Some antecedents and the moderating role of
Pavlos A. Vlachos
Graduate School of DEREE – The American College of Greece,
Athens, Greece, and
Aristeidis Theotokis, Katerina Pramatari and Adam Vrechopoulos
Athens University of Economics and Business, Athens, Greece
Purpose – The purpose of the study is to investigate loyalty building and the creation of affectionate
bonds in the consumer-ﬁrm dyad.
Design/methodology/approach – The study relies on face-to-face personal interviews in the
context of grocery store retailing.
Findings – The results identify the signiﬁcant predictors of consumer-ﬁrm emotional attachment to
be ﬁrm trust, trust in employees, likeability of service personnel and likeability of co-consumers,
shopping enjoyment, self-expressiveness, place dependence, and place identity. Consumers’
self-enrichment, self-gratiﬁcation and self-enablement likely inﬂuence emotional attachment, which
in turn is a strong predictor of behavioral loyalty and word of mouth. Attachment anxiety appears to
multiply the effects of emotional attachment on behavioral loyalty and word of mouth.
Research limitations/implications – The cross-sectional nature of the study precludes deﬁnitive
conclusions concerning causality between the constructs utilized. The data come from the
supermarket retail channel, limiting the generalizibility of the results.
Practical implications – As the results suggest that the consumer’s self-enrichment seems to be the
most important factor in determining emotional attachment, managers should incorporate the notion
of emotional attachment into strategic performance management systems.
Originality/value – The study incorporates the notion of consumer heterogeneity into the
relationship anxiety construct, arguing in favor of a non-additive consumer-ﬁrm emotional attachment
Keywords Customer loyalty, Buyer-seller relationships, Retailing, Consumer behaviour
Paper type Research paper
Many consumer relationships are anchored on a well accepted linkage of
satisfaction to trust to consumer loyalty (Yim et al., 2008). However, recent research
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available at
The authors are grateful to co-editor Nick Lee and three anonymous reviewers for comments on
earlier versions of the article. This study is funded by the ECR Europe International Commerce
Institute (ICI) – Unilever Research Grant.
At the time this research was conducted the ﬁrst author was afﬁliated to ELTRUN, the
research centre of the Athens University of Economic and Business.
Received May 2008
Revised September 2008
Accepted March 2009
European Journal of Marketing
Vol. 44 No. 9/10, 2010
qEmerald Group Publishing Limited
(Chaudhuri and Holbrook, 2001; Carroll and Ahuvia, 2006) suggests that simply
providing satisfying experiences might be insufﬁcient for long-term success.
Researchers suggest that companies likely fail to build consumer loyalty due to
their inability to create affectionate ties with their consumers. The goal of the study
is to investigate whether, how and when managers should invest in building
affectionate ties with consumers.
To address the “whether” question, we examine whether consumer-ﬁrm emotional
attachment is likely to inﬂuence consumer loyalty and positive word of mouth. These
two constructs relate to different managerial goals: consumer loyalty pertains to
consumer retention and word of mouth to customer attraction. If managers invest in
consumer-ﬁrm emotional attachment, will it pay off for the company in terms of
customer retention and customer attraction?
The “how” question is addressed by investigating some antecedents of consumer-ﬁrm
emotional attachment. We postulate an antecedent model of consumer-ﬁrm emotional
attachment, thereby addressing the call of Carroll and Ahuvia (2006) for more research
identifying determinants of the consumer-ﬁrm emotional attachment phenomenon.
The “when” question relates to the examination of boundary conditions governing
the emotional attachment-loyalty linkage. Though there is evidence (e.g. Carroll and
Ahuvia, 2006; Thomson, 2006; Roberts, 2006) highlighting the positive effects of
creating emotional attachment with consumers, research is lacking regarding the role
of consumer heterogeneity in modifying the emotional attachment-loyalty link.
Finally, the study extends the literature in yet two more important ways. First,
contrary to the extant literature (e.g. Fournier, 1998; Albert et al., 2008; Smit et al.,
2007), this study investigates consumers’ emotional attachment in the context of a
service industry, namely the grocery retailing sector, further addressing the calls of
Carroll and Ahuvia (2006) and Yim et al. (2008) for investigating emotional attachment
in service ﬁrm settings. Building emotional attachment between the service provider
and consumers may be a more viable strategy when compared to the inanimate
object-consumer dyad, since service managers have the option to use their contact
personnel strategically to build emotional bonds with their consumers. Second, the
article is novel in that it incorporates insights from the place attachment literature so as
to more fully understand consumer-ﬁrm emotional attachment in settings that involve
physical locations (i.e. servicescapes).
Attachment theory and relevant research streams
Attachment theory investigates humans’ tendency to form, maintain and dissolve
affectionate ties with particular others (Bartholomew and Horowitz, 1991; Hazan and
Shaver, 1994). However, research in psychology and marketing suggests that
attachments can extend beyond person-to-person relationship contexts (Thomson and
Johnson, 2006) to possessions (Kleine and Baker, 2004; Ball and Tasaki, 1992), places
(Williams and Vaske, 2003; Moore and Graefe, 1994), and companies or brands (Carroll
and Ahuvia, 2006; Paulssen and Fournier, 2007; Park and MacInnis, 2006). Table I
brieﬂy describes different research streams investigating the phenomenon of human
attachment, major authors and short descriptions. We ﬁnd relevant writings in
psychology, consumer behavior and leisure sciences.
