Do you see what I see? The ecological validity of environmental simulations in customer retail experience research

Ann Petermans, Kim Willems, Koenraad Van Cleempoel, Wim Janssens

Onderzoeksoutput: Meeting abstract (Book)


In today's experience economy, where consumers often perceive products and services as homogeneous, retailers and designers try to differentiate by directing concepts of retail interiors towards triggering memorable customer experiences, whereby multiple tangible and intangible stimuli can interact (Carù & Cova, 2003, 2007; Healy et al., 2007).

Although the academic literature on the beneficial effects of offering unique customer experiences to retailer and consumer, is still limited (Verhoef et al., 2009; Petermans & Van Cleempoel, 2010), the strategic role of store atmospherics has been studied by academics for decades, starting by Kotler's (1973) seminal work. The scientific disciplines of marketing and design however take on distinctive but often very complementary approaches with respect to store atmosphere. Traditionally, research in marketing and consumer behaviour is often inspired by positivistic paradigms, and thus typically focuses on trying to comprehend customer experiences by investigating the influence of a single, isolated environmental cue upon shopper behavior (cf. Mehrabian & Russell, 1974; Donovan & Rossiter, 1982; Bitner, 1992; Turley and Milliman 2000 for an overview). To this end, photographic slides and videotapes are common environmental simulation techniques to gain insight on the effect of a store environmental manipulation on consumer behavior (Bateson & Hui, 1992; Baker et al., 1994). Even if these experimental studies might yield results with a considerably high internal validity, they might suffer from a lack of ecological validity (McKechnie, 1977). After all, even though the individual atmospheric variables are important in the development of a retail experience, their final effects rather depend upon the consumer's affective evaluation of the total environment (Healy et al., 2007; Sands, 2008). This approach corresponds with the ideas of retail and interior designers, who favour 'holistic', in situ research conditions (Petermans & Van Cleempoel, 2010).

Moreover, Bendapudi and Leone (2003: 26) rightly remark that 'consumers are not just passive receptacles of brand identities projected by marketers: they are co-producers of brand meanings'. As a result, in order to enable them to produce such meanings and to experience a retail setting to its full extent, traditional simulation techniques such as photographs or videotapes might not suffice any longer in an era dominated by rapid information streams, acquired via all senses. This study attempts to systematically assess and compare traditionally used environmental simulation techniques with field studies in terms of both their costs and benefits. The adequateness of these research settings is in particular evaluated for the study of customer experience dimensions (e.g., can watching a video of an experience store provide the consumer with an 'escape' from everyday reality equally well as being immersed in the store itself?) as well as for examining consumer emotions and responses evoked by the store environment (e.g., can a single photographic slide influence a consumer to the same extent as a real store visit?). The ultimate goal of this study is to stimulate further research on customer experiences in retail stores by providing methodological recommendations for academics.

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Healy, M., Beverland, M., Oppewal, H. & Sands, S. (2007). Understanding retail experiences - the case for ethnography. International Journal of Market Research, 49, 751-779.
Kotler, P. (1973). Atmosphere as a Marketing Tool. Journal of Retailing, 49, 48-64.
McKechnie, G. (1977). Simulation Techniques in Environmental Psychology. In D. Stokols (Ed.), Perspectives on Environment and Behavior: Theory, Research and Applications. New York: Plenum (pp. 169-189).
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Petermans, A. & Van Cleempoel, K. (2010). Research in retail design: methodological considerations for an emerging discipline. Paper presented at the Design and Emotion Conference 2010, Chicago.
Sands, S. (2008). Consumer responses to in-store themed events. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Monash University, Australia.
Turley, L. & Milliman, R. (2000). Atmospheric effects on shopping behavior: a review of the experimental evidence. Journal of Business Research, 49, 193-211.
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Originele taal-2English
Titel1st International Colloquium on Global Design and Marketing, Lincoln (UK), 8-9 December 2011
RedacteurenC. Dennis, T. Kent
StatusPublished - 8 dec 2011
EvenementUnknown -
Duur: 8 dec 2011 → …

Publicatie series

Naam1st International Colloquium on Global Design and Marketing, Lincoln (UK), 8-9 December 2011


Periode8/12/11 → …

Bibliografische nota

C. Dennis, T. Kent


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