Environment-behavior relationships have been systematically studied by psychologists and a discipline was produced which known as ‘environmental psychology’, however, rarely attention was directed to the retail store environment. Meanwhile, there was a growing appeal to explain the variation in buyer behaviour by situational influences due to limitations in the ability of consumer characteristics. Thus, the purpose of this thesis is to analyse and understand the effect of store environment on shopping behaviour.
First, some important issues applied in this area should be clarified. One is related to the description of store environment. The other is about the Mehrabian-Russell model, which played a vital role in the study of store atmosphere. Then the paper proceeds by summarizing and comparing some findings related to the relationship between three emotional states aroused by the environment and shopping behaviours. In the next chapter, it is concerned other previous findings, such as multiple effects of store environment and the moderated role of consumer characteristics in this relationship. The final part of the essay will give rise to thinking of the methodology authors used and the statistical validity of those findings.
Some Important Issues in Previous Studies
A concept of the store environment
An adequate concept of the store environment is the premise of the study of situational influence in consumer behaviour. Although there is not a complete definition of environment, it is widely accepted that environment is an extended concept which at least includes situations and behavioural settings. A situation comprised a point in time and space was proposed by Belk (1975a) and according to Barker (1968), a behaviour setting is not only bounded in time, also by a complete sequence of behaviour or an action pattern. Additionally, Mehrabian and Russell (1974) also attempted to develop three comprehensive situational descriptors (pleasure, arousal and dominance) in their model; however, none of them depicts a satisfying array of situational dimensions. On the basis of Belk’s (1975b) definition which comprises five groups of situational characteristics, the store environment could contain the physical and social surroundings of a store, the temporal dimension (ranging from time of day to season of the year), task definition features (an intent or requirement for a general or specific purchase) and antecedent states (momentary moods and conditions).
The Mehrabian-Russell environmental psychology model
A leading environmental psychology approach, the Mehrabian-Russell (M-R) model, was firstly introduced by Donovan and Rossiter (1982) in the retail context. It has become the basis of most research about the impact of environmental factors on shopping behaviour since that time. This model is based on the Stimulus-Organism-Response (S-O-R) paradigm, relating features of the environment (S) to approach-avoidance behaviours (R) within the environment, mediated by the individual’s emotional states (O) aroused by the environment; but this model mainly focuses on the O-R aspects and proposes a general measure of S. Mehrabian and Russell (1974) also proposed three basic emotional states (pleasure, arousal and dominance, acronym PAD) which mediated approach-avoidance behaviours in the environment and were adopted in majority of studies in emotional respond.
The Relationship between Emotions and Shopping Behaviours
There are some debates in the study of the relationship between emotions induced by a particular environment and shopping behaviours in this environment. The rest of the chapter will respectively exam the related findings based on three emotional states proposed in the M-R model.
Donovan and Rossiter (1982) concluded that store-induced pleasure was a powerful determinant of approach-avoidance behaviours within the store and also showed moderate relationships with specific within-store behavioural intentions: time (Coefficient=.51) and spend (Coefficient =.40). Afterwards, Donovan et al. (1994) extended that study and demonstrated shoppers’ emotional states within the store can predict actual purchase behaviour, not only just attitudes or intentions. That is, pleasure is significantly related to extra time and unplanned spending in pleasant environment. What the foregoing suggests is that pleasantness has a consistently positive effect on shopping behaviour in the literature.
Arousal dimension, refers to store-induced feelings of alertness and excitement, was found not consistent with the two studies between Donovan and Rossiter (1982) and Donovan et al. (1994). In Donovan and Rossiter’s (1982) study which involved different types of retail stores, arousal was not significantly related to approach-avoidance behaviours, but according to the M-R model, arousal should be hypothesized to interact conditionally with pleasure. After given a pleasant store environment, arousal emerged as a significant predictor of approach intentions for time (Coefficient=.40) and the regression coefficient for spend (Coefficient=.18) was also in the right direction but did not reach significant. In other words, inducement of arousal amplifies approach behaviour in pleasant store environment and enlarges avoidance behaviour in unpleasant store environment. Hence, emotional states sometimes can be presented by some combination of two major dimensions: pleasure and arousal. However, Donovan et al. (1994) failed to confirm this relationship in the study conducted only in discount stores. First, arousal was not significant in pleasant environment. Second, arousal approached significance for unplanned spending, but in the negative direction. From Kaltcheva and Weitz’s (2006) point of view, this inconsistent finding implied arousal effects might be moderated by a previously unidentified situational variable, namely, the consumers’ motivational orientation. They have conducted two experiments using ANOVA on those three elements, motivational orientation, arousal and pleasantness to confirm the interactive effect. Finally, it was concluded that arousal and motivational orientation had an interactive effect which was mediated by pleasantness on shopping behaviour. Specifically, high arousal environments, which create rich shopping experiences, have a positive effect on pleasantness for recreation-oriented motivational consumers. Conversely, arousal had no significant effect on shopping behaviour intentions with regard to task-oriented consumers.
The dominance factor is usually been deleted when using the M-R model. Although Donovan and Rossiter (1982) retained the initial tridimensional (PAD) classification, the analysis indicated that the dominance dimension was not significantly related to any of the approach-avoidance measures apart from the general regression results. Furthermore, a slight negative relationship between dominance and spend was shown, but that result was very tentative because it was based on two of the weakest measure (Coefficient Alpha < .7). In contrast to regarding the role of dominance as unimportant, several authors supported that future theory development should include it as a vital emotion influencing shopping behaviour.
