Atmosphere: Does It Provide Central Or Peripheral Cues?

ABSTRACT - This paper aims to facilitate the extension of the rich tradition of the elaboration likelihood model (ELM) of Petty and Cacioppo (1981) to the retail environment atmosphere. It draws upon conceptual and empirical arguments in the retail atmosphere and the ELM literatures to build the case that extending the ELM to the atmosphere construct is a theoretically viable proposition, using mood and schemer schema (Wright 1986) concepts as examplars. A set of propositions using the mall environment as the backdrop is developed and a possible study to investigate them is proposed.


James R. Bardzil and Philip J. Rosenberger III (1996) ,"Atmosphere: Does It Provide Central Or Peripheral Cues?", in AP - Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 2, eds. Russel Belk and Ronald Groves, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 73-79.

Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 2, 1996      Pages 73-79


James R. Bardzil, Georgia State University

Philip J. Rosenberger III, Georgia State University


This paper aims to facilitate the extension of the rich tradition of the elaboration likelihood model (ELM) of Petty and Cacioppo (1981) to the retail environment atmosphere. It draws upon conceptual and empirical arguments in the retail atmosphere and the ELM literatures to build the case that extending the ELM to the atmosphere construct is a theoretically viable proposition, using mood and schemer schema (Wright 1986) concepts as examplars. A set of propositions using the mall environment as the backdrop is developed and a possible study to investigate them is proposed.


Marking, Lillis and Narayana (1976, p. 43) noted that "the retail store is a bundle of cues, messages and suggestions which communicate to the shoppers." The importance of what is called "atmospherics" in the retail shopping environment is recognized by managers, for retailers devote considerable energy and resources to plan and build physical space that creates the retail purchase setting (Baker, Grewal and Levy 1992; Ward, Barnes and Bitner 199).

Marketing scholars also recognize the importance of the shopping environment (e.g., Kotler 1973-1974; Bitner 1992; Bloch 1994). The influence of environmental cues has received growing attention by marketing scholars since Kotler (1973-1974) proposed that "atmospherics" were a potentially important source of competitive advantage in the retail environment. This view that there is more than tangible product attributes being consumed has been echoed from the consumer side by Hirschman and Holbrook (1982) and Holbrook and Hirschman (1982), who observed that consumption can include multisensory, fantasy and even emotive aspects of one’s experience with products. Modern textbooks in retail management have an almost mandatory chapter on store planning and design which emphasizes the importance of the physical attributes of the retail environment (e.g., Levy and Weitz 1995). Nevertheless, there is a surprising lack of empirical research and theoretically based frameworks addressing the role of physical surroundings in consumption settings (Bitner 1992).

Empirical research has been limited largely to investigations of how various environmental stimuli such as music, crowding, lighting, and other physical properties of the environment affect behavior (e.g., Bruner 1990; Milliman 1992). Consumer behavior research has touched upon specific areas such as tactile stimulation (Hornik 1992), time (Meyers-Levy and Maheswaran 1992), performance (Deighton 1992) and scent (Mitchell, Kahn and Knasko 1995), though how environmental atmospherics cue consumer responses in terms of psychological processes has received scant attention and is still largely an unexplored area in consumer behavior research as such,.

In this paper, we aim to facilitate the extension of the rich tradition of the elaboration likelihood model (ELM) of Petty and Cacioppo (1981) to the retail environment atmosphere. We will draw upon conceptual and empirical arguments in the retail atmosphere and the ELM literatures to build the case that extending the ELM to the atmosphere construct is a theoretically viable proposition. We begin the paper with a review of the nature of atmosphere, followed by a brief review of the ELM, before moving on to explore the concept of retail involvement. Next, we discuss environmental cues and the ELM, illustrating the extension of the application of the ELM with examples using mood and schemer schema (Wright 1986) concepts. Lastly, we develop a set of propositions using the mall environment as the backdrop and propose a possible study to investigate some of the issues raised before concluding with some implications for further research.


Since Kotler’s (1973-1974) seminal atmospherics article just over two decades ago, academic research into atmosphere has broadened its horizons to include the impact of servicescapes (Bitner 1992), music tempo (Milliman 1982, 1986), and ambient odor (Mitchell, Kahn, and Knasko 1995) amongst others. Likewise, in the retail sector managers are increasingly encouraged to "engineer customer experiences" that establish and maintain customer preference for an institution, much as Disney has done with its themeparks and Barnes & Noble with its bookstores (Carbone and Haeckel 1994).

