Customer Stimulation Needs and Innovative Shopping Behavior: the Case of Recycled Urban Places

S. L. Grossbart, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
R. A. Mittelstaedt, University of Nebraska-Lincoln (student) University of Nebraska-Lincoln
S. P. DeVere,
ABSTRACT - The recent phenomenon of recycling urban facilities into shopping complexes is linked with innovation types and the concept of individual optimal levels of stimulation. Recycled facilities are viewed as retail innovations offering a multitude of stimulation possibilities. Results indicate support of the hypotheses that high sensation seekers are more innovative and exhibit higher interstage conversion in their innovation decision processes.
[ to cite ]:
S. L. Grossbart, R. A. Mittelstaedt, and S. P. DeVere (1976) ,"Customer Stimulation Needs and Innovative Shopping Behavior: the Case of Recycled Urban Places", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 03, eds. Beverlee B. Anderson, Cincinnati, OH : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 30-35.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 3, 1976      Pages 30-35


S. L. Grossbart, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

R. A. Mittelstaedt, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

S. P. DeVere (student) University of Nebraska-Lincoln


The recent phenomenon of recycling urban facilities into shopping complexes is linked with innovation types and the concept of individual optimal levels of stimulation. Recycled facilities are viewed as retail innovations offering a multitude of stimulation possibilities. Results indicate support of the hypotheses that high sensation seekers are more innovative and exhibit higher interstage conversion in their innovation decision processes.

Diversity is the word that perhaps best describes the physical environment of urban areas. At the city's core, diversity is maximized. Although other portions of the urban area may be physically homogeneous, the inner city's central shopping area is likely to offer a varied physical and behavioral environment. The juxtaposition of planes and surfaces, the movements of people and vehicles and the great variety of goods and services offer a set of stimulating perceptual and experiential possibilities. Here a mixture of life-style possibilities, including work, living, leisure and shopping, and a wide range of perceptual opportunities are presented to inhabitants.

As cities face the problems of maintaining the viability of their central shopping areas they often consider the alternative of tearing down and replacing existing structures. However, to preserve the urban core and maintain its central shopping areas, many cities are choosing to restore existing buildings for use as retail facilities. Architects, retailers and city planners are all urging this choice for reasons of nostalgia, conservation, and profit. Seemingly decrepit buildings which once contained warehouses, offices, governmental agencies and the like are being converted into retail centers offering varied collections of shops and services. Older districts composed of exceptional but now deteriorating buildings are being rediscovered as places capable of sustaining retail environments which can draw an increasing number of customers (Wolf, 1974). In some instances the present "recycling" activity stems from an effort to save historical sites (Harney, 1974). To some individuals, recycling provides the added advantage of preserving familiar structures and institutions. In this way historic linkages to individual structures, whole neighborhoods or even districts can be retained. In addition, the energy crisis and the diffusion of environmental awareness have decreased the perceived relative advantage of high-rise structures over existing buildings and thereby have given additional impetus to the recycling trend (Harney, 1974).

The range of recycling projects is vast. In some instances single buildings have been recycled. An old warehouse in Minneapolis was converted into a complex of shops and offices; a turn of the century terminal station in Chattanooga, Tennessee has been recycled into the site of individual shops and restaurants; Salt Lake City's trolley barns have been converted into "Trolley Square," a large entertainment and shopping complex, containing ninety separate businesses ranging from high-fashion shops to movie houses (Fortune, 1975); a parking garage in Cambridge, Massachusetts has been adapted to an attractive series of retail shops (Architectural Record, 1974). Some recycling efforts involve larger areas. Latimer Square in Denver, Old Market Square in Houston, Ghiradelli Square and the Cannery in San Francisco and Canal Square in the Georgetown area of Washington D. C. are examples of projects that have recycled complete districts into attractive areas that include shopping facilities (Mertes, 1971-72, Osman, 1974).

In investigating behavioral reactions toward recycled facilities, researchers would seem advised to treat them as retail innovations. To the extent that the stores themselves are new, this conclusion seems obvious. However, recycled facilities are also likely to be perceived as innovations insofar as they disrupt existing consumption patterns (Robertson, 1971), and present a set of consumption related opportunities in a context which is not necessarily compatible with the range of typical consumer values or experiences (Rogers and Shoemaker, 1971).

