Multimedia Customer Information Systems At the Point of Sale: Selected Results of an Impact Analysis


Bernhard S. Swoboda (1998) ,"Multimedia Customer Information Systems At the Point of Sale: Selected Results of an Impact Analysis", in E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 3, eds. Basil G. Englis and Anna Olofsson, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 239-246.

European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 3, 1998      Pages 239-246


Bernhard S. Swoboda, University of Saarbrucken, Germany

In this paper, the effects of interactive communication systems used at the point of purchase on consumer behavior are analyzed. Criteria determining these effects established on a theoretical level and the results of an in-store-experiment contribute towards an explanation of changes in purchase or consumer behavior.


Multimedia Customer Information Systems are POS-terminals at which customers can obtain information by finger-tip and which present products by means of text, sound and moving pictures. The idea is based on earlier video and videodisc systems (Friedmann, 1984). Modern systems are used as service instruments. Their main features are: interactive dialoge functions; presentation of complete stock; ability to compare different brands; online updateable information on location/prices; ordering functions also covering products momentarily not in stock (Hutchinson, 1995).

As both consumers’ demands on service and their awareness of prices increase, retailers expect multimedia at the POS to enhance and facilitate presentation of products, to enlarge stock, to supplement consumer advice and, at the same time, to relieve staff, to generate dditional shopping experiences, and to influence customer behavior. In turn, customers consider objectivity and individuality of information supply by executing searches on their own, enhanced transparence of stock, informational and additional experiences from multimedia communication, saving time by finding products more easily and substitution for absent or incompetent staff as the potential uses of interactivity, sound and movies multimedia offers.

Multimedia surely offers an enormous potential for presentation of products, consumer advice, and service. Yet innovations in this sector are dominated by technical aspects and inexperience with implementation of multimedia, especially concerning cost-benefit relations for retailers. A theoretical framework is altogether lacking.

It’s the purpose of the following discussion to explore the interrelation of effects of multimedia at the POS (Swoboda, 1996). The communication with multimedia at the POS proceeds in a manner quite different from other ways of communication, the processes affecting consumer behavior are structured on a theoretical foundation and verified empirically.


2.1. Phases of Effects of Interactive Media at the Point of Sale

A systematization of the process of consumer participation in communication with interactive media and the effects caused thereby in the context of shopping can serve as a foundation for analyzing how interactive media influences consumers. According to this approach, individual communication proceeds in three phases:

B a pre-communicative phase (the phase before a media contact situation),

B a communicative phase (the phase during a media contact situation),

B a post-communicative phase (the phase after a media contact situation).

This structure pays attention to the diachronic nature of consumer contact with interactive media or, respectively, the individual statements during shopping. This procedure is appropriate because a logical and formal structurization of the communication process offers itself from reality; because the criterion of the temporary nature of consumer contact with media and single information is also relevant for the methods used to explain these communication processes and its effects on consumer behavior. The single parts of the process depend on each other, i.e. without contact with media no dialogue is possible, without dialogue no effects are possible. Consequently, effects are understood as a series of phases which begins with a contact and ends with behavior and the single stages of which form a chain of cause and effect. Resulting variables which can be measured empirically occur at each stage and should be considered as intermediate steps towards analyzing the post-communicative effects. This necessary broadening of the methodological foundations of the three-phase-model of impact-analysis leads to the structure shown in Figure 1.

The emphasis of impact-analysis lies B apart from the conditions for getting into contact with media resulting from processes of media selection B on post-communicative effects that result from the dialog with a medium, i.e. the processing of information obtained by using it. These effects are compound effects, i.e. the consumers’ momentary abilities relevant while being in store, the knowledge at their disposal from the dialg or emotions or perceptions or their approximation to a shop environment as explained by environmental psychology as well as long-term reactions of their memories. The general aim of the analysis is to detect complexes of variables determining post-communicative effects and thereby giving hints towards an explanation of these effects. Some starting points result from the communicative phase.