Kotler (1973-1974, p. 50) defined atmospherics as "the effort to design buying environments to produce specific emotional effects in the buyer that enhance his purchase probability," suggesting that one of the most significant features of the product is the place where it is bought or consumed. In some cases, the place, more specifically the atmosphere of the place, is more influential than the product itself in the purchase decision. For example, the study by Kerin, Howard and Jain (1992) demonstrated that store-related stimuli in a retail setting can shape merchandise price and quality perceptions and consumer impressions of store value. In other cases, Kotler suggess that the atmosphere is the primary product, as could be imagined for a throbbing nightclub or the local pub in England.

Kotler (1973-1974) conceptualized the atmosphere of a place as consisting of its sensory attributes and distinguished between the intended atmosphere and the perceived atmosphere, with the intended atmosphere being the set of sensory qualities that the designer seeks to imbue in the space. Kotler proposed that the perceived atmosphere can be different "because each buyer perceives only certain qualities of this space... perception is subject to selective attention" (p. 53). In exploring servicescapes, Bitner (1992, p. 65) refers to atmosphere as "a complex mix of environmental features" consisting of an "endless list of possibilities.... involving ambient conditions, spatial layout and functionality, and signs, symbols and artifacts." Ambient conditions include temperature, lighting, noise, music and scents that affect the senses.

Most ambient conditions are recognized (although sometimes they may be imperceptible) and spatial and functional layout is salient because retail settings are "purposeful" and "exist to fulfill specific needs" or may be accidental.

Other research has noted that the atmosphere or store environment has both affective, or psychological, and cognitive, or functional, elements (Jackson and Konell 1993). Markin et al. (1976) suggest that the retail store creates mood, affects customer perceptions, attitudes and images, and activates intentions. Russell and Pratt (1980) describe how environments are attributed with both a perceptual-cognitive meaning and affective meaning, which are two independent dimensions according to Hirschman and Holbrook (1982). Dardin and Babin (1994) observe that consumer experiences with retailers lead to evaluations of a store’s tangible characteristics, or functional qualities, which would correspond to its cognitive meaning (beliefs). Donovan et al. (1994) show that the effects of the emotional factors of pleasure and arousal are additional to cognitive factors such as variety and quality of merchandise, price specialing and value for money. Having established the nature of atmosphere as a (often) purposeful effort by a retailer to manipulate elements of the built environment for some consumer impact, we will now turn to the information processing paradigm.


One of the central concepts of the information processing paradigm is the Elaboration Likelihood Model (Petty and Cacioppo 1981). The Elaboration Likelihood Model (ELM) posits that the elaboration likelihood of a communication cue can be high or low, depending on the personal relevance and consequences of the information. When the personal relevance or consequences of a cue is high, it is more likely that a consumer will use the information cognitively, processing it through the central route, and giving the information diligent consideration. ELM suggests that low personal relevance and consequences lead to processing information cues peripherally without engaging in extensive cognitive activity.

The central route requires cognitive effort, and whether the consumer is sufficiently motivated to use the central route depends on the significance of the information. ELM posits that if it is personally relevant (i.e., issue-oriented), then the elaboration likelihood is high. Thus, high involvement suggests central processing and low involvement suggests peripheral processing. When the likelihood of issue-relevant thinking is low, affect will serve largely as a peripheral cue, providing meaning to the attitude object by a simple association process (Petty, Unnava, and Strathman 1991).

The atmosphere of a retail environment can be considered a form of communication, providing consumers with functional and symbolic cues, which act as a form of nonverbal communication with the onsumer and imparting meaning as a result (Bitner 1992). In essence, atmosphere can be considered another manifestation of a persuasion attempt (which an advertisement is but another example) albeit in a slightly different format. In that retailers devote considerable energy and resources to plan and build physical space that creates the retail purchase setting (Baker, Grewal, and Levy 1992; Ward, Barnes, and Bitner 1992) and seek to create specific moods by manipulation of the retail environment (Bitner 1992; Carbone and Haeckel 1994) in an effort to influence consumers much as traditional advertising does, then it is plausible that the information processing paradigm of consumer behavior and its research tradition can be applied empirically in investigating atmosphere in the retail environment. Having established the initial premise that the ELM is applicable to the research of retail atmosphere, in the next section we explore the way in which consumers are involved in the retail environment.