Consumers’ emotional attachment to product and service brands
Recent marketing research supports the application of attachment theory in marketing
(Thomson and Johnson, 2006). Paulssen and Fournier (2007) provide empirical
evidence that commercial relationships behave in similar ways to personal
The terminology used in the literature regarding attachment differs. Thomson
(2006) and Thomson et al. (2005) use the term “emotional attachment”. Carroll and
Ahuvia (2006) and Albert et al. (2008) use the term “love”; while Yim et al. (2008) use the
term “customer-ﬁrm affection”. In this study, we use the term “consumer-ﬁrm
Regardless of terminology, the main ﬁndings of these studies indicate that
consumers are likely to develop strong affectionate ties in commercial relationships.
Albert et al. (2008) derive 11 dimensions of the love construct in consumer-brand
relationships, mostly similar to the antecedents suggested by Yim et al. (2008), Carroll
and Ahuvia (2006), Fournier (1998), Sivadas and Venkatesh (1995), and Ball and Tasaki
(1992). These dimensions relate to consumer-brand image congruity, trust, relationship
duration, passion, attraction, hedonism, and memories, among others.
While the majority of the consumer-brand emotional attachment literature focuses
on tangible brands (e.g. Carroll and Ahuvia, 2006; Thomson et al., 2005), recent
marketing research has investigated consumer-ﬁrm emotional attachment in
Discipline Context Authors Terms used Short description
Horowitz (1991), Hazan
and Shaver (1994),
propensity of human
beings to make strong
affectional bonds to
Thomson et al.(2005),
Carroll and Ahuvia
(2006), Park and
MacInnis (2006), Albert
et al. (2008), Paulssen
and Fournier (2007),
Yim et al. (2008)
love, affectionate ties
affectionate bonds in
Belk (1988), Shimp and
Madden (1988), Ball
and Tasaki (1992),
Kleine and Baker
(2004), Ahuvia (2005)
consumers’ ability to
love objects and
Moore and Graefe
(1994), Bricker and
Williams and Vaske
(2003), Kyle et al. (2005)
Place attachment Investigates emotional
ties individuals form
providing insight into
the meaning people
assign to outdoor
Major research streams
phenomenon of human
non-tangible brand settings. For example, Paulssen and Fournier (2007) found that
secure personal attachment drives the strongest commercial relationships in the
automotive services category.
From these ﬁndings we draw two main implications. First, consumers are likely to
form strong emotional bonds with both product and service brands, and freely say that
they love a store or brand (Yim et al., 2008; however, for a discussion see Albert et al.,
2008). Second, creating consumer-ﬁrm emotional attachment requires focusing on
multiple psychological and functional factors.
Emotional attachment as a distinct construct
Research conﬁrms that consumer-ﬁrm emotional attachment is distinct from attitude,
satisfaction, or involvement (e.g. Thomson et al., 2005). Park and MacInnis (2006)
question whether attitudes can adequately account for hot-affect based brand
relationships. Emotional attachment can explain stronger forms of behaviors and may
be considered a proxy for consumer-brand relationship strength (Thomson, 2006).
However, this may not be the case for satisfaction: previous marketing research
suggests that even highly satisﬁed consumers do not always re-patronize a brand
(Jones and Sasser, 1995). Emotional attachment requires a personal history between
the consumer and the brand (Belk, 1988), whereas satisfaction may stem from only a
few consumption experiences. In the same vein, Yim et al. (2008) distinguish
consumer-ﬁrm emotional attachment from consumption affection.
Consumer-emotional attachment entails only positive feelings, whereas consumption
affect may entail both positive and negative feelings.
Proposed model and hypotheses development
The conceptual premise underlying the model is based on attachment theory: people
tend to develop affectionate ties with people who seem especially responsive to their
needs (Aron et al., 1989; Hazan and Shaver, 1994). In parallel, ﬁrms aiming for
affectionate ties with their consumers must be extremely responsive to their needs.
Park et al. (2006) provide a conceptual framework indicating that people are most
likely to develop attachments to offerings that fulﬁll their functional needs (enabling
the self), their experiential needs (gratifying the self), and their emotional needs
(enriching the self). Building from these three pillars, we recognize antecedents that
constitute suitable strategies for enhancing the ﬁrm-self connection and consequently
consumer-ﬁrm emotional attachment.
We posit that:
.trust towards the ﬁrm and the ﬁrm’s employees as well as place dependence are
factors that enable a consumer’s self;
.interpersonal likeability and shopping enjoyment are factors that gratify a
consumer’s self; and
.self-expression and place identity are factors that enrich a consumer’s self.
Table II provides deﬁnitions of constructs included in the research model.
Pillar I: Enabling the self
Consumer ﬁrm-emotional attachment can occur when the ﬁrm creates a sense of an
efﬁcacious and capable self (Park et al., 2006). If a ﬁrm is not able to serve consumers’
needs effectively through reliable functional performance, the basic assumption behind
the attachment would prove false.
The effect of trust on emotional attachment. Consumers’ trust of the ﬁrm is critical to
attachment formation and sustainability, since trust mainly relates to assessments
regarding the future performance of a ﬁrm (Park et al., 2006; Selnes, 1998). Importantly,
trust relates to the reduction of perceived risk, thus enabling consumers to pursue
consumption activities that they would not pursue otherwise.