2.2. A Survey of the Communicative Phase

Because of the consumers playing an active role in it, dialog with multimedia is characterized by processes of information behavior (Swoboda, 1996, p. 101ff.).

Giving a theoretical foundation of processes seemingly trivial in the context of the phase model is not altogether easy. At the moment, therefore, combining the advantage of dualistic conceptions with that of propositional assumptions seems to be the most sensible approach to exploring informational processes. First steps into this direction were taken by some authors (Russo, 1987; Kosslyn, Chabris and Hamilton, 1990; Kuhlmann, Brunne and Sowarka 1992). With Paivio (1986, p. 52) we can, however, say, that what matters are not so much theoretical explanations than the effects themselves.

2.3. A Survey of the Post-Communicative Phase

On the level of cognitive effects, we may infer from using interactive media that in the easiest case, more or less consciously solicited information relevant for purchasing is made accessible to the consumers’ cognitive processing systems. In the most complex case, information solicited is taken over from the medium to memory as well as unsolicited, additional information is externally taken over from the medium or internally evoked from memory. The memories of users of interactive systems receive more stimuli than those of non-users. Due to additional (external/internal) data the cognitive database of users of media, therefore, is much more specific than that of non-users. The general question then, of analyzing effects is: How does information acquired from interactive media affect purchasing behavior after a contact with media? On this basis we can analyze in how far using media leads to qualitative modifications of externally perceived as well as internally generated information relevant for purchasing during the post-communicative phase (Lynch and Srull, 1982).



From a heuristic point of view, this approach neglects at least two elements decisive for analyzing effects, viz. emotional and subliminal effects and long-term factors of success (acceptance). Therefore, an adequate line of inquiry will necessarily go beyond

B a simple consideration of use and non-use of media

B an improved accessibility of internal/external information,

i.e. it will

B be relevant for immediate (purchase) behavior (situational relevance)

B take into account the long-term success of interactive media, e.g. by being able to lay open their weaknesses and last, but not least

B take into account emotional and cognitive effects during the post-communicative phase.

We have to find a concept which mirrors impacts of using media on both cognitive and emotional behavior.

Especially with regard to persons using interactive media for the first time, the concept of experience can be defined (Silberer, 1989, p. 61) as the agreeable perceptions of and the feelings about an object (here: of using interactive media). Being based on a situational approach, it describes both cognitiveand emotional effects. As a basic hypothesis we can assume that because consumers individually decide whether to use media or not, these must generate an experience B a use of what kind so ever (e.g. satisfying need of information [rational] and or fun [emotional])B within the users in order to be used periodically and to influence in-store consumer behavior in the long run. If an analysis of the effects of media is to facilitate valid statements, the experience of media has to be at the center of the inquiry.

From our considerations emerge two basic points of interest:

B use or non-use of media as a more quantitative effect

B experience of media as a qualitative (cognitive/emotional) effect.

This suggests a systemization of effects according to the psychological categories cognitive, emotional, and conative. Proceeding from the basic hypothesis primary and secondary effects affecting each other can be distinguished. For retailers it’s important to achieve the secondary effects for reasons of efficiency, especially acceptance of media. Furthermore, for retailers, this goal is only a secondary necessity to achieve the primary-effects which are in the post-communicative phase

1. elementary cognitive learning effects (e.g. successful information processing or encoding processes)

2. short- and long-term dispositions

B short-term dispositions: interest in the medium, stock, service, a positive evaluation of the features of a store

B long-term dispositions: effects on attitudes towards and imaginations about the medium or the shop respective the provider of information

3. direct effects on purchase behavior (e.g. execution of planned purchases or impulses to unplanned purchases).