The present study focuses on customer reactions toward a block long section of empty warehouses in a Midwestern city. In the discussion which follows an innovation decision framework is developed to identify the psychological processes leading to acceptance of new recycled facilities. In addition, an argument is set forth and tested regarding the customer types likely to be differentially attracted by the stimulus potential of innovative recycled facilities.


The behavior leading to innovative or adoptive decisions is typically envisioned as a multiple stage process (Rogers and Shoemaker, 1971; Robertson, 1971). Rogers and Shoemaker's (1971) four function knowledge-persuasion-decision-confirmation model rests on a conceptualization which distinguishes between reactions to ideational and object type innovations. Although Rogers and Shoemaker consider innovations with a physical presence to have both an idea and object component, they specify the existence of a symbolic decision only for purely ideational innovations, such as an ideology. In contrast, for physical innovations with an object component, e.g., products, the ultimate decision is seen as an observable act.

In examining customer decision behavior regarding retail facilities, the application of a nonsymbolic decision framework raises two critical problems. First, stores clearly have a symbolic character (Kotler, 1973-74) and it is likely that the acceptance of this ideational component of facilities would be a requisite for their confirmed adoption into a customer's set of acceptable retail alternatives. Second, since the use of many types of facilities is infrequent or sporadic, the absence of a symbolic as well as an overt behavioral measure of adoption would lack valuable information useful for tracking diffusion processes. In many instances the criterion for adoption would remain operationally nebulous.

A scheme which incorporates these ideas can be based on the work of Klonglan and Coward (1970). Their decision process model incorporates both symbolic and action forms of adoption (Figure la). In this model awareness preceeds evaluation, which may produce either symbolic acceptance or rejection of the idea of the innovation. While symbolic rejection is not irrevocable, it does mean, barring a reversal, that customers have concluded that the store or stores are not suitable to meet their needs. Symbolic acceptance is a requisite for trial but does not assure engagement in trial. Customers may accept the idea of the facilities but, for some reason, delay trial (Figure lb). For example, they may conclude that they are not presently "dressed appropriately," that "it is too late today," that they do not presently "need any ________," etc. The common factor here is the presence of a symbolic act of acceptance and the postponement of an overt act. Following trial, the customer either rejects further interaction with the facility or confirms the shopping decision. This confirmation, while reversible, represents the adoption of the retail facility. Trial rejection, while also revocable, provides a basis for revoking the initial decision to shop or use a facility. The opportunity for this type of rejection allows a customer to reject stores on the basis of little information and direct experience, which is likely to be the condition for new facilities, or to reject stores on the basis of considerable information and direct experience, which is the typical condition once a diffusion effect (Rogers and Shoemaker, 1971) takes over. The operative conditions depend on the timing of the customers awareness-knowledge as well as the customers need for information prior to trial.


The modified framework presented in Figure lb provides the user with two types of operational opportunities. The propensities of alternative customer group to gain knowledge, evaluate, symbolically accept, etc. new facilities can be compared to determine alternative market segments. In addition, the tendency for different customer types to move from one decision state to another, e.g., from trial to confirmation, can be examined. The likelihood of moving from one decision state to another is referred to as a conversion probability. (For a similar conceptualization see Engel, Kollat and Blackwell, 1973, p. 520-21.) Conversion analysis can give a macro-picture of the manner in which decisions are made by alternative customer segments and simultaneously suggest how these groups might best be dealt with in tactical terms.

Before applying this decision behavior framework to a situation involving recycled retail facilities it is necessary to discuss innovative behavior as a manifestation of stimulation needs, the operationalization of such stimulation needs, and the rationalization for linking the need for stimulation to the acceptance of recycled facilities.


