The Digital Signage Insider

Interactive retail tools improve recall, but spur false memories

Published on: 0000-00-00

This month's Journal of Consumer Research featured an interesting paper by Anne Schlosser, a business professor at the University of Washington. Schlosser's paper (PDF) studied the effect of interactivity on attribute recall by creating different versions of a digital camera website and having participants answer questions based on whether they had used the interactive Flash-based version of the site, or a more static text-and-images-only variant. While the study concluded (not surprisingly) that greater interactivity did "improve memory of associations compared to static pictures and text," it also showed that interactivity can "lead to the creation of vivid internally-generated recollections that pose as real memories." In layman's terms, making a website more interactive and engaging does improve recall of an item, but it also may cause users to create false memories of that item. Though the paper is fairly technical and intended for an academic audience, the conclusions we can draw from it have considerable real-world significance for how we display content on retail media systems.

Testing highly interactive versus static content

The researchers created two versions of a website about the same digital camera that presented identical information in different formats. The interactive format used Flash animations to let users "explore" the product by clicking on different features, whereas the static format presented identical text and graphic information using plain HTML and still images. Participants were shown one site or the other, given a particular instruction (either "browse around and have fun" or "find out about features X,Y and Z"), and were tested for recall afterwards. Both browsers and searchers demonstrated superior recognition of documented features and product attributes after having used the interactive site, suggesting that the process of interacting had something to do with how memories are formed. However, users of the interactive site also seemed to form more false memories about the product, which researchers tested by asking about the availability of features that were plausible, but not available. There are numerous reasons why interactivity could lend to stronger item recognition: the same information may have been presented multiple times or in a more logical fashion, or the interactivity was stored as a multi-modal experience that combined sight and touch. But it's somewhat surprising to hear that it would lead to the formation of additional false memories, too. Schlosser suggests that the same process that leads to the formation of more vivid real memories (the kind that aid in recall and recognition) could also be causing the mind to form more vivid false memories when primed with related information. As she notes:
These findings have important theoretical and managerial implications. For example, others have argued that direct experience can create an illusory sense of competence (Hoch and Deighton 1989). The present research suggests that although a sense of competence may be warranted when learning associations, it is not warranted when recognizing specific items. That is, although virtual experience was better than a picture site for learning associations, it was no better for recognizing presented items, and was worse for rejecting absent items. These findings suggest that marketing managers should test their campaigns for both true and false memories. Although it may seem advantageous for consumers to believe that a product has features that it actually does not have (e.g., by increasing store visits and purchases), it may ultimately lead to customer dissatisfaction. Because false memories reflect source-monitoring errors -- or believing that absent attributes were actually presented in the marketing campaign -- consumers who discover that the product does not have these attributes will likely feel misled by the company.
Applying these results to in-store marketing programs

If preventing customer confusion were the only outcome, I don't think marketers would pay much attention to these findings. However, there are several things that marketers can do to improve media performance (and presumably drive sales) that also tend to limit the effects of false memories. For example, Schlosser and many others before have demonstrated that multi-modal learning -- that is, learning by using several different sensory stimuli at a time -- can significantly improve both recognition and recall. Retailers have been encouraging product interaction for years by placing products within our grasp, allowing us to interact with the product (especially products with many complex features or subtle but important differences in quality). Likewise, electronic retailers have been using interactive learning and guided selling tools to give Internet shoppers a more interactive experience, just as the researchers did in this experiment. The same technology can be applied to in-store product information and gift registry kiosks as well.

For non-interactive content on digital signs, the takeaways are bit more subtle. While we can't have true interactivity on a digital sign that lacks a touchscreen or other input device, our on-screen content can try to sway the viewer to interact with the product on the shelf. Focusing on the few most salient and noteworthy features of a product will also cater well to the short-duration format that best fits digital signage ads, while reducing the likelihood of creating false memories. That also gets me thinking about display size and sign placement, since it would seem that a message placed close to its product has the greatest chance of encouraging customer interaction. Now we get into some tricky territory, though. Would an 8" shelf-edge display, encouraging you to sniff (not squeeze) a pineapple to see how fresh it is, convert more shoppers than a larger display placed further away from the product? What about a 17" display mounted on a rack, suggesting you feel how incredibly soft this season's polar fleece is? These have been hot-button issues in the static POP display market forever, and even with all of the new research going on in measuring retail media, it's likely that the size, frequency and adjacency of media placements will always be up for debate.

As Schlosser's study shows, interactivity can have a significant impact on customers' memory, whether the interaction takes place online or in a retail store. Given the well-defined relationship between recognition, recall and customer activation, it would certainly be in most marketers' best interests to take this research to heart. As part of any in-store media program, marketers should think about encouraging the kinds of meaningful product interactions that drive sales by cutting out the noise, honing in on a product's most unique, salient, or tangible features, and placing the shopper in a position to make an informed decision.


0 # Dolapo Taiwo 2008-02-13 09:37
These findings are really interesting. Prior to this, I had never even thought of the concept of multi-modal learning.
-1 # Bill Gerba 2008-02-13 14:57
Hi Dolapo, Multi-modal learning is pretty well accepted, especially in early/primary education. Extending these known and well-understood concepts to out-of-home media and interactive tools makes sense, since they can aid in both comprehension and recall, two critical areas for marketers and consumers alike.
-1 # web 2009-02-09 09:08
I'll try it out on training corporate clients

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