3.1. Methods Used in the Field Study

The field study was conceived as a group comparison including a before-after-approach. From this approach, two measuring models result, one exploring selected interrelated variables compared between users and non-users, and another analyzing the conditions of experiences of the medium and its effects (Figure 2). The sample formed at random originated through self-selection: the first group used the medium, the other one did not. Both groups were subjected to a before and after interview, non-users being questioned generally before and after shopping, users before using the medium and after shopping.

The empirical exploration was executed by 12 interviewers in three music department stores and lasted one week. In the evaluation, 497 users and 253 non-users were taken into account. The medium under scrutiny was the "Music-Master", an autonomously usable interactive multimedia information system covering a complete music and video stock of 100.000 titles on video and CD. The system allows consumers to check availability, price, placement of products in the shop, titles contained on a certain CD, artists, available CDs etc. according to various search criteria. An ordering function is also integrated into the system.

Due to the broad scope of my exploration it seemed indispensable to formulate six hypotheses. These describe a chain of effects from the elementary decision to use media, through user and informational behaviour to the effects on open purchase behavior.

3.2. Selected Results from the Tests

3.2.1. Dimensions of the Experience of Media

The first task is to inquire how consumers experience multimedia at the POS and whether there are central categories in their perception. Considering experience with media as the central variable, this section analyzes the reasons triggering off an experience with a medium.

The theoretical foundation of post-communicative-cognitive dimensions of experience is based on the ideas of gratification theory. This implies a meaningful, conscious experience of media use. In the context of interactive media, mainly cost-benefit dimensions were used as an explanation (Ratchford, 1982, p. 201f.), but combined with several interpretations:

B Kuhlmann, Brunne, Sowarka (1992), based on pre-communicative cost-benefit considerations, are talking of one-dimensional profiles of attitudes;

B Russo (1987, p. 121; Russo and Leclerc, 1991, p. 84ff.) explicitly relies on cost-benefit approaches;

B Backhaus (1993) uses cost-benefit dimension as values from impression.





According to the main thesis that multimodal communication always and especially at the POS is experienced emotionally too, the emotional experiences of the medium were measured in a dimensional/categorical approach (Kroeber-Riel and Weinberg, 1996; Donovan and Rossiter, 1982, p. 44f.).

Our analysis of the cognitive dimensions of experiences corroborates the hypothesis that the more rational perception of the medium is based on several factors (Table 1). Factor 1 represents the dimension of information (scope, actuality, usefulness of information). Here, features of benefits from competence and of subsequent benefits are loaded. Factor 2 contains immediate benefits for shopping, but also an aspect of handling. From a cost-benefit point of view, these are the shopping-orientated benefits, whereas the third factor describes the entertainment benefit.

As far as emotional perception of the medium is concerned, two factors could be extracted which cover all items (Table 2). On factor 2, mainly such items are loaden which represent the strength of emotional experiences (stimulating, surprising). From the point of view of emotional psychology, these are chiefly activating or diactivating variables. With factor 1, mainly items of direction and of quality of emotions are loaden.

On the whole, the factor analysis detected central dimensions of experiences. Its difference is evidenced by a correlation analysis.

3.2.2. Effects of Interactive Media at the POS Dispositions towards Media. In practice, the effects of media are usually described in terms of acceptance. The concept of acceptance is used by different authors not only with different intentions but also with different meanings: The measuring of target groups, aspects of handling or reports of positive experiences (Swoboda, 1996). Oehler (1990, p. 74), defines acceptance as a consistence theory based concept in the sense of willingness to use interactive media. This concept is rooted in positive attitudes of an individual not inhibited by personal or situational circumstances and measures it with judgements based on consistence theory.



The effects taken into account B associations, general judgements of satisfaction, subjective estimates of the future development of interactive media, and the intention to use them B allow, at least in a very rough outline, a prognosis about the future development of interactive media. Thus the hypothesis of acceptace is: There is a relation between the experiences of a medium and the users’ dispositions towards media. Hypothesis (The stronger the experience of the medium, the stronger the spontaneous mental reactions towards it) focuses on the theoretical relationship between reactions of memory and the experience of media. Spontaneous judgements can be seen as mental processes or reactions uncovering which features of media use are perceived, processed and stored in memory. To measure these an open question was necessary.

