How 'Atmospherics' Can Differentiate Retail Outlets: How a Consumer Is Influenced by Atmospheric Factors-Music, Colours, Smells-Is the Subject of Much Conjecture. What Follows Is a Guide on How to Monitor These Effects and How Some Factors Can Influence Spending Patterns

By Turley, Louis | European Business Forum, Winter 2000 | Go to article overview

How 'Atmospherics' Can Differentiate Retail Outlets: How a Consumer Is Influenced by Atmospheric Factors-Music, Colours, Smells-Is the Subject of Much Conjecture. What Follows Is a Guide on How to Monitor These Effects and How Some Factors Can Influence Spending Patterns


Turley, Louis, European Business Forum


Over 40 years ago, psychologists like Abraham Maslow noted that people performed tasks better when asked to do them in aesthetically pleasing environments. During the 1960s researchers began manipulating the design and arrangement of the retail environment and concluded that these changes have an effect on shoppers and their shopping behaviour. Since that time practitioners have become increasingly concerned with creating retail environments that are conducive to increased spending on goods. Recently, for example, major retail chains have been standardising the look of their stores by using identical design schemes, called prototypes, often designed by outside consultants trained in environmental psychology and architecture.

The physical characteristics and features used to develop an image and customer appeal are called atmospherics in goods--related retailing and servicescapes in the services sector. Atmospheric effects are the physiological and psychological reactions or impressions a consumer forms from the physical elements associated with the store. I have looked at 60 previous studies which underscore the types of behaviours which managers can influence in their customers. They include the use of: varying music styles and tempos (shown to affect sales in supermarkets, impulse purchasing in department stores, emotional responses to waiting in banks, sales in wine shops and sales in a restaurant); store window displays; lighting (shown positively to influence the number of items handled by shoppers); ambient odours: store layout; and merchandise arrangements.

Most studies on this topic have adopted a consumer behaviour perspective, and provide only cursory discussion of managerial issues and concerns for atmospheric design. Moreover, those few exceptions tend to adopt the large chain store perspective and assume that there are people in the organisation that specialise in store design and atmosphere creation. They neglect the smaller, entrepreneurial retail firm which lacks these specialists.

What follows is therefore aimed at these non-specialists and describes an approach for conducting so called atmospheric audits--an in-depth and systematic examination and evaluation of the retail selling environment. Recommendations and guidelines for business owners and entrepreneurs to use in creating and controlling successful and effective retail selling environments will also be presented.

Conducting an atmospheric audit

Atmospheric audits are most pertinent in cases where the customer has the most intimate experience of the selling environment, ie when he or she actually goes to the organisation, as opposed to cases where the organisation goes to the customer or the organisation and the customer transacts at arm's length, such as over the internet.

Exhibit 1 provides a broad 'checklist' of those elements that make up the retail and service environment and groups them into five areas: external variables, general interior variables, layout and design variables, point-of-purchase and decoration variables, and human variables (Turley and Milliman 2000).

Although Exhibit 1 has a broad variety of atmospheric variables, it is not a comprehensive listing since different types of businesses use very different atmospheric variables. Entrepreneurs in particular should not be afraid to go off the list shown in Exhibit 1 and be unique and creative. Those little atmospheric quirks can be what consumers remember about a store.

The first step in conducting an atmospheric audit is systematically to evaluate and record the evaluation of each of the variables listed in Exhibit 1. For example, the first item is exterior signs. All exterior signs on the premises would be examined and after looking at all of them the auditor would evaluate them for consistency, effectiveness and the potential influence on the consumer's image of the retail store.

After examining each of these variables, the auditor would then write general comments about each of the five areas.

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