Touching through a screen: a new threat for physical stores

Why do we still go to physical stores for buying clothes instead of buying everything online? Online shopping is easy, it saves time and money, and it is efficient in the way that we can see the whole collection of a shop in just a couple of mouse clicks. One of the remaining advantages of going to a store instead of online shopping is the fact that we can really feel the texture of the clothes. However, a new innovation will soon make it possible that even for this we don’t have to leave our houses anymore.

The new technology is being developed by Disney Research, amongst others, and is based on a tactile rendering algorithm that makes it possible to not only see things on a touchscreen but also to touch them, to really feel them. The movie at the bottom of this blog shows more details about the technology, but in short it is a technology that creates a difference in the friction forces, which will create an illusion for the brain. When friction-sensitive mechanoreceptors in the skin touch the screen, the brain will think that we are touching a surface with relief instead of a flat touchscreen,

The innovation is now tested on maps, so that humans can feel a difference in height through a flat screen. In the future it can also be used by web shops, allowing customers to feel the fabric of the clothes. If we want to know if something is of good material, if it is soft or hard, we will just have to touch the screen and find out! The question is now whether this will change our shopping behaviour, if it will be a serious threat for physical shops or if it is just an addition to online shopping? Only time will tell.


Kim, S.C., Israr, A., Poupyrev, I. (2013) ‘Tactile Rendering of 3D Features of Touch Surfaces’ (, September 22, 2014.


One response to “Touching through a screen: a new threat for physical stores”

  1. kaszuyderwijk says :

    Hi, thanks for this interesting blog post! I didn’t know that this touch technology thing was in development, never heard of it. I think it’s gonna be a great invention, and it will probably be a nice addition for online shopping. But to answer your question whether it will be a threat for physical stores.. I don’t think so. For the most kind of textures of clothes you know how they feel. And I don’t think people are very interested in ‘touching’ there clothes before buying it online. So that’s why I dont think it will be a threat for physical stores. Customers want to try clothes on in real life anyway, to see how it fits them. The other technology which is relatively new, the technology that people try on the clothes visually in a special feature of the webshop could have a bigger effect on physical stores. I have seen this technology and it needs to be developed a little more, but it has potential I think. If this technology works really well, it’s very clear to see how the clothes fit you and that makes it easier for people to take the step and buy their clothes online. So this is a potential threat for physical stores, the touch technology is not.

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