The absolute numbers of mental reactions show highly significant differences between the groups under scrutiny (Table 3). The stronger/weaker the experience of the medium, the higher/lower the number of users’ mental reactions. As the ScheffT test shows and a bifactorial analysis of variance corroborates, this statement is more valid for cognitive-rational experiences of media than for emotional ones.

The Validity of this hypothesis is demonstrated by a regression. Satisfaction is based on the dimension of information, the factor pleasure-displeasure, activation and enhanced ease of shopping. The correlation of 0.68 is satisfactory. Even more, the strength of experiences results in a positive estimate of the future development and a strong inclination to make use of interactive media. Interactive media will most certainly not disappear or serve just entertainment purposes. The majority of consumers considers multimedia not only as a supplement but also as a replacement of other sources of information. Only a minority of consumers, however, thinks that other ways of selling could be replaced by these systems. Situational Perception of Store. For retailers, the success of media is not measured in terms of acceptance but in such of subsequent transfer effects as perception of shopping facilities (service), ease of orientation of the shop environment and the stock. The perception of store hypothesis postulates a significant relation between use or experience of media and judgement of the store.

This relationship can be founded on either a theory of mnemological approach or centered on one environmental psychology. The relation can also be understood as emotional (Mitchell, 1986) or cognitive (MacKenzie, Lutz and Blech, 1986) transfer effects as analyzed in research on advertising media. How a consumer perceives a shop environment is dependent on which aspects he selectively perceives from the external shop environment and which experiences relevant for shopping he activates in his memory. An medium will be effective if it succeeds in generating positive experiences from the consumers’ memories. These activating contents of memory then determine which external conforming stimuli are perceived and selected for processing. Interactive media, thus, create a climate for perceptions in which preferably congruent information is processed. If we further assume that consumers judge specific supply in a store on the spot making use of internally or externally generated information, effects of information supplied by media should be clearly demonstrable.

This explanation, dominated again by cognitive aspects, is broadened by approaches taken from environmental psychology which take into account both cognitive and emotional subliminal effects of the shop environment and which provide a starting point for analyzing cognitive and emotional experience of media (Mehrabian and Russel, 1974).

The following items condensed to factor values were analyzed: judgement of supply, ease of orientation and perception of service (in a user/non-user comparison and dependent on experience of the medium). Analysis of variance show results to be in clear accordance with the hypothesis. It was also possible to find highly significant regression analysis which allows the values perceived of the shop environment to be traced back to two dimensions of factors of the medium: The stronger the ’experience of information’ and the stronger the experience of ’pleasure B displeasure’, the more positive is the judgement on ease of orientation of the shop environment and of the supply. The intensity of the emotions exercises an additional influence on the perception of shopping facilities.



However, the relations found are weak; the degrees of certainty of the linear regressions between experience of the medium and the dependent factors reach 25.4% in the best case. The logistic regression (factor values of judgement of the shop as dependent variable), on the contrary, leads to better results and exhibits a characteristic development, the graph ascending first progressively, then degressively (Figure 4). This result contradicts our expectations. The graph shows a overproportionally positive estimate of the supply of the store in case of a weak experience of the medium and is only digressively enhanced by a strong experience. Although these results hint at problems of media implementation like actuality, completeness of information, they principally speak for the implementation of interactive media at the POS. Offering additional sources of self-information itself obviously exercises a positive influence on the perception of the shop which again shows the possibility of emphasizing service and supply competence by using media and of improving orientation in the shop for consumers. On the whole, therefore, the non-linear solution is helpful in showing at least a trend. Effects on Shopping Behavior. Because of the temporal proximity of the stimuli and the shopping situation, interactive media at the POS are apt to affect shopping behavior directly. Explanations of direct shopping behavior take as their foundation the immediately activating design of the system or the link with cognitive techniques like use of language (sound, pictures and video-clips) to incite emotional reactions. These direct effects of an information system may be the satisfaction of a certain need of information relevant for present shopping purposes or inciting needs by a subjectively activating presentation of products.

