that shops can appeal to certain types of customers better than any website ever could.

By Rose Leadem

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Over the past five years, ecommerce has nearly doubled. However, if you're a retailer, as long as you're targeting the right consumers, you can thrive.

In the report, "Product Touch and Consumers' Online and Offline Buying: The Role of Mental Representation," which will be published in the September issue of the Journal of Retailing, researchers Wumei Liu of Lanzhou University, Rajeev Batra of the University of Michigan and Haizhogn Wang of Sun Yat-Sen University discovered the surprising way retailers without a web presence can keep up. Through various studies, the researchers discovered the effects that being able to physically touch a product has on purchasing decisions.

Related: How to Survive as a Brick-and-Mortar Retail Store

The researchers found that depending on whether a person was a concrete or an abstract thinker would determine their willingness to purchase items online. For concrete thinkers, being able to physically touch a product was especially important.

In one study, participants were asked whether they would buy a mug, which was placed in a transparent plastic box. First, the participants were asked to think abstractly about whether they would like to purchase the mug, and in the second scenario, they were asked to think concretely while making the same purchasing decision. When thinking abstractly, the need to touch the mug had little to no effect on the participants' purchasing decision. However, when they were asked to think concretely and were able to touch the mug, participants' willingness to purchase the mug increased. A second study confirmed these results, also showing that concrete thinkers felt more ownership and less risk when they were able to touch a product before purchasing it.

Related: What Small Businesses Need to Do to Win in Online Retail

So how can retailers who lack an online presence be successful? Target concrete thinkers. The authors suggest that offline retailers can use consumer research data from online retail to identify concrete thinkers who value touch, and ultimately target those consumers in their marketing efforts. Then, of course, present your merchandise in a tactile way.

Rose Leadem is a freelance writer for Entrepreneur.com. 

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