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Auctions (and for that matter, commerce in general) for centuries have involved person-to-person contact. Since the first auctions 500 B.C., auctioneers entertained audiences of large crowds of potential buyers, with those buyers actually seeing, smelling, and touching the items up for auction.

Too, the auctioneer would typically wade through the crowd prior to the auction, shaking hands, putting a hand on a shoulder to have a more private conversation or otherwise engage others by the sense of touch.

Our topic today involves the sense of touch as a result of recent studies by researchers at Harvard, Yale, and MIT: http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2010/haptic-0625.html

It appears haptic impressions (haptic: relating to or based on the sense of touch) deliver sensory perceptions and can help form, alter or otherwise influence our decision making. For instance, people sitting in more comfortable chairs offered more money for a car for sale than those in a harder, more firm chair regarding the same car.

How does this relate to the auction business? Today, auctions are still conducted primarily with a live audience (78%, per the recent Michigan State University Study). In such, the auctioneer has control over the environment where the auction is being held; for instance, chairs may or may not be provided and it appears the type of chair may well matter.

I wonder if being able to touch the item or items available at the auction would influence perception, and therefore increase bidding confidence, as the bidder would feel as if he or she had more information in order to make bidding decisions? Just how soft is that cashmere rug? How smooth is the finish on that parlour table? The study suggests that the sense of touch produces familiar ideas, which could well be viewed as comfortable — because they are familiar.

The vast majority of auctions allow bidders to sense the property being offered, and the surrounding environment, by the sense of touch. These recent studies suggest this ability to touch remains an important marketing tool for auctioneers. It would seem to me that this opportunity to touch the property under consideration would be even more important the closer it was to the time of bidding.

The study concluded that this type of information would be key for many people, including marketers and those in a position to attempt to influence others — sounds exactly like an auctioneer.

Mike Brandly, Auctioneer, CAI, AARE has been an auctioneer and certified appraiser for over 30 years. His company’s auctions are located at: Mike Brandly, Auctioneer, Keller Williams Auctions and Goodwill Columbus Car Auction. His Facebook page is: www.facebook.com/mbauctioneer. He serves as Adjunct Faculty at Columbus State Community College and is Executive Director of The Ohio Auction School.