A consumer entering a retail environment may do so for a variety of reasons. The most obvious explanation is the consumer is to make a purchase of some product or service. However, Tauber (1972) identified a variety of other personal and social reasons why consumers enter a retail environment. Personal motives for "shopping" include role playing, diversion and recreation, moods and emotional needs (boredom, loneliness, depression), searching for trends and innovations, and sensory stimulation (looking at merchandise, watching others, handling products, trying on, trying out, etc.). Social motives for "shopping" include meeting friends, seeking chance encounters, making acquaintance with the opposite sex, and others. Thus, consumers may experience the retail environment in different ways depending on their motivation.

The motivation to process information is conceptualized by most researchers in terms of the consumer’s involvement (Celci and Olson 1988; Zaichkowsky 1985; Greenwald and Leavitt 1984). Celci and Olson (1988) offer a concise and workable definition of involvement that is consistent with that used by many consumer behavior researchers:

We view perceived personal relevance as the essential characteristic of involvement. That is, a consumer’s level of involvement with an object, situation, or action is determined by the degree to which s/he perceives that concept to be personally relevant (p. 21).

Users of retail space are motivated by a variety of disparate intentions. Some are in the space for the purpose of making a purchase while others may be using the space for personal and social reasons not directly related to a purchase (Tauber 1972; Kotler 1973-1974), generally being construed as providing hedonic (fun) and utilitarian (work) value (Babin, Dardin, and Griffin 1994). Consequently, the range of users frequenting a given retail environment may attend to different sets of cues and the same individual may attend to different cues at different times depending on their motivation. Thus, the cues that are personally relevant and processed centrally may be contingent on the reason for the consumer’s presence. For example, a mood is a feeling state that is subjectively perceived an individual (Gardner 1985) and may bias or influence the selection, encoding or retrieval of cues in a shopping situation, especially in an involved situation (Swinyard 1993).

To illustrate, the second author enjoys going to the supermarket and wandering around (fun) and will attend to a different variety of cues and depth (due to a positive mood) than a relative of his who sees going to the supermarket as a chore (work) and hurries in and out of the store as fast as possible ignoring many or picking up on different cues (due to a negative mood)!


Having now laid the initial ELM conceptual groundwork, we will now explore extending the application of the ELM to retail atmosphere settings. In this section, the role that environmental cues play in informing consumers and influencing their consumption experience evaluation are first discussed. Next, how the ELM may be extended to consider this different context is discussed, using mood and schemer schemas (Wright 1986) as being illustrative of how this approach is conceptually sound.

The Retail Environment as an Information Source

A key role that store environment plays is to provide informational cues to customers about merchandise and service quality (Baker, Grewal, and Parasuraman 1994). The retail environment is rich in cues which serve as a form of nonverbal communication, imparting meaning to the consumer and may influence their ultimate satisfaction (Bitner 1992). This is an important role that the retail environment plays and may have more immediate effects on decision making than other marketing inputs that are not present at the point of purchase (e.g., advertising) (Baker, Grewal, and Parasuraman 1994). In a study on the protypicality of retail environments, Ward, Barnes and Bitner (1992) showed that customer’s perceptions of fast food restaurants, and their attitude toward such restaurants, are strongly influenced by environmental cues. Baker, Grewal, and Parasuraman’s (1994) study of the retail store environment showed that ambient and social elements in the store environment provide cues that consumers use for their quality inferences.

That a retail environment is rich in atmospheric cues is axiomatic. How those cues are perceived, attended, comprehended and responded to is contingent on many factors. In particular, the personal relevance and involvement of the consumer with specific cues is likely to depend on the purpose for which the individual enters a given retail space, as Kotler (1973-1974) suggests with his concept of the perceived atmosphere.

Shopping for the purpose of making a specific purchase is different from "shopping" in the sense of "browsing" or entering a retail space for any reason other than to acquire a product or service. Making a purchase usually requires cognitive evaluation and decision-making connected directly with the utility of the acquisition. In that case, attention is most likely focused on the product and product-related environmental cues such as the spatial and functional attributes of the environment. On the other hand, venturing into a retail space for personal and social reasons suggests a different motivation, a different type of involvement with the retail environment. If so, then the consumer’s general perceptions, attention to specific cues, the interpretation given to the environment, and the response to environmental cues may be significantly different as well.