One reason for that is a new relationship between dominance and shopper behaviour has found in certain types of consumers. As Babin and Darden (1995) stated, feelings of dominance could significantly alter shopping behaviour among those in self-regulation and it only affected state-oriented shoppers who possessed a cognitive structure guided more by social and emotional elements of some internal or external state. The other reason attributes to the poor scope of consumer settings was employed which leaded to the disappointing results for dominance (Foxall and Greenley, 1999). After employing Mehrabian-Russell’s approach to environmental psychology based on a systematic theory of consumer situations, namely the Behavioural Perspective Model (BPM), the relationships between dominance and approach (positive) and dominance and avoidance (negative) appeared. Therefore, those results support the adoption of the BPM model in environmental consumer research, which makes a contribution to the selection of a range of consumer situations and the distinction between open and closed consumer behaviour settings.
To summarize, two generally recognized findings were drawn in the study of the relationship between emotions induced by a particular environment and shopping behaviours. First, shoppers’ emotions can be largely represented by the pleasure and arousal factors (Donovan and Rossiter, 1982; Donovan et al., 1994) and the dominance dimension seems to be important for certain types of shoppers and retail settings (Babin and Darden, 1995; Foxall and Greenley, 1999). Second, those three emotional states, mainly pleasure and arousal dimensions, affect a variety of shopping behaviours and outcomes, including extra time spent and actual unplanned spending (Donovan and Rossiter, 1982; Donovan et al., 1994).
Discussion of Other Previous Findings
Apart from some important findings discussed in the previous chapter, issues of multiple effects of store environment and moderating role of consumer characteristics were also considered in the previous research. Meanwhile, several propositions for future research will be suggested.
Multiple effects of store environment
The effects of store environment elements could be complex and they could influence shoppers’ behaviours through their impacts on emotion (PAD), cognition (attention, evaluations, information search, etc.) and physiological state (Lam, 2001). With the exception of Donovan et al. (1994), all studies discussed in this thesis are only focus on the emotional effects of store environment on behaviours. In Donovan et al.’s (1994) research, they investigated the multiple effects (emotional factors and cognitive factors) of store environment simultaneously. By adding the emotional variables to the cognitive variables to predict the change in extra time, the variance accounted for increased from (a non-significant) 5% (F=1.72) to (a significant) 21% (F=3.62), and to the prediction of unplanned spending, went up from 18% (F=4.34) to 35% (F=6.40) (both significant). Hence, those results explain that the effects of the emotional factors of pleasure and arousal can be additional to cognitive factors such as quality, variety, specialing and value for money. It was displayed that some environmental elements may have multiple impacts on shoppers’ behaviours. Therefore, it is worth studying the single and hybrid effects and analysing which is the primary effect in a particular environment.
Moderating role of consumer characteristics
Due to the fact that researchers used the environment of different stores as manipulations in their analysis, many considerable works about store-based emotions’ consequences were addressed (Lam, 2001). Though Donovan and Rossiter (1982) suggested that the impact of individual differences should also be pursued especially in the same physical environment, relatively little attention been given to the effect of personal characteristics on the relationship between shoppers’ emotions and behaviours in the environment. Donovan et al. (1994) only considered that effect at the stage of collecting the data. They selected shoppers who were relatively unfamiliar with the store as their sample to minimize self-selection effects on their findings. In addition, Babin and Darden (1995) regarded this topic by concerning the role of individual differences and ultimately examined consumer self-regulation as a partial explanation for the variance in consumer behaviour and postshopping evaluations. In sum, the moderated role of consumer characteristics has extended the knowledge concerning the effects of retail environment on behaviour. However, consumer self-regulation is just one of the factors of consumer characteristics, so many other elements could be developed in future research, for example, consumer shopping experiences with the store. Variable reactions in the same environment may be performed between new consumers and regular consumers. New customers may more rely on some tangible cues and merchandise because of their little knowledge or experience about other attributes of the store environment.
It is widely known that the correlation between explanatory variables and the experimental design will has an influence on the power of hypothesis testing and validity of the conclusion. In terms of the data analysis, although all the journal articles reviewed here used quantitative methodology, qualitative methodology was also adopted by others (Lam, 2001); for example, using the method of in-depth interview with shoppers or participant observations to record their responses to the environment.
With regard to sample selection and situational manipulation, methods applied in earlier studies were limited in three aspects. Firstly, the sample was confined to student (Donovan and Rossiter, 1982; Kaltcheva and Weitz’s, 2006). Second, verbal descriptions of situations were employed or a simulated store environment was created rather than exposing respondents to actual consumer environments (Babin and Darden, 1995; Foxall and Greenley, 1999; Kaltcheva and Weitz’s, 2006). Third, the study is lack of theoretical coherence, relying on invented situations rather than conceptually linked environments. However, some authors have made some improvements in their researches. For example, Donovan et al. (1994) impressively overcame two of these limitations by using actual consumers (60 female shoppers) in real consumer settings (at two discount department stores), but the generality of their findings was lower because it was only conducted in one type of store environment. Likewise, Kaltcheva and Weitz (2006) improved two limitations by employing 142 actual consumers who responded to and selecting a range of consumer situations based systematically on the BPM framework. Although the coefficients of the test were small, all results of three emotional dimensions were significant and in the predicted direction, however, their research did not overcome all those three limitations. In order to increase the external validity, future research could incorporate actual consumer settings to the range of BMP-generated environment instead of simulated environments because verbal descriptions can be value-laden (Baker et al., 1992). Moreover, Belk (1975b) suggested that the best means of manipulation is to ‘combine written descriptions of features with visual and auditory input of physical and social surroundings.
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