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THE INFLUENCE OF AMBIENT FACTORS IN RETAIL STORES:
THE COMPARED EFFECTS OF PERCEIVED COLORS AND STORE LAYOUT
This paper aims to compare the effects of a store layout and of the colors perceived by
consumers on the emotions felt in a retail outlet and on the satisfaction of the customers. The
effect of mood of patrons when entering the store is also checked. The results of an
exploratory study show first the influence of the congruence between colors and the store’s
image and the effects of store layout on the three emotions studied: oppression, pleasantness
and nervousness. Moreover, these independent variables also affect the level of satisfaction.
Key words: Ambient factors, emotions, satisfaction, colors, store layout.
The track the paper is intended for : Consumer behavior
THE INFLUENCE OF AMBIENT FACTORS IN RETAIL STORES:
THE COMPARED EFFECTS OF PERCEIVED COLORS AND STORE LAYOUT
Experience is a central element at New Balance’s first retail flagship on New York’s 5
Avenue. The store features a miniature track and treadmill for customers to test out
. This example shows that retailers tend to manipulate store atmosphere
and layout so that consumers’ visits in themselves constitute a gratifying experience, notably
through the emotions they feel.
In parallel to this trend among retailers’ practices, many recent academic publications have
underlined the effects of the physical environment on consumers – notably on the emotions
they feel (Bailey and Areni, 2006; Eroglu, Machleit and Barr, 2005; Li, Kim and Lee, 2009;
Porcherot et al., 2010). However, research has for the most part merely analyzed the influence
of only one atmospheric variable. In fact, consumers making purchases in a commercial
environment are surrounded by many stimulations, which may have differential, even
contradictory effects. To date, the compared effects of various ambient factors have been little
studied. The question may rightfully be asked whether it is in the retailer’s interest to favor
sensory variables that match the store’s image or if he should pay more attention to another
variable: the way the consumer perceives the store layout. Thus, the objective of this article is
to consider the respective importance of various ambient elements, based on consumers’
perception. To that end, the results of an empirical study will be shown.
The influences of ambient factors: the theoretical framework
1.1.The effects of atmosphere
Atmospherics is “the effort to design buying environments to produce specific emotional
effects in the buyer that enhance his purchase probability” (Kotler, 1973). For Yoo, Park and
MacInnis (1998), atmosphere is made of the following elements: design, lighting, air quality,
interior decoration and music.
Three main approaches can be distinguished:
1) Some researchers have a cognitive view of the influence process: the way that the
store’s cues are used then creates attitudes and images which in turn will influence
customers’ behaviors (Kotler, 1973, Lillis, Markin and Narayana, 1976).
2) Other research has shown that atmosphere directly induces a determining affective
response: stimuli have been studied in earnest and often isolated from other
atmospheric elements (Andersson, Kristensson, Wastlund, Gustafsson, 2012 ; Teller
and Denis, 2012).Research linking the variables between one another is rare – scent
and music (Mattila and Wirtz, 2001, Vaccaro, Yucetepe, Torres-Baumgarten, and Lee,
2009), color and lighting (Babin, Hardesty and Suter, 2003), lighting and temperature
(Briand and Pras, 2010),and synthetic articles are only beginning to emerge (Garlin
and Owen, 2006; Cheng, Wu, and Yen, 2009; Morrison, Gan, Dubelaar, and Oppewal,
2011; Walsh, Shiu, Hassan, Michaelidou, and Beatty, 2011).
3) Finally, a more recent explanatory approach to the influence of atmospheric factors
on behavioral responses has adopted a wider view of the influence process (Bitner,
In this paper, we are especially interested in the effects of color (color congruence more
precisely) and of store layout. As the literature frequently ignores the relationships among
environmental variables we chose to study an intangible variable (color) and a tangible one:
store layout in order to identify the more important one and to check the existence of
1.2. Atmospheric factors taken into account
There are few studies on the color of the environment in marketing. Bellizzi, Crowley, and
Hasty (1983) showed that color can physically attract shoppers toward a retail display and
affect store and merchandise image. According to Bellizzi and Hite (1992), it has an influence
on buying intentions and actual purchases (red versus blue).Generally speaking, while color
stimuli can influence time appreciation and consumers’ cognitive reactions, they can also
have an effect on their affective reactions (Lichtlé, 2007). Colors have a physiological effect:
warm colors have a high arousal and physiological stimulation potential (Bellizi and Hite,
1992) and induce greater pleasure than cool colors (Wu, Cheng and Yen, 2008). In the field of
retail, however, the blue color generates more buying intention than the red color (Bellizi and
When we take color into consideration, the role of congruence is often studied. In fact,
research on the effects of atmosphere highlights the role of the congruence between olfactory
cues and dependant variables, such as patron’s evaluations, emotions or behaviors (Bone and
Jantrania, 1992; Bosmans, 2006; Spangenberg, Crowley and Henderson 1996; Spangenberg,
Grohmann and Sprott, 2005). Such congruence can be defined as the match between
atmospherics and the products or the store (Morrin and Ratneshwar, 2003).