The major role of attachment is the creation of emotional security through
satisfaction of a person’s needs (Hazan and Shaver, 1994; Thomson, 2006). In social and
economic exchanges consumers appear to deal with their safety needs via the trust
mechanism, and the existence of trust appears to directly satisfy consumers’ need for
psychological safety, since “to say that A trusts B means that A expects B will not
exploit a vulnerability A has created for himself by taking the action” ( James, 2002,
Firm trust An evaluative construct reﬂecting expectations that the ﬁrm is
dependable and can be relied on to deliver on its promises (Sirdeshmukh
et al., 2002)
Employees trust An evaluative construct reﬂecting perceptions pertaining to the honesty,
reliability and competence of service staff (Sirdeshmukh et al., 2002)
Place dependence The construct reﬂects the importance of a place in providing features
and conditions that support consumers’ goals or desired activities
(Williams and Vaske, 2003)
Place identity The symbolic importance of a place as a repository for emotions and
relationships that give meaning to life (Williams and Vaske, 2003)
Shopping enjoyment The extent to which the shopping activity is perceived to provide
reinforcement in its own right, apart from any anticipated performance
consequences (Childers et al., 2001)
Interpersonal likeability An attraction to other consumers or service staff such that the consumer
would desire to be around the other out of choice, even if shopping
activities were to terminate (Nicholson et al., 2001)
Self-expression Consumer’s perception of the degree to which the speciﬁc retailer
enhances one’s social self and/or reﬂects one’s inner self (Carroll and
Emotional attachment The construct includes passion for the retailer, positive evaluation of the
retailer and declarations of love for the retailer (Carroll and Ahuvia,
Word of mouth The degree to which the consumer praises the retailer to others (Carroll
and Ahuvia, 2006)
Loyalty The degree to which the consumer is committed to repurchase of the
retailer (Carroll and Ahuvia, 2006)
Attachment-related anxiety Vigilance concerning rejection and abandonment (Fraley et al., 2000).
People who score high on this construct tend to worry whether their
partner is responsive and attentive
p. 291). In the context of grocery retailing, consumers may feel particularly vulnerable
since they undertake physical (food safety and nutritional value), psychological
(self-esteem), and ﬁnancial risks in deciding to buy from a food retailer (Fearne et al.,
Hazan and Shaver (2000) suggest that for a relationship to be considered as an
attachment relationship, the attachment ﬁgure should promote the other party’s
feelings of security and conﬁdence. May et al. (2004) suggests trust as a positive
antecedent to psychological safety. Evidence for the positive effect of trust on
emotional attachment can also be found in the social psychology literature (Burke and
Building on Sirdeshmukh et al. (2002), this study hypothesizes that consumers’ trust
in the ﬁrm develops around two distinct facets: company policies governing the service
exchange and employee behaviors manifested during the service encounter. A major
reason for investigating separately the role of employee trust in the formation of
consumer-ﬁrm emotional attachment is the probable importance of interpersonal ties.
Building on the previous discussion the following hypotheses are formed:
H1. Consumers’ trust towards the ﬁrm positively inﬂuences consumer-ﬁrm
H2. Consumers’ trust towards the ﬁrm’s employees positively inﬂuences
consumer-ﬁrm emotional attachment.
The effect of place dependence on emotional attachment. In the grocery retailing
context, consumers’ place (e.g. community) dependence may positively inﬂuence their
attachment to stores located in their community, since place dependence relates to how
a place compares with alternative places in satisfying needs (Bricker and Kerstetter,
2000). People are likely to develop emotional bonds with stores located in settings that
do well in facilitating their particular needs (e.g. maintaining established friendship
ties) (Moore and Graefe, 1994). Based on this discussion:
H3. Consumers’ dependence on the place where the ﬁrm is operating positively
inﬂuences consumer-ﬁrm emotional attachment.
Pillar II: Gratifying the self
Brands can play powerful roles in people’s lives when people rely on them to provide
pleasure through hedonic elements that have immediate mood-altering properties. In
what follows, we identify the constructs of enjoyment and interpersonal likeability as
elements provided by the ﬁrm that have the potential to gratify a consumer’s self.
The effect of shopping enjoyment on emotional attachment. While economic theory
presents shopping as a chore that consumers perform to acquire utility-producing
products, marketing research indicates that many consumers derive intrinsic
enjoyment from the shopping process (Cox et al., 2005). Some consumers enjoy
shopping as a leisure activity or for recreation, deriving pleasure from the shopping
activity itself (Reynolds and Beatty, 1999). Since humans tend to form emotional bonds
with people who seem especially responsive to their needs (Aron et al., 1989),
enjoyment can be expected to have a positive, direct effect on consumer-ﬁrm emotional
Bowlby (1951) suggests enjoyment as a major factor of attachment in intimate
relationships. Childers et al. (2001), in the context of interactive media usage, ﬁnd
enjoyment as a direct positive determinant of affective evaluations. This study predicts
that grocery retailers providing an enjoyable shopping experience are at an advantage
in building affectionate ties with their consumers.