To illustrate this, consider Baker, Grewal, and Parasuraman’s (1994) case of consumers with incomplete information about merchandise or service quality. In this situation, consumers tend to base purchase decisions on inferences they make from various information cues. This occurs as the retail store environment offers a multitude of stimuli that can serve as cues to consumers looking for this information-processing shortcut or heuristic. For example, a store with thick carpeting, low-level lighting, and muted, but fashionable, colors may lead customers to infer that the store sells high-quality merchandise, or offers high quality service.

Extending the ELM to Investigating Atmosphere: the Multisensory View

It might initially seem strange to consider applying the ELM to retail atmosphere research, yet there is a developing steam of research which supports this proposition. Petty and Cacioppo’s (1981) and Petty, Caciooppo, and Schuman’s (1983) original experiments investigating the ELM were with print ads, though more recent research has gone beyond print and into other media as well. Petty, Schumann, Richman, and Strathman (1993) conducted two experiments exploring mood and high/low elaboration which used music and text in one, and ads situated in a TV program in another. They also review other ELM-related studies which used videotape and commercials embedded in a television program.

What can be seen from this stream of research, therefore, is an extension of the original ELM work into the broader media environment with an increasingly varied variety of persuasion influence sources. Ultimately, an advertisement is a persuasion attemptC an attempt to communicate a message to a consumer with the express intent of trying to do "something" (i.e., inform, educate, influence perceptions, change attitudes/behaviors/etc). In moving from print to television, ELM research has gone from a single sensory input persuasion attempt (sight) to a multisensory input persuasion attempt in the case of television and videotape (sight, sound, motion, color). With the introduction of stereo television broadcasts and the more recent "surround sound" enhancement, we would also expect to see this research stream extended to include aspects of spatial imaging (or soundscapes).

Extending the ELM to Investigating Atmosphere: Conceptual Examples of Mood & Schemer Schemas

In that creating or engineering a specific mood is one of the primary objectives of retail establishments that set about proactively manipulating their retail atmosphere (Carbone and Haeckel 1994), then it is a natural step to next apply the ELM framework to the retail atmosphere concept which simply adds to the number of sensory input dimensions. In that the number of possible influences could be large and go beyond the space provisions of this paper, we will restrict our discussion to the roles of mood and so-called "schemer schemas" (Wright 1986) as illustrations of the conceptual viability of this proposition on extending the application of the ELM to the retail atmosphere setting.


Moods have been described as mild, pervasive, and generalized affective states, rather than intense emotions (Batra and Stayman 1990). Delving further, moods have been defined by Gardner (1985) as feeling states that are subjectively perceived by individuals and, as such, are a subcategory of feeling states. Feeling states are affective states that are general and pervasive. Moods are transient, and they may be distiguished from emotions, which are usually more intense, attention-getting, and tied to a specific behavior. Different types of positive and negative mood states can also be identified. Research in psychology indicates that mood states exert an important influence on behavior, judgement and recall, having both direct and indirect effects, and can be important in service encounters, point-of purchase stimuli and the content and context of marketing communications (Gardner 1985).

With the work by Petty et al. (1993) and others (e.g., see also Batra and Stayman [1990]) moving into mood and ELM territory, then we are starting to move away slightly from the rational, mechanistic "information processing machine" person that solves problems to make purchasing decisions (Holbrook and Hirschman 1982). For example, in investigating the role of mood in advertising effectiveness, Batra and Stayman (1990) conclude that mood appears to affect the amount of total cognitive elaboration, bias the evaluation of argument quality and peripherally affect brand attitudes. The research results of Petty et al. (1993) established that positive mood can have a relatively direct impact on attitudes in some circumstances (low-elaboration conditions) and an indirect impact by influencing thoughts in other stuations (high-elaboration conditions). Having established the basis for mood and its impact, we will now illustrate this for a retail atmosphere setting.

An example of atmosphere and its impact on mood and cognitive elaboration comes from the research relating to scent (or ambient odor). As mentioned earlier, marketers will intentionally manipulate or engineer aspects of the store atmosphere to influence mood, including scent, with 3M even producing technology for scent management (Carbone and Haeckel 1994). In a study on congruent (i.e., smell of ground coffee in coffee shops) and incongruent ambient odor (i.e., smell of the pizza outlet in the flower shop next to it) on consumer decision making, Mitchell, Kahn and Knasko (1995) found that the congruency of the odor with the target product class influences consumer decision making. When ambient