Virtual reality (VR) technology affords powerful influences on human behavior and thinking through symbiotic interaction between the VR environment and the human user. Earlier research indicated that in a real bookstore, a slight touch by the welcoming shop assistant on the shopper’s upper arm positively influenced consumer behavior. To investigate effects of artificial social touch in VR, participants were asked to shop in two virtual shops (in random order). The virtual shop assistant touched participants (shoppers) on the upper arm (through an actuator on participant’s arm) while greeting, or, in the other shop, identically greeted participants without touching them. Results showed that in the shop in which participants were touched by the virtual shop assistant, they spent more time, more money on purchasing and their overall shopping experience evaluation was more positive. Findings confirmed that the illusion of virtual social touch can be established in VR and contributed that VR employing artificial social touch can be effective in influencing consumer behavior.
VR is no longer a new concept in modern society. And there are more and more options of VR headsets in the consumer market. In traditional online shopping, consumers can only see products pictures on screen. VR technology can boost their shopping experience into a new level. With simply a VR headset, consumers can view the item from every angle, as if the product was in front of them.
- Shop assistant & Persuasive touch
Hornik (1991) conducted an experiment in a book store. When shoppers entered the store, they were first greeted by an experimenter. Half of the shoppers were touched by the experimenter on the upper arm while the other half was not. Results indicated that participants who were touched by the experimenters spent more time and more money in the store, and also evaluated the store more positively.
- Artificial social agent & Haptic feedback
Artificial social agents can be used to influence people’s behavior or attitudes, just as human agents do in many situations .People tend to react to computer technology as though it was a real social entity, according to the media equation hypothesis.
In VR, haptic feedback can be used to provide the feeling of being touched by another (virtual) person.
Research question & Hypotheses
What is the effect of artificial social touch versus no touch on (shopping) behavior in virtual reality?
H1: Participants who are touched by the artificial agent in VR will spend more time in the virtual shop.
H2: Participants who are touched by the artificial agent in VR will spend more money in the virtual shop.
H3: Participants who are touched by the artificial agent in VR will evaluate their shopping experience more positively.
A total of forty-four participants (30 male and 14 female; 28 Chinese, 10 Dutch, 2 Irish, 2 American, 1 Indonesian and 1 Slovak) were recruited via Facebook, among TU/e students and among visitors at Enversed VR Center.
To provide the feeling of being touched, we designed and developed a special armband controlled by a microprocessor and with a small motor on it. When the virtual assistant raised her arm and reached participants’ upper arm, the system triggered the motor on the armband. So that participants could have the feeling of being touched. Participants were asked to wear the armband during the experiment.
After finishing the experiment design, I built the VR environment and conducted the experiment. I made the 3d models in 3DS Max and Unreal Engine. The blueprints were developed with the help of Enversed VR Center. Later, I recorded the movements of the virtual shop assistant using motion capture suit, cleaned up the animation files in MotionBuilder, and then imported the animation files into Unreal Engine. The experiment was conducted at Enversed VR Center.
Results & Insights
We found from the results that when participants were touched by the virtual shop assistant in a virtual shop, they - spent more time in that shop, - spent more money on purchasing and - the overall evaluation of the shopping experience was more positive.
Since artificial social touch has influence on consumers’ purchasing behavior in VR and VR shopping is an emerging market, virtual shop assistants can be applied in virtual shopping environment. They have the potential to increase sales, shopping time and consumers’ evaluation of the virtual shop. The artificial social touch can increase the persuasive power of the virtual shop assistant.