H4. Shopping enjoyment positively inﬂuences consumer-ﬁrm emotional
The effect of interpersonal likeability on emotional attachment.Theservices
management literature recognizes service employees and co-consumers as important
elements in the creation of favorable consumer perceptions of service performance
(Zeithaml et al., 2006). This study assumes that the liking levels consumers develop
with respect to both front-line personnel and co-consumers have a direct positive effect
on consumers’ emotional attachments to the ﬁrm. This study deﬁnes interpersonal
likeability as the perception of consumers that both the service ﬁrm front-ofﬁce
employees and their co-consumers are pleasant and enjoyable to be around (Ahearne
et al., 1999). Liking, a personal and emotional factor, has long been recognized as a
strong human motivator for relationship development and maintenance. Nicholson
et al. (2001, p. 3) suggest, “liking creates a personal attachment, thus reinforcing
economic bonds”. Therefore:
H5. Consumers’ interpersonal liking levels towards co-consumers positively
inﬂuence consumer-ﬁrm emotional attachment.
H6. Consumers’ interpersonal liking levels towards service personnel positively
inﬂuence consumer-ﬁrm emotional attachment.
Pillar III: Enriching the self
Enriching one’s self relates to self-actualization, discovering one’s true preferences and
representing the self to both oneself and others (Ahuvia, 2005). Enriching one’s self
may contain elements of identity construction and identifying the lifestyle that will
bring self-fulﬁllment. We argue that both self-expression through consumption and
consumers’ symbolic attachment to places positively inﬂuence consumers’ emotional
The effect of self-expression on emotional attachment. Consumers are more likely to
form and maintain strong emotional attachment to ﬁrms, possessions, brands and
people that help them deﬁne themselves and retain a positive self-image (Carroll and
Ahuvia, 2006). Ahuvia (2005) investigated empirically consumers’ reports regarding
their loved possessions and activities, ﬁnding that consumers love brands that help
them resolve identity conﬂicts and understand who they are as people. As Belk (1988,
p. 188) succinctly suggests when he notes that “we are what we have”, self-expression
seems to be a critical human need, which consumption activities seem to satisfy.
H7. Satisfaction of consumers’ self-expressive needs positively inﬂuences
consumer-ﬁrm emotional attachment.
The effect of place identity on emotional attachment. It is expected that symbolic
attachment on the place where the ﬁrm is operating positively inﬂuences
consumer-ﬁrm emotional attachment. Place identity refers to the symbolic
importance of a place as a repository for emotions and relationships that give meaning
and purpose to a person’s life (Williams and Vaske, 2003). Park et al. (2006) note that
place brands such as one’s city or country symbolically represent one’s core past self,
providing a basis from which one can view and frame one’s current and future selves.
H8. Consumers’ symbolic attachment on the place where the ﬁrm is operating (i.e.
place identity) positively inﬂuences consumer-ﬁrm emotional attachment.
The effect of emotional attachment on behavioral outcomes. Marketers want to move
beyond repetitive buying to consumer loyalty, namely, consumer commitment and
enduring psychological bonds between a consumer and a company (McEwen, 2005).
The study proposes that consumers who are emotionally attached to the ﬁrm will be
more committed to repurchase from the ﬁrm and more likely to positively recommend
the ﬁrm to others (Carroll and Ahuvia, 2006):
H9. Consumer-ﬁrm emotional attachment positively inﬂuences (a) consumers’
loyalty to repurchase from the ﬁrm and (b) positive word of mouth.
The moderating role of attachment anxiety. Guided by attachment theory, the present
study suggests that the effect of consumer-ﬁrm emotional attachment on loyalty and
positive word of mouth is moderated (i.e. multiplied) by consumers’ levels of
Conceptually this hypothesis builds on the premise that consumers are
heterogeneous in their needs for relationship building (Reynolds and Beatty, 1999).
Attachment anxiety – the degree to which individuals worry and ruminate about
being rejected or abandoned by their partners – is one of the two orthogonal
dimensions that appear to tap individual differences in adult attachment (Campbell
et al., 2005). Evidence indicates that consumers with higher scores on anxiety in purely
personal relationships tend to experience more positive emotions and greater
satisfaction in commercial relationships (Thomson and Johnson, 2006). This evidence
implies that highly anxious people desire positive emotions in commercial
relationships so as to make up for negative emotions experienced in purely
For highly anxious people, then, the saliency of consumer-ﬁrm emotional
attachment in determining loyalty and word of mouth is likely heightened. While
emotional attachment is still an important determinant of loyalty and word of mouth
for less anxious individuals, it is not as important as for highly anxious individuals.
From this discussion, one can logically conclude that:
H10. Anxiety levels moderate the effect of consumer-ﬁrm emotional attachment (a)
on behavioral loyalty and (b) on word of mouth in that high anxiety multiplies
the effect of consumer-ﬁrm emotional attachment on these two behavioral
Materials and methods
Grocery retailing was chosen as the empirical context of the study for three reasons.
First, grocery retailing is characterized by low loyalty levels, and multi-chain
patronage on the part of consumers. Building affectionate ties with consumers in this
context may be the missing loyalty link.
Second, most research on emotional attachment focuses on either product brands or
service brands characterized by hedonic consumption experiences and relational
characteristics (e.g. hair salon services). Research on transactional industries like
grocery retailing or banking is largely missing. Importantly, while hedonism may
reside innately in shopping for or consuming some products and services, it arguably
is something that may be delivered to consumers through strategy and execution.
Third, the study is supported by a Fortune 500 consumer packaged-goods company,
which for the foregoing reasons has interests in investigating consumer-retailer
Method of analysis
We have chosen PLS analysis so as to accommodate the presence of a large model and
moderating effects (Ringle et al., 2005). The primary goal of this research is to
investigate the determinants of emotional attachment, rendering prediction-based
structural equation modeling (i.e. PLS) more appropriate (Echambadi et al., 2006).
