Academic journal article International Journal of Business and Society

Gravitational Theory: A Consumer Behaviour Perspective

Academic journal article International Journal of Business and Society

Gravitational Theory: A Consumer Behaviour Perspective

Article excerpt


Gravitational theory has long been used as a basis for developing location models that specify where shopping centres, shops, industry and public services should be located to appeal to potential consumers who will gravitate to destinations dependent upon the size or mass of the destinations and consumers' distances from them. The theory has been applied in a macro sense to ascertain where segments of consumers and suppliers are most likely to meet and exchange products and services. However, the theory can equally be applied to model the behaviour of individuals in very local contexts, so it has predictive value for ascertaining where a person may journey to perform a task at home, at their workplace or shopping. The author's exploratory research showed that in a controlled research setting with no extraneous variables, gravity alone plausibly affects an individual's choice of destination. If the research can be replicated in various environments and applied to society it could have implications for retailing, urban planning and workplace and home design.

Keywords: Gravitational theory; Behaviour; Predictive value.


Gravitational theory from a marketing perspective relates to the plausible attraction between consumers and suppliers as a result of their masses and proximity to each other. Not surprisingly, its genesis is in Newton's Theory of Universal Gravitation published in Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica in 1687 wherein the force F (attraction) between two bodies i and j (consumers and suppliers) is a function of their respective masses m^sub i^ and m^sub j^ and their distance from one another d. With the requisite universal gravitational constant G, Newton's theory would have the gravitational attraction between two bodies F^sub ij^ as:

Gravitational theory has been related to many of the social sciences since the mid 19th century (Roy, 2004; Sen and Smith, 1995 and Batten and Boyce, 1986), particularly to economics and urban geography. In this sense it has been used to partially explain supply and demand relationships and has made a valuable contribution to location theory and decisions where to locate shopping centres, public services, industry and residential estates. Much of the work in relation to gravity models has been developed in the context of spatial interaction and spatial economics (Roy and Thill, 2004). The 19th century father of spatial economics, Johann Heinrich von Thunen, wrote extensively on spatial analysis and how the attraction between producers and markets is inversely related to their distance apart (Kasper, 2002).

In studying the attraction between consumers and suppliers, Huff (1963) substituted the parameter of distance with time as a measure of separation between consumers and suppliers, and similarly Thill and Horowitz (1997) examined travel time as a constraint on destinationchoice sets. With the development of transport modes and routes, as well as traffic jams, time may be a better measure of distance, although the value and cost of time will vary greatly from one culture to another. Such thoughts are supported by Clarkson, Clarke-Hill and Robinson (1996, p. 3.) who reported that "geographic distance, road distance, travel times and travel costs have all been used as measures of distance".

Gravitational theory, spatial interaction and spatial economics have generally been developed in relation to numerous consumers and suppliers (markets and industries) and used to explain the behaviour of these groups in relation to one another (Huff, 1963; Roy and Thill, 2004). Thus, location theories have been developed for shopping centres for buyers and sellers, industrial estates for employees and employers and public services such as schools and universities. However, the theory can equally be applied at a micro level to the decisions that individuals make in a very local sense and independent of market or industry demand. …

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