Because of the situation at the POS indirect effects of media must not be neglected. These can be caused by a positive climate of perception of the shop environment too, that is direct shopping behavior is most strongly influenced by the thoughts primarily accessible in a shopping situation (Tversky and Kahneman, 1973, p. 207 ff.). In both cases, shopping behavior at the POS is strongly influenced by emotional reactions.

Apart from the distinction of direct and indirect effects on shopping behavior the distination between planned and unplanned purchases is allthou relevant for an analysis of the effects of media. On the whole, this distinction makes possible a rough and ready division of the effects of interactive media into these two categories. In the present field study, effects of media were analyzed with reference to certain open reactions of consumers’ shopping behavior. The hypothesis of response is: Compared to non-users, users exhibit a significantly higher total purchise.



The correlation show that the number of products purchased increases as well as that of planned and unplanned purchases and that, simultaneously, the number of planned but not performed purchases decreases, that is a constant proportion of purchases is planned or respectively, unplanned (Dahlhoff, 1979, p. 47ff.; Weinberg and Gottwald, 1982; Piron, 1991). Comparing both groups, the following results emerge (Table 4):

B With non-users, the relation of unplanned as well as planned but not performed purchases to purchasing plans or, respectively, purchases is stronger.

B With users, the relation between shopping plans and purchases is weaker.

Further insights result from an analysis of the relation between impulse purchases (cf. Swoboda, 1996, p. 238ff.) and other categories of shopping behavior. The higher the number of unplanned purchases, the higher the number of impulse purchases B a statement valid for users as well as non-users. A staistically relevant connection between the number of planned purchases and the number of impulse purchases performed does not exist. In this category we find negative correlation caused by considerations of rationality more characteristic with users.

This consideration of rationality of shopping behavior is corroborated by the results of an observation of consumer behavior in the store. In spite of a significantly lower number of haptic contacts with products observed users tended to perform more purchases than non-users and, simultaneously, approached shelves or addressed staff less frequently (Swoboda, 1996).


In general terms, the hypothesis can be confirmed. The effects of media at the POS are strongest, if they succeed in providing users with a situational experience. These results confirm the potentials of these media, which are to be seen as a aquisitional measure at the POS and broadly accepted by retailers.

The aims of using media determine how attractive a medium is for consumers. They are also dependent on the type of system used. Systems implemented as a permanent source of information about stock must necessarily be orientated towards the needs of the target group. These needs are characterized by desires of information for present purchases and less by desire for entertainment. Formulating the aims of media must, therefore, take into account primarily the information relevant for shopping, the number of special effects and additional information etc. are only of secondary importance. The design of the media determines consumers’ experiences. The field study shows that multimodal elements are only second in importance for consumers’ perceptions and loose importance against aspects like actuality, range of information with consumers getting used to using the systems and their needs for information growing more specific.

Using media as well as the experience of it affects consumer behavior directly (rather weak effects) and, in a stronger way, indirectly. Multimedia systems initiate impulse purchases. Even stronger is their rationalizing effect which results in a faster sequence of purchases or in observable shopping behavior. This leads to a practical problem: How far is a rationalization of shopping behavior desirable for retailers? The result of this study is remarkable for a second reason: It shows that interactive media aims at rational as well as at emotional effects on shopping behavior which are sharply distinguished and traced back to different marketing activities in consumer research. Contrary to this distinction, interactive media have not only rationalizing but also activating effects.


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Bernhard S. Swoboda, University of Saarbrucken, Germany


E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 3 | 1998

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