Measures and instrument design
We measured consumer-ﬁrm emotional attachment by adapting items used by Carroll
and Ahuvia (2006) and items adapted from the possessions attachment literature (see
the Appendix). Speciﬁcally, we drew from Sivadas and Venkatesh (1995) and Ball and
Tasaki (1992). We adapted items capturing the constructs of self-expression, intense
loyalty and positive word of mouth from Carroll and Ahuvia (2006), whereas we
measured ﬁrm trust and trust in employees according to Sirdeshmukh et al. (2002). We
adapted interpersonal likeability measures from Nicholson et al. (2001). Note that we
use these items to capture the likeability of consumer service employees as well as the
likeability of co-consumers. We adapted place identity and place dependence measures
from Williams and Vaske (2003). Items capturing shopping enjoyment were adapted
from Childers et al. (2001). Attachment anxiety measures were adapted from Fraley
et al. (2000). Measures were assessed using nine-point semantic differential and Likert
We employed procedural remedies to control for common method variance
(Podsakoff et al., 2003). Speciﬁcally we made use of the “proximal separation”
technique of the predictor and criterion variables (Sparfeldt et al., 2006). For item
arrangement, we employed a block rather than a random item arrangement (Sparfeldt
et al., 2006). Further, researchers intercepted respondents in seven different grocery
retailers, each in a different geographic area, to address common method variance
generated by contextual cues (Podsakoff et al., 2003).
The population target for this study was supermarket shoppers who were inhabitants
of the broader Attica region in Greece. The sampling frame includes ten stores selected
from seven different supermarket retail chains in such a way as to offer a broad
geographical coverage of the Attica region.
Researchers collected data in low-, medium-, and high-peak shopping days (Bush
and Hair, 1985). The researchers intercepted a total of 163 respondents in supermarket
stores, employing a face-to-face personal interviewing method. The intercept procedure
is a relatively inexpensive method of collecting high-quality, accurate data in a
face-to-face manner (Bush and Hair, 1985).
Of the respondents, 69 percent were women and 56 percent were married. The
sample was balanced in terms of age groups represented: 51 percent were in the 25-44
age group and approximately one in three was in the 44 þage group. Overall in terms
of gender, age, and marital status, the sample was representative of Greek supermarket
shoppers, as indicated by retail managers of ﬁve supermarket chains.
Figure 1 reports results based on a regression-based conceptualization; Figure 2
presents results based on a second-order formative factor conceptualization. We note
that the two conceptualizations do not differ in terms of the hypotheses that wait to be
tested. The main reason for using a second-order model relates to its ability to deal
with multi-co-linearity. Despite the satisfactory VIF values found (VIF across the eight
independent variables is 2.15), multi-colinearity is likely to be a problem, due to the
large number of estimated parameters and the small sample size of the study. Further,
it should be noted that a second-order molar model makes a statement regarding the
formation process of consumer-ﬁrm emotional attachment, which is theoretically more
interesting (Chin and Gopal, 1995). The purpose of the study is not to examine this
formation process empirically. However, our research may be a good starting point for
future research on this matter.
To test the second-order formative model, we used the repeated indicators method
(Chin et al., 2003; Kleijnen et al., 2007). We ﬁrst report results using the ﬁrst-order
One-factor model based on
Assessments of validity and reliability
The reliabilities of all constructs (CR) are acceptable since they all exceed 0.70. We
investigated convergent and discriminant validity using the PLS conﬁrmatory factor
analysis procedure (Agarwal and Karahanna, 2000). All items loaded well on their
respective factors, which are much higher than all cross loadings. Importantly, the
square root of all AVEs is much larger than all other cross-correlations, indicating
discriminant validity with the stringent test of Fornell and Larcker (1981) (see
We use Harman’s single-factor test (Podsakoff et al., 2003) so as to examine for
common method variance. This model did not ﬁt the data (
CFI ¼0:34; RMSEA ¼0:20), inferring no common method variance.
Test of hypotheses
Model estimates explain a large amount of variance in consumer-ﬁrm emotional
attachment (R2¼0:80), loyalty (R2¼0:37) and word of mouth (R2¼0:69) (see
Figure 1). Variance explained is the main model ﬁt criterion in PLS analysis.