Another important factor of atmosphere, which is more tangible than color, store layout, has
also been studied in our research. In fact, the physical environment of the store has been a
relatively neglected element in the creation of emotions and satisfaction. Traditional
approaches are based on the idea that it is important to think about how to allocate space most
efficiently. Store layout and assortment are components of design (Mohan, Sivakumaran and
Sharma, 2012). These design factors reduce the perceived stress in shopping (Baker,
Parasuraman, Grewal, and Voss, 2002) and create positive affect (Yoo, Park and MacInnis,
The literature suggests that congruence is better evaluated by consumers (Fleck and Maille,
2010). Therefore, we think that color congruence is also better evaluated and consequently,
that its effects on emotions felt and on satisfaction are positive. In order to measure the
emotions felt in the store, we chose Lichtlé and Plichon’s scale (2009), which was created in
the retailing context. This scale has three dimensions: oppression, pleasure, nervousness.
Moreover, as emotions have an effect on satisfaction (Oliver, 1997), we can suppose that this
effect is positive when colors are congruent with the store.
According to Kent and Kirby (2009), store layout is important for the store environment and
can enable the store to have a better image. Therefore, we think that, when store layout is
perceived positively, emotions and satisfaction are favorable.
Consequently, several hypotheses have been written. They suggest a relation between the two
ambient factors (color and store layout), emotions (oppression, pleasure, nervousness) and
satisfaction. The mood of patrons when entering the store is considered a moderating variable.
2. The effect of two perceived atmospheric elements: an empirical study
Table 1: Research stages
stage Sample Objectives
e survey 84 specialized stores*
patrons in various
sectors (interrogated at
the end of their visit)
-to determine the main atmospheric variables noticed by clients
-to identify the various emotions felt by consumers and generate
the corresponding measure items
ve survey 499 specialized stores*
patrons (interviewed at
the end of their visit)
-to identify the dimensionality and reliability of the different
-to evaluate the relations between the perceived atmospherics
elements, the emotions felt and satisfaction (colors and store
layouts were not the same in the stores studied). ANOVAS were
*The stores chosenwere able to generate different levels and various kinds of emotions. This had been pretested.
Our result show that color congruence has main effects on two dimensions of emotions felt in
the store (appendix1): pleasure and nervousness. Store layout has a main negative effect on
oppression (p = 0.021). Congruence between perceived color and store image has a positive
effect on pleasure (p = 0.015) and satisfaction(p = 0.001) and a negative effect on nervousness
(p = 0.005). Moreover, store layout has interaction effects with color congruence when the
effects on oppression (p = 0,048) and nervousness p = 0.003) are studied: the oppression is the
most important when the congruence is high but when the store layout is perceived
negatively; the nervousness is the most important when the store layout is perceived
negatively and when the congruence is low. Therefore, both independent variables are very
important to be taken into consideration by retailers.
This article contributes in several ways. At theoretical level, this study has allowed for the
effects of two atmospheric variables to be analyzed (one tangible and one intangible), by
measuring them according to customers’ perceptions. Furthermore, the direct influence of
these variables on customer satisfaction could be assessed.
At methodological level, consumers were interviewed when they exited the store in a real
situation. External validity was therefore given priority. In addition, the scale used to measure
emotions includes different dimensions than the traditional PAD scale, and takes into account
the diversity of affective reactions felt in such a context in a better way.
From a managerial point of view, the conclusions allow us to advise retailers. In particular,
when they have time and cost constraints to meet, congruence between color and store image
is the one element to prioritize. As many retailers seek to improve their store layout, we could
have thought that it is the most important ambient element. However, in order to increase
The scales used were the following : Congruence between color and store image (Heckler and Childer, 1992); Satisfaction (Oliver, 1980),
Mood (Peterson and Sauber, 1983); Emotions (Lichtlé and Plichon, 2009): Oppression (“I felt locked in”, “I feel oppressed”, “I feel
imprisoned”), Pleasure (“I am happy”, “I feel cheerful”, “I feel pleasure”), Nervousness (“I am irritable”, “I am angry”, “I am stressed”).
Store layout’s scale has been created during this study (“shelf layout seemed logical to me”, “the store was tidy”, “I found the products I
wanted easily”, “the shelves are properly signaled”).
satisfaction, it is not absolutely necessary to manipulate store layout: the retailer must first pay
attention to the congruence between colors and its store image. The both elements must be
taken into consideration in order to improve the emotions felt by customers.
This study however has some limitations which point to some future avenues of research.
In this study, the ambient elements shown by our qualitative study were given priority. Other
factors were not studied: this is notably the case of music, scents, perceived crowd, influence
of store assistants, and manipulation of the senses of touch or taste. It would be interesting in
future to try and know their respective influence better, notably by insisting on the social
dimension. It would also be relevant, as shown by Kaltcheva and Weitz (2006), to assess the
impact of shopping scenarios on perception of outlet atmosphere.
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APPENDIX1 : THE SIGNIFICANT RESULTS
Figure 1: Effect of store layout on oppression
ongruence of color
Figure 2: Effect of interaction between congruence
of color and store layout on oppression
2,01,0 Congruence of color
Figure 3: Effect of congruence of color on
Figure 4: Effect of congruence of color on nervousness
Congruence between color and store image
Figure 5: Effect of the interaction between congruence
of color and store layout on nervousness
2,001,00 Congruence of color
Figure 6: Effect of congruence of color on satisfaction