Customers use of recycled facilities provides them an opportunity for novel experiences and customer acceptance of these new facilities represents an innovative act. It has been suggested elsewhere that reactions to novel consumption experiences are related to individual optimal levels of stimulation. Individuals are said to seek to maintain an optimal level of stimulation, with departures from optimality leading to behavior intended to reestablish an optimal intermediate range of stimulation (Jones, 1969; Kish and Busse, 1968; Zuckerman, 1967). Although similar conclusions have been derived from different theoretical psychological frameworks empirical evidence clearly supports the existence of a motivation for stimulation (Maddi, Propst and Feldinger, 1965; Hunt, 1963; Driver and Streufert, 1965). As noted by Howard and Sheth (1969) and Venkatesan (1973) it is the novel, surprising, incon-grous and ambiguous features of products which carry stimulation potential. The same can be said for retail facilities. Attributes of recycled facilities should possess the stimulus potential necessary to provide consumers with information and stimulation.

In the present context, we would expect the attractiveness of recycled facilities to vary with customers' needs for stimulation. Evidence (Zuckerman, 1971) indicates that individuals do indeed differ in their requirements for stimulation. The concept of a need for stimulation has been operationalized by Zuckerman (1964) in the form of a Sensation Seeking Scale (SSS). Application of the SSS in a variety of research settings has resulted in composite profiles of high (HSS) and low (LSS) sensation seekers (See Gorman, 1970; Kish and Donnenwerth, 1969; Kish and Busse, 1968; Norman and Fenson, 1970; Zuckerman and Schultz, 1967; Zuckerman, Neary and Brustman, 1970; Zuckerman and Link, 1968.) In comparison to the LSS, a HSS has been found to be younger, more educated, more intelligent and more risk oriented. The HSS demonstrates a greater preference for sensory variability, an attraction to new experiences, a tendency for impulsive action, and a desire for complex, changing and less structured activities and environments than a LSS. Finally, HSSs' have been found to be high in social independence and individual autonomy.

Since a HSS is likely to be interested in a variety of new experiences and since recycled facilities appear to possess many of the attributes which a HSS would perceive as a source of stimulation, it seems reasonable to expect that HSS's would be more receptive than LSS's to such facilities. Further, because of their tendency to readily explore stimulating situations, it would be expected that the decision behavior of HSS customers, measured in terms of conversion, or movement from one decision stage to another, would differ from that of LSS customers even if each were aware of the existence of new facilities, considered shopping there, accept them symbolically, or actually visited the facilities. In short, HSS's should represent a disproportionate number of customers for such facilities and should differ from LSS's in their decision behavior. The following research hypotheses are developed in terms of the modified decision framework presented above (Figure lb) and reflect each of these propositions.


The proportion of HSS customers who:

1.1 are aware of the retail innovation

1.2 consider shopping at the retail innovation

1.3 symbolically accept the idea of the retail innovation

1.4 actually shop at the retail innovation

1.5 confirm the decision to continue shopping at the retail innovation

will exceed the proportion of LSS customers exhibiting the same behavior.

Of those customers who are aware of the retail innovation, the HSS customer will be more likely to:

2.1 consider shopping the retail innovation

2.2 symbolically accept the idea of innovation

2.3 actually shop at the retail innovation

2.4 make a confirmed decision to continue shopping at the retail innovation

than the LSS customer.

Of those customers who consider shopping the retail innovation, the HSS customer will be more likely to:

3.1 symbolically accept the idea of retail innovation

3.2 actually shop at the retail innovation

3.3 make a confirmed decision to continue shopping at the retail innovation

Of those customers who symbolically accept the idea of the retail innovation, the HSS customers will he more likely to:

4.1 actually shop at the retail innovation

4.2 make a confirmed decision to continue shopping at the retail innovation

than the LSS customers.

Of those customers who actually shop at the retail innovation, the HSS customers will be more likely to:

5.1 make a confirmed decision to continue shopping at the retail innovation

than the LSS customers.



Customer decision behavior was examined with respect to a set of retail facilities established as part of a recycling of formerly commercial warehouses. The multilevel structures were partially vacant and although the buildings were located in proximity to the downtown area, entrances did not border any existing shopping facilities. Traffic to and from the downtown does not normally flow past the buildings and in the normal course of travel activities residents are unlikely to have visual contact with the structures. The buildings themselves were renovated in two stages. The study was conducted approximately 6 months after the first stage opened and before the second group of stores was complete. The timing of the study permitted the wide potential exposure of the new facilities, the transmission of limited advertising, and the opportunity for interpersonal communication between residents (Kelly, 1967). The facilities themselves are not unlike those in other recycled structures and consist of a series of retail clothing, gift, sports, and music shops, restaurants, bars, and movie theatres. Although establishments cultivated separate identities and are operated independently, a common external facade, name, and limited joint advertising program has been developed. The recycling renovation program was the first in the city's recent history.


A sample of 114 adult females in a Midwestern city provided the present data base. Females were chosen because of their more probable engagement in shopping behaviors and potential exposure to retail innovations. Respondents were selected by random multi-stage sampling. The characteristics of the sample were comparable in socioeconomic and demographic terms to those of the population.

Sensation Seeking and Decision Behavior Measures

Form II of the general Sensation Seeking Scale GSS (Zuckerman, 1964) was administered within each respondent's residence. The scales required ten to fifteen minutes for completion and consist of twenty-two forced-choice item pairs describing alternative activities possessing different levels of stimulation. [ For example, one pair of GSS items state:

A. The most important goal of life is to live it to the fullest and experience as much of it as you can.

B. The most important goal of life is to find peace and happiness.]

The SSS is scored by summing the number of more stimulating activity choices.

Questions based on the modified Klonglan-Coward model (Figure lb) were used to determine: (1) awareness of the facilities, (2) consideration of shopping, (3) symbolic acceptance or rejection, i.e., a consideration and decision whether to shop, (4) actual shopping, and (5) confirmation of the decision to continue using the facilities. This procedure provided a basis for classifying respondents as to their position in the decision process and aided in identifying apparent "holding patterns" within the process.


Respondents were classified as being a high sensation seeker (HSS) or low sensation seeker (LSS) on the basis of their summed SSS score with a division of the SSS at its median. Fifteen decision behavior measures were computed separately for each SS group. Measures of the dependent variables corresponding to the first five hypotheses were calculated by computing the proportion of each SS category indicating each of the respective decision behaviors. For the remaining ten hypotheses, measures were also developed for each SS category. In these cases, the measures indicated the proportion of customers moving from one decision state to all subsequent decision states. Thus the proportion of customers converted from awareness to consideration, symbolic acceptance, shopping, and confirmation (hypotheses 2.1 through 2.4), from consideration to symbolic acceptance, shopping, and confirmation (hypotheses 3.1 through 3.3), from symbolic acceptance to shopping and confirmation (hypotheses 4.1 and 4.2), and from shopping to a confirmed decision to continue each SS category. Tests of differences between proportions were conducted to test for significance in the case of each respective hypothesis.


The procedure outlined above resulted in the classification of 83 respondents as LSS's and 31 respondents as HSS's. A comparison of the HSS and LSS groups indicated no significant differences in education, family size, occupation of the head of the household, and family income. The HSS respondents were somewhat younger than the LSS group, but even in those age categories in which the HSS tended to cluster, they represented a minority of the total cases. Thus while a HSS is likely to be a younger individual than a LSS, there is less than an equiprobably chance that the younger individual will be a HSS.

Results are presented in Tables 1 and 2. Reference to Table 1 indicates that all differences are in the predicted direction. The HSS is more likely than the LSS to be aware of the new facilities, to consider using the facilities, to symbolically accept (or fail to symbolically reject) the facilities, to actually visit the facilities and to confirm the adoption decision regarding the facilities. In all cases the differences are significant, thereby lending support to hypotheses 1.1 through 1.5.



The conversion results appear in Table 2. This information differs from the gross percentage figures in Table 1, which reveal the likelihood that the decision state is made without indicating the nature of the decision behavior itself. The information in Table 1, for example, indicates the likelihood that all customers in a SS category will shop in the recycled facilities, while the information in Table 2 indicates the likelihood of customers shopping in the facilities if they, alternatively, are aware, consider, or symbolically accept the new facilities.



The awareness-conversion results for both SS categories provide an initial basis for thinking about the nature of decision making by customers in each SS category. As might be expected, the probability of conversion declines with each succeeding decision state. However, it should be noted that this decline is markedly greater in the case of the LSS group. As a partial consequence, the stated differences in conversion are all in the direction predicted by hypotheses 2.1 through 2.4, i.e., the }{SS who is aware of these facilities is more likely to consider, symbolically adopt, trial shop or use, and confirm such use than is the LSS who is also aware of their existence. The differences are significant in each case.

The consideration-conversion data bear these same characteristics and also possess significant differences, thereby supporting hypotheses 3.2 through 3.3. While the differences in conversion from consideration to symbolic adoption are in the direction suggested by hypothesis 3.1, they are not significant. Thus while there is no significant difference in the likelihood of symbolic adoption, given that a customer considers a set of facilities, but having considered such facilities, HSS customers are more likely than LSS customers to both try (by visit or use) and confirm the decision to adopt such facilities into their set of acceptable retail alternatives.

Once they symbolically adopt the idea of the facilities, the HSS customers are more apt, as suggested by hypotheses 4.1 and 4.2, to subject them to trial and confirm their continued use. Both differences are significant. It is interesting to note that for the LSS group the chances of a conversion to trial exceed .5 only after symbolic adoption. The probability of MSS conversion to trial exceeds .5 given only awareness and increases as these customers move through the decision process. Further, from the standpoint of awareness, consideration, or symbolic adoption, there is a less than even chance of LSS conversion to confirmation and, in contrast, a greater than even tendency for HSS conversion to confirmation.

It is only when they have actually visited the facilities that the LSS shows a confirmation tendency which exceeds equiprobability. Even in these terms, the confirmation tendency which exceeds equiprobability. Even in these terms, the confirmation probability of HSS customers is significantly greater, supporting hypothesis 5.1.


The recycling of urban places into shopping complexes has important economic and social implications, not only for the investors involved, but also for those concerned with the vitality of our central cities. Certainly, recycling alone will not arrest the set of forces will have endangered urban centers. At the same time successful restorations can contribute to the ultimate health of these areas. In this context, it is desirable for consumer researchers to join with both planners and retail investors in considering the likely ramifications of alternative recycling projects. The present study indicates the importance of considering questions dealing with both the types of customers attracted to such facilities and the manner in which other residents might come to consider and use the same facilities.

The findings suggests that the adoption of recycled facilities is dependent on the stimulation needs of potential customers. However, before discussing the implications of these findings, it should be noted that the reasoning set forth does not imply that optimal stimulation levels magnify customer receptivity to any type of new retail facility. In fact, a case might be made that the opening of a new dairy store, dry cleaner, hardware store, etc. would hardly offer a source of meaningful stimulus input and would therefore be unlikely to elicit the same type of response as observed here. In this sense the opening of a new outlet of a traditional store type may represent a continuous retail innovation (Robertson, 1971) and therefore not attract the }{SS. At present this conclusion is speculative. It does, however, appear necessary to limit the range of retail innovations to which inferences relating to sensation seeking might be made. It would also seem desirable to develop instruments which directly measure the stimulus impact of retail facilities.

Although traditional demographic characteristics appear to be poor predictors of which group of customers are attracted to recycled facilities, some intriguing segmentation possibilities are suggested by the present study. Support of the hypotheses indicates that those individuals who possess a higher optimal level of stimulation (HSS's) are the customers most likely to be interested in utilizing recycled facilities. That the shops, restaurants and entertainment possibilities usually located in the recycled facilities offer liberal opportunities for varied experiences and stimulation is perhaps the best intuitive explanation of the phenomenon we have observed. Individuals who do not require relatively large amounts of stimulation may in fact find satisfaction in a recycled complex, but are likely to become positive in their outlook on such facilities only after an actual trial visit. We are dealing with a group of individuals, the HSS's, who being inherently interested in recycled facilities as a source of stimulation, are likely to be sensitive or responsive to initial mass communication efforts. Alternatively, the LSS, must be provided with a stronger impetus to use of such facilities. For the LSS group, taken as a whole, it may well be that behavior (contact with the facilities) precedes the requisite degree of attitudinal change necessary for adoption. If this is the case, ultimate LSS adoption is more dependent on direct action sales promotion efforts which stimulate shopping visits rather than advertising which describes the unusual or exciting features of a recycled facility. These lines of inquiry certainly merit further study.


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