As predicted, trust towards the ﬁrm (b¼0:29, t¼4:40), trust towards employees
(b¼0:14, t¼2:14) and place dependence (b¼0:13, t¼2:26), signiﬁcantly inﬂuence
emotional attachment; therefore H1,H2 and H3 are not rejected. Shopping enjoyment
inﬂuences emotional attachment in the predicted direction (b¼0:32, t¼5:79), but this
is not true for the likeability of consumers (b¼0:02, t¼0:72). Therefore H4 is not
rejected, whereas H5 is rejected. Likeability of employees is a signiﬁcant predictor of
A molar second-order
Mean 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12
1. Attachment anxiety 0.62 0.80 4.3 0.71
2. Likeability (consumers) 0.92 0.84 4.0 0.27 0.93
3. Likeability (employees) 0.91 0.81 4.2 0.21 0.73 0.92
4. Word-of-mouth 0.96 0.93 3.7 0.18 0.52 0.55 0.94
5. Emotional attachment 0.95 0.91 3.8 0.12 0.61 0.57 0.84 0.81
6. Loyalty 0.90 0.99 2.8 0.10 0.34 0.34 0.71 0.61 0.91
7. Enjoyment 0.83 0.62 5.6 0.09 0.52 0.46 0.59 0.75 0.39 0.84
8. Place dependence 0.93 0.85 4.4 0.07 0.37 0.36 0.38 0.53 0.38 0.42 0.93
9. Place identity 0.90 0.84 4.0 0.12 0.41 0.44 0.44 0.56 0.36 0.42 0.70 0.87
10. Self-expression 0.98 0.97 2.8 0.26 0.57 0.45 0.65 0.63 0.55 0.39 0.22 0.25 0.96
11. Firm trust 0.97 0.96 6.4 0.04 0.35 0.36 0.52 0.63 0.44 0.55 0.27 0.37 0.36 0.94
12. Employees’ trust 0.97 0.96 6.3 0.04 0.39 0.61 0.41 0.47 0.34 0.39 0.32 0.47 0.34 0.64 0.96
Notes: Values on the diagonal represent the square root of AVE. Lower diagonal values indicate factor correlations. CR, composite reliability
correlation matrix, and
emotional attachment (b¼0:13, t¼1:82) and the same stands for the self-expressive
properties of the retailer brand (b¼0:30, t¼6:17). Therefore H6 and H7 are not
rejected. Place identity, positively inﬂuences emotional attachment (b¼0:17,
t¼2:70); therefore H8 is not rejected. Further, H9 is not rejected since
consumer-ﬁrm emotional attachment seems to be a strong positive determinant of
loyalty and positive word of mouth (b¼0:61, t¼10:39 and b¼0:82, t¼31:29,
respectively). These results indicate emotional attachment offers a more inﬂuential
strategy for retailers when the goal is customer attraction (i.e. through positive word of
mouth). However, this empirical conjecture requires further investigation.
As models yielding signiﬁcant bootstrap statistics can still be invalid in a predictive
sense (Chin, 1995), measures of predictive validity for focal endogenous constructs
should be employed. One such measure is the Q
measure (i.e. the Stone-Geisser test).
is a kind of cross-validated R
, representing how well observed values are
reconstructed by the parameter estimates of the model (Tenenhaus et al., 2005). Q
emotional attachment, loyalty and word of mouth is 0.53, 0.28 and 0.60, respectively,
indicating that the model’s predictive relevance is good (Sirohi et al., 1998; Tenenhaus
et al., 2005).
To test H10, we entered the multiplicative terms into the linear-only terms model
(Ping, 1998). Composite reliability for the multiplicative variable is 0.94 and AVE
equals 0.51. The square root of AVE is greater than its correlations with the other
variables, indicating discriminant validity.
To investigate whether the inclusion of the multiplicative term in the main effects
model is empirically meaningful, we used the difference of R
values (Ping, 1998). The
results indicate that the addition of the moderating term is empirically meaningful for
both loyalty and word of mouth (f2¼5:05, p,0:01 and f2¼4:97, p,0:01,
respectively). Attachment anxiety multiplies the effect of emotional attachment on
loyalty (b¼0:14, t¼2:41). For word of mouth, the estimate is in the predicted
direction and seems to have a weak statistical signiﬁcance (b¼0:08, t¼1:59,
p,0:10). Therefore, H10 is not rejected.
Structural model results for the molar conceptualization. The measurement model
properties for the molar conceptualization all conform to accepted reliability,
convergent validity, and discriminant validity standards. AVE and composite
reliability indexes for the three newly added emergent factors are all greater than 0.55
and 0.88, respectively. The results are in accordance with the regression-based
conceptualization. Interestingly, likeability of consumers is statistically signiﬁcant (see
Figure 2). Compared with the regression-based conceptualization, these results may be
attributed to lowered multi-co-linearity levels inherent in the molar conceptualization
(Chin and Gopal, 1995).
Further, the moderating effect of anxiety on the emotional attachment-word of
mouth link is no longer marginally signiﬁcant (b¼0:10, t¼1:97). As predicted,
enabling consumers’ self has a positive effect on emotional attachment (b¼0:27,
t¼4:49). Similarly, gratifying consumers’ self inﬂuences emotional attachment
(b¼0:33, t¼4:69) and the same stands for the effect of enriching consumers’ self
(b¼0:39, t¼6:17). Based on these values, enrichment of consumers’ self seems to be
more important for building consumer-ﬁrm emotional attachment, and gratifying
consumers’ self is of greater importance than enabling consumers’ self.
Extant research under the relational paradigm indicates that consumers’
post-consumption evaluations (e.g. satisfaction judgments) represent core drivers of
consumer loyalty (Yim et al., 2008). However, while most service loyalty programs rely
on the satisfaction-trust-loyalty paradigm, consumer loyalty remains unpredictable.
To that end, our study provides a path that considers consumer-ﬁrm emotional
attachment as a major driver of consumer loyalty.
This study extends the emotional attachment literature by proposing some
antecedents of the phenomenon using the theoretical lens of attachment theory, place
attachment and brand love. Moreover, we investigate a second-order factor model,
which provides empirical support for the conceptual work of Park et al. (2006).
Speciﬁcally, we posit consumers’ self enablement, gratiﬁcation and enrichment as
second-order molar constructs theoretically building from attitudinal research (e.g.
