The Internal Atmosphere of a Retail Store

Patrick G. Buckley, Queen's University
[ to cite ]:
Patrick G. Buckley (1987) ,"The Internal Atmosphere of a Retail Store", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 14, eds. Melanie Wallendorf and Paul Anderson, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 568.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 14, 1987      Page 568


Patrick G. Buckley, Queen's University

The following paper examines the atmosphere of a retail store that is experienced after one enters the store. Excluded from the discussion is the external atmosphere and environment of a retail store. This is done for reasons-of brevity, not chat the external atmosphere is any less important to the store s well being.

The paper links research on the psychological dimensions of a store s atmosphere with research on the more specific, concrete stimuli in a store. The concrete stimuli are hypothesized to influence the psychological atmosphere in a store; a store s atmosphere influences the behaviors of its customers (e.g. purchases). Thus, the concrete stimuli in a store are linked to the behaviors of customers through the customers experiences of the store s atmosphere: concrete stimuli -> store atmosphere -> customer behaviors. Some implications are inferred from this model in regards to questions about which concrete stimuli to use in a store.

A store s atmosphere has both affective and cognitive components. The affective components are pleasure (i.e. contented, happy, satisfied), arousal (i.e. stimulated, excited, jittery), and dominance (i.e. controlling, dominant, influential); the cognitive component is the information rate (i.e. novelty, variety, density, size) (Donovan and Rossiter 1982; Mehrabian and Russell 1974). Research evidence points to the concrete stimuli of color, music, and crowding as influencing the affective dimensions of a store s atmosphere; and to displays and signs as influencing the cognitive dimensions and, to a lesser extent, the affective dimensions of a store's atmosphere. More specifically, previous research is interpreted as indicating:

The arousal dimension of store atmosphere is positively influenced by:

- crowding(Harrell, Hutt and Anderson 1980).

- warm colors (e.g. ret, yellow).

- loud and fast music = how customers are aroused by music influences their buying behaviors differently: faster music decreased sales; louder music had no influence on sales(Milliman 1982).

The pleasure dimension of store atmosphere is positively influenced by:

- non-crowding.

- cool colors (e.g. blue, green) and warm colors like yellow. Warm colors like red positively influence displeasure (Bellizzi, Crowley, and Hasty 1983).

The information rate of store atmosphere 18 positively influenced by the number of displays and signs in the store.

The color of a sign conditions how the sign influences a store s affective atmosphere s qualities of pleasure and arousal.

Creating an atmosphere in a store by just emphasizing one element may be difficult: for example, if one wishes to create a pleasant and arousing atmosphere, cool colors are pleasing but not as arousing as warm colors. Atmosphere is created by a combination of music, colors, crowding and other stimuli such as: flooring (tiles, rugs, marble, etc.), ceiling (brightness, color, height), lighting (fluorescent, incandescent, high intensity, indirect), lighting fixtures, fitting rooms, walls, pillars, customer service, etc. Using a combination of stimuli allows for the creation of store atmospheres which are both arousing and pleasant. Such a combination of stimuli could be: cool colors and loud, fast music; or > crowded store with pleasant music and cool colors.

The atmosphere s affective quality of dominance (as contrasted with submissiveness) was not linked with any specific store stimuli in the research reviewed. Casual observation suggests that many individuals feel submissive to a dominant atmosphere (e.g. high pressure salespeople). In contrast, for many individuals a personal feeling of dominance is only possible in an atmosphere perceived as submissive. A personal feeling of dominance includes a customer s feeling of being in control. Customers appear to have feelings of control when bargaining with salespeople over prices and when choosing a purchase from an assortment of brands.

There is a need for more research investigating relationships between feelings of dominance-submissiveness in the store s atmosphere and such in-store stimuli as the variety of merchandise available and the interactions of customers and salespeople. An initial step in this research may include the re-labelling of the dominant dimension as one of persuasiveness: an atmosphere where customers tend to feel that they've lost control of their abilities to rationally ponder alternatives.

One way to develop further research questions about the store environment, is to examine the settings and methods used in previous research. Research has used both real stores and experimental quasi-stores. The results of this research may only be appropriate to stores selling specific products to specific kinds of customers. Further research is needed to determine which results are unique to specific kinds of stores and customers and which may be generalized to the mass market.


Bellizzi, Joseph A., Ayn E. Crowley and Robert W. Hasty (1983), "The Effects of Color in Store Design," Journal of Retailing, 59 (1), 21-44.

Donovan, Robert J. and John R. Rossiter (1982), "Store Atmosphere: An Environmental Psychology Approach," Journal of Retailing, 58 (1), 34-57.

Harrell, Gilbert D., Michael D. Hutt and James C. Anderson (1980), "Path Analysis of Buyer Behavior Under Conditions of Crowding," Journal of Marketing Research, 17 (Feb), 65-51.

Mehrabian, Albert and James A. Russell (1974), An Approach to Environmental Psychology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Milliman, Ronald E. (1982), "Using Background Music to Affect the Behavior of Supermarket Shoppers," Journal of Marketing, 46 (Sum), 86-91.