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Communication: People-to-People vs. People-to-Devices


This paper summarizes our study of the correlation between face-to-face communication and communication via social media. After describing our research activities, we provide some comments concerning the ethical challenges that we encountered in our study. Finally, we identify the main themes that emerged in the process of researching and analyzing our study in accordance with them.

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Research Activities

In our research, we focused on studying the way people interact with each other while buying goods in various retail stores and shopping malls. The goal was to identify the role that social media accessed through technological communication devices play in affecting the clients’ choices and compare this role to that of face-to-face communication.

While conducting the study, we obtained materials for analysis by observing groups of people (a large part of whom were young women shopping together) and single customers. We paid particular attention to the way groups discuss the goods to be bought. It is noteworthy that groups were oblivious of their being observed and, thus, behaved in the most natural way. On the other hand, there was a drawback, the crux of which is that the researcher, in some cases, could only hear the conversation partially. We also investigated how often both groups and single customers used technological devices to communicate and to help with choosing goods.

At the same time, it is stressed that numerous retail shops utilize social media to attract clients (Rapp, Beitelspacher, Grewal & Hughes, 2013). Therefore, we also paid attention to how social media are employed to shape the choices of customers. To do that, we studied accounts of various shops in social media and the way people reacted to them in comments.

Ethical Challenges

American Psychological Association (1992) lists some basic general principles that must be applied by psychologists in their work, as well as ethical standards that psychologists need to comply with. In relation to our research, it is important to comment on the principle of respect for people’s rights to privacy. It might be assumed that in our research, it was possible to disregard them by prying into a customer’s personal life while observing their communication with each other and leaving them unaware of it. However, we did not listen to any kind of communication, which was not to be heard by anyone else. We endeavored to maintain “safe distance” that would allow us to see the actions of the observed and only hear parts of their conversation carried out in a semi-loud or loud tone; we could not hear any parts of customers’ interaction, which was done in low, quiet tones.

The clients, despite being oblivious of the researcher, were communicating in shopping malls or retail stores full of people, and, therefore, were aware that it is possible and probable that other people hear them. In fact, our behavior very much resembled the behavior of an ordinary shopper, except that we paid more attention to what others say. On the other hand, researching the way people form their preferences might enable companies to satisfy the needs of the clients better, which is compliant with the principle of caring about the welfare of others.

Results of Observation

As was noted, we observed people’s behavior in public places where it is possible to purchase goods, but mostly in large shopping malls and retail stores. We attempted to understand the way clients communicate with each other directly, face-to-face, and how they use their devices.

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We found out that both females and males discuss their purchases with friends, but women tend to be accompanied by friends more often while shopping, particularly in departments related to clothes and other goods that can be worn.

We were able to perceive a curious peculiarity related to the way customers use various devices while doing shopping. Even while buying goods in groups, people, especially females, employed their devices to share their impressions and experiences. For instance, they often made photos which are commonly referred to as “selfies” with their cell phones, and then spent some time doing something with the devices; it is possible to assume that they posted the photos in social networks or sent them to their friends. It appears that they often received feedback, for in many cases, they waited for some time before checking with their phones again and then buying one or some of the products in question or leaving.

On the other hand, while buying various devices or equipment on one’s own, males often used their phones for some time before deciding what to buy. They rarely called anybody, while females often used their phone in order to discuss the purchase with their friends or relatives. Still, people of both sexes employed devices while choosing products.

While analyzing social media, Facebook, in particular, we were able to notice that customers often leave comments under posts in accounts of various shops and malls. In some cases, people even tag their friends, writing that they liked the product and advising them to buy it, or just showing off. Comments were much more often positive. Negative comments tended to be shared more often, and they disappeared from malls’ accounts after some time. Posts made by a shop’s account were sometimes shared; friends were seldom tagged.

Analysis of Results

In our opinion, the major themes that emerge from our observation might be formulated as follows:

  1. How does the use of devices differ between sexes?
  2. Communication via devices is very common nowadays; to which extent does it combine with face-to-face communication, and to which extent has the former substituted the latter?
  3. Which is more influential in the media, positive or negative feedback of customers, and why?

Let us consider these issues.

  1. From our observation, it is evident that both males and females utilize devices while buying products. Correa, Hinsley, and De Zúňiga (2010) note that it is unclear whether women make use of social networks more often than men do. It is assumed that personal traits influence the frequency of usage of social media much more than gender does (Correa et al., 2010). It is also highlighted that females tend to get information about products from sellers and then to get advice from their friends about whether to buy a product or not, whereas males more often look for information on goods on the Internet (Kraft & Weber, 2012).
  2. It is clear that communication which employs various devices is very popular nowadays. Rapp et al. (2013) highlight that social media have a significant influence on people’s behavior, and companies take this into account while creating their marketing strategies. From our observations, we can assert that the usage of devices has replaced face-to-face communication to a certain extent, for people often find the information they need (whether it is data about the characteristics of the product or simply friendly advice) online. Still, people often shop with friends, in which case communication via devices, even despite appearing to be quite important, only complements face-to-face communication rather than substitutes it.
  3. We can conclude that both positive and negative feedback about shops in social networks has an effect. It is hard to tell exactly which is stronger, for companies often deleted negative comments. Still, it can be supposed that the negative comments sometimes tend to cause more effective than positive ones, for if somebody is seriously unsatisfied with the service, their friends might empathize with their feeling of indignation and want to warn others, and share the negative comment. This assumption is confirmed by Pfeffer, Zorbach, and Carley (2014), who discuss the phenomenon of online firestorms, i.e., a “sudden discharge of large quantities of messages containing negative WOM [word-of-mouth]” (p. 118). On the other hand, when somebody posts a positive comment, it can be assumed that people are less likely to share it because they might perceive it simply as advertisement; also, as in most cases only the person who shared the post visited the place in question, there are much fewer reasons for others to share the post.

It is also noteworthy that social networks are much more powerful a tool for spreading the word-of-mouth, and, judging from the scope of usage of social media, it can be assumed that a person, while getting feedback from their friends online, also receives emotional satisfaction which is not much weaker than satisfaction from personal communication.

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After observing customers’ behavior in shops and studying social media, we found out that both males and females employ devices while shopping; that females often utilize devices while being in a group; that social media often help people choose goods and are used by companies to promote their products. The way men and women use devices while shopping is different; it is claimed that men generally seek information, while women look for advice. We also stress that communication via device complements, but not substitutes face-to-face communication, and that social media, despite being used for negative feedback about products more willingly, are not a much weaker source of emotional satisfaction than face-to-face communication.


American Psychological Association. (1992). Ethical principles of psychologists and code of conduct. Web.

Correa, T., Hinsley, A. W., & De Zúňiga, H. G. (2010). Who interacts on the Web?: The intersection of users’ personality and social media. Computers in Human Behavior, 26(2), 247-253. Web.

Kraft, H., & Weber, J. M. (2012). A look at gender differences and marketing implications. International Journal of Business and Social Science, 3(21), 247-253. Web.

Pfeffer, J., Zorbach, T., & Carley, K. M. (2014). Understanding online firestorms: Negative word-of-mouth dynamics in social media networks. Journal of Marketing Communications, 20(1-2), 117-128. Web.

Rapp, A., Beitelspacher, L. S., Grewal, D., & Hughes, D. E. (2013). Understanding social media effects across seller, retailer, and consumer interactions. Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, 41(5), 547-566. Web.

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