Bagozzi, 1988). This model is superior to a ﬁrst-order factor model in that it makes a
statement regarding the structure of the formation process of consumer-ﬁrm emotional
Importantly, the study is one of the ﬁrst to investigate whether personality traits
matter in the emotional attachment-loyalty link. We ﬁnd that consumer-ﬁrm emotional
attachment is more important in building loyalty in consumers who score high on
interpersonal anxiety levels. In what follows we summarize our ﬁndings.
Is consumer-ﬁrm emotional attachment an important strategic goal for service
Apparently so, in light of the large effect size consumer-ﬁrm emotional attachment has
on behavioral loyalty self-reports and word of mouth. Our results suggest that
managers need to begin longitudinally measuring emotional attachment levels and
conducting studies to understand whether antagonistic ﬁrm emotional attachment
moderates (i.e. weakens) their respective emotional attachment-loyalty link.
In which strategic assets should the service provider invest in order to build emotional
Numerous factors determine how and to what extent consumers form emotional
attachments to service providers. The results indicate that managers interested in
building affectionate ties with consumers should focus primarily on strategies
intended to enrich consumers’ self, and that retailers can achieve such a goal through
the place identity and self-expression mechanisms.
Managers should also make tactical efforts to build consumer trust, enjoyable
shopping experiences, and service offerings that help consumers to symbolically
express themselves. Moreover, since interpersonal likeability also appears to be
important, managers should try to make their employees likeable and attractive to
In the context of in-store grocery retailing, place attachment inﬂuences consumers’
emotional attachment. This ﬁnding suggests that managers should localize their
offerings at the community level (e.g. by posting signs that clearly indicate their stores’
locations and attachment to the neighborhood or by hiring local personnel).
Does context matter with respect to personality characteristics?
The present study incorporates the notion of consumer heterogeneity in terms of the
relationship anxiety construct, arguing in favor of a non-additive consumer-ﬁrm
emotional attachment model. The results of the present study indicate that highly
anxious consumers view emotional attachment as being important with respect to their
behavioral loyalty. Market researchers should begin to identify these segments and
strive to appeal to their emotional attachment needs.
Attachment theorists have proposed several features that distinguish attachment
relationships from other kinds of relationships (Fraley et al., 2000). For example, one
such characteristic relates to the use of the attachment ﬁgure as a secure base for
exploration that promotes feelings of security and conﬁdence. Service managers
should try to build on such features, and many of the antecedent factors presented in
this article seem to be in accordance with these features. For example, the feature of the
attachment ﬁgure as a secure base for exploration suggests the notion of trust.
Consumers who trust their grocery retailer may feel more conﬁdent about trying new
brands and services that the grocery retailer provides.
Limitations and further research
We tested our model on cross-sectional data, which precludes any conclusions
concerning causality and probably renders the results tentative.
Another limitation of the study relates to its sample size. This limitation is
strengthened in light of the large number of parameters estimated. The length of the
survey instrument inhibited us from collecting responses from more consumers.
Future research should try cross-validating the results using larger sample sizes.
The setting of this study, grocery retailing, is characterized by limited consumer
contact and attracts consumers with price, speed of service consistency, and
convenient location. Future research could compare the results of this study with those
from other retailing sectors, especially where hedonic shopping experiences and
interaction with the sales personnel are more important (e.g. fashion retailers and
Pertaining to the second-order molar conceptualization used in the study, future
research should identify more ﬁrst-order factors capable of forming the respective
three second-order factors. In this respect our model is theoretically suitable, since each
second-order factor is likely to be formed by more ﬁrst-order factors. Our study may be
a starting point for a more exhaustive investigation of ﬁrst-order factors inﬂuencing
consumers’ self-enrichment, gratiﬁcation and enablement. We have suggested that the
second-order model is theoretically more interesting compared with the ﬁrst-order
model since it makes a conceptual statement regarding the formation process of
consumer-ﬁrm emotional attachment. Our empirical derivations for the second-order
model are based on cross-sectional data precluding any conclusions regarding
causality. The posited formation process remains to be investigated empirically using
Satisfaction or retail store image measures were not included in this study. Future
research could investigate the antecedent role of these constructs on emotional
attachment and also compare whether emotional attachment is a more important
predictor of behavioral outcomes than satisfaction judgments and retail store image.
Further, future research should investigate the effect of emotional attachment
behavioral outcomes beyond loyalty and word of mouth, including as consequences,
for example, constructs like willingness to pay more and complaining behavior
(Zeithaml et al., 1996). Comparisons should be made regarding the relative importance
of emotional attachment in inﬂuencing these differing managerial goals.
Finally, future research should investigate speciﬁc tactical efforts that build the
higher order antecedent factors this study presents. For example, future researchers
should investigate whether cause-related marketing actions inﬂuence consumers’ trust
and corporate character perceptions, which in turn may inﬂuence consumer-ﬁrm
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All too often I worry that people close to me do not understand my needs 0.52
I worry a lot about my relationships 0.98
Consumer-ﬁrm emotional attachment
Shopping at (grocery retailer name) makes me feel good 0.83
Shopping at (grocery retailer makes) me very happy 0.89
I love shopping at (grocery retailer name) 0.81
Shopping at (grocery retailer name) is a pure delight 0.92
I am passionate about shopping at (grocery retailer name) 0.88
Shopping at (grocery retailer name) reminds me people that I love and beautiful
If I were describing myself shopping at (grocery retailer name) would likely be something I
would mention 0.84
If someone ridiculed shopping at (grocery retailer name) I would feel irritated 0.86
If someone praised shopping at (grocery retailer name) I would feel somewhat praised
Probably people who know me might sometimes think of me shopping at (grocery retailer
name) when they think of me. 0.83
I would feel sorry if (grocery retailer name) stopped its operations 0.71
Interpersonal likeability (service employees)
I really like being around people working for (grocery retailer name) 0.92
Even without shopping at (grocery retailer name), I would choose to be around service
employees working at (grocery retailer name) 0.92
Interpersonal likeability (consumers)
I really like being around customers shopping at (grocery retailer name) 0.92
Even without shopping at (grocery retailer name), I would choose to be around consumers
shopping at (grocery retailer name) 0.93
I have recommended (grocery retailer name) to lots of people 0.95
I “talk up” (grocery retailer name) to my friends 0.94
I try to convince friends to do their shopping at (grocery retailer name) 0.92
I’ll “do without” rather than shop at another grocery retailer 0.95
When I go grocery shopping. I don’t even think of visiting competing grocery retailer
Shopping at (grocery retailer name) is not boring at all 0.92
I really enjoy shopping at (grocery retailer name) 0.75
Shopping at (name of the community where the grocery retailer is located) is more
important to me than shopping in any other place 0.94
It is important for me to do my shopping at (name of the community where the grocery
retailer is located) 0.92
About the authors
Pavlos A. Vlachos, PhD, is a lecturer in marketing at the Graduate School of DEREE – The
American College of Greece. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in marketing and IS
journals such as Industrial Marketing Management,Journal of the Academy of Marketing
Science,International Journal of Business Governance and Ethics,Journal of Services Marketing,
International Journal of Human-Computer Interaction,The Marketing Review,Electronic
Markets,International Journal on Media Management, and European Journal of Information
Systems. His research interests include marketing models, stakeholders’ reactions to corporate
social performance and evaluation of information systems. Pavlos A. Vlachos is the
corresponding author and can be contacted at: email@example.com
Aristeidis Theotokis is a PhD student at the Department of Management Science and
Technology of Athens University of Economics and Business (AUEB). He is research ofﬁcer in
the ELTRUN Research Center. He holds a BSc in Industrial Management and Technology from
the University of Piraeus and an MSc in Operational Research from the School of Mathematics of
University of Edinburgh. He has worked as a project manager in Almatrans SA, a transport
company, and as a Sales Assistant in Telepassport SA, a Greek telecommunications company.
His main research interests lie in the area of marketing and information systems research. His
thesis focuses on consumer adoption of technology-based services in retailing. He has published
in European Journal of Information Systems. Moreover, he is interested in consumer reactions to
innovative retail pricing tactics and corporate social responsibility issues.
Katerina Pramatari is Lecturer at the Department of Management Science and Technology of
the Athens University of Economics and Business (AUEB) and scientiﬁc coordinator of the
ELTRUN-SCORE research group operating at the ELTRUN Research Center at AUEB. She
holds a PhD in economics and business (AUEB) from Athens University and a Master’s in
information systems from the same university. She worked as a systems analyst for Procter &
I feel (name of the community where the grocery retailer is located) is a part of me 0.86
(Name of the community where the grocery retailer is located) is very special to me 0.89
Shopping at (name of community where the grocery retailer is located) says a lot about
who I am 0.85
Shopping at (grocery retailer name) symbolizes the kind of person I really am inside. 0.95
Shopping at (grocery retailer name) reﬂects my personality 0.98
Shopping at (grocery retailer name) has a positive impact on what others think of me 0.94
Shopping at (grocery retailer name) improves the way society views me 0.96
Firm trust (grocery retailer X is)
Very undependable/very dependable 0.94
Of very low integrity/of very high integrity 0.96
Is dishonest and untrustworthy/honest and trustworthy 0.96
I do not trust at all this grocery retailer/ I completely trust this grocery retailer 0.93
I do not trust at all employees working (grocery retailer name)/I completely trust
employees working for (grocery retailer name) 0.97
Employees working for (grocery retailer name) are dishonest/Employees working for
(grocery retailer name) are honest 0.97
Employees working for (grocery retailer name) are incompetent/Employees working for
(grocery retailer name) are competent 0.94
Gamble’s European headquarters for two years, on the development of global category
management applications, and spent another year in the marketing department of Procter &
Gamble Greece. In recent years she has participated actively in the ﬁelds of IT and marketing in
the set-up of new business ventures in the area of e-business and supply chain integration in
grocery retailing. She has won both business and academic distinctions, and has been granted
eight state and school scholarships. She has published more than 25 journal and conference
Adam Vrechopoulos is a lecturer at the Athens University of Economics and Business
(AUEB) Department of Management Science and Technology, and scientiﬁc coordinator of the
Interactive Marketing and Electronic Services (IMES) Research Group at the ELTRUN Research
Center. His research interests are digital marketing, electronic retailing and consumer behaviour
in multichannel retailing. He holds a PhD from Brunel University, an MBA from ALBA, and a
BSc in information systems from AUEB. He has participated in many research projects funded
by the EU and the Greek Government. He has published more than 50 papers in peer reviewed
journals and academic conferences, has acted as a reviewer for several international journals,
and has been a member of conferences’ scientiﬁc committees. He was the 2002 “Gold Award”
winner of the ECR Europe Academic Partnership Award. Before starting his academic career he
worked in industry in marketing, sales and project management positions.
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