Atmospheric Factors in the Retail Environment: Sights, Sounds and Smells

Sevgin A. Eroglu, Georgia State University
Karen A. Machleit, University of Cincinnati
[ to cite ]:
Sevgin A. Eroglu and Karen A. Machleit (1993) ,"Atmospheric Factors in the Retail Environment: Sights, Sounds and Smells", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 20, eds. Leigh McAlister and Michael L. Rothschild, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 34.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 20, 1993      Page 34


Sevgin A. Eroglu, Georgia State University

Karen A. Machleit, University of Cincinnati

Since the concept of "atmospherics" was introduced in the early 1970s, there has been a slow, but growing, interest in understanding and predicting the impact of the environment on consumer responses. The objective of this session was to showcase state-of-the-art research and practice in retail atmospherics, and to identify research opportunities in this emerging area.

The term "retail atmospherics" refers to all of the physical and nonphysical elements of a store that can be controlled in order to enhance (or restrain) the behaviors of its occupants, both customers and employees. These elements present a multitude of possibilities including ambient cues such as color, smell, music, lighting, and textures, as well as architectural and artifactual elements. This session began with a detailed overview of how some of these environmental elements are being used by professional store designers and architects to create desired retail settings. This first presentation, "Theater of Retailing: Selling Through the Senses" (Randall E. Gebhardt, Fitch Associates, Columbus, OH), included numerous examples of how retailers use sounds, scents, and visual elements of the store atmosphere to produce desired images and to increase sales. The examples included a tie store's use of leather and tobacco scents to create an atmosphere in which female gift buyers are comfortable in purchasing men's ties and a music store's use of audio engineering to create a store auditorially segmented by department.

The second presentation, "Olfaction and the Retailing Environment" (Terence A. Shimp, Pam Scholder Ellen and Paula Fitzgerald Bone), gave examples of how olfactory stimuli are being used in the retail environment, along with a discussion of the theoretical explanations for the observed effects of such stimuli. The primary response to olfactory stimuli was said to be approach/avoidance behavior. Evidence was presented that olfactory stimuli have the potential to attract attention and motivate processing, enhance mood states, and affect salesperson/customer interactions. Potential moderators and mediators of olfactory effects were also discussed.

The final presentation, "The Impact of Atmospheric Music and Retail Density on Retail Crowding Perceptions and Their Consequences: Does Song Augment the Throng?" (Karen A. Machleit, James J. Kellaris and Sevgin A. Eroglu), discussed the results of a laboratory experiment which manipulated both retail density and music loudness. The results indicated that both loudness of music and customer density increase subjects' perceptions of retail crowding; however, these independent variables did not directly affect other customer responses. Rather, outcome responses such as the feelings experienced while shopping and store satisfaction are influenced by the level of crowding experienced by the shopper.

The session discussant, Meryl P. Gardner, provided insightful comments with respect to all three presentations. Of particular note was her observation that retailers make store changes on a number of dimensions and then measure the impact on variables such as store traffic patterns and sales. To contrast, academic researchers study only one or two aspects of the environment at a time, often in artificial settings which, unfortunately, is the only realistic option available to most researchers.

In conclusion, this session intended to contribute to consumer research by identifying opportunities for research in the area of person-environment relationships in marketing contexts. Although practitioners and environmental psychologists have long been aware of the impact of environmental stimuli on human behavior, consumer research has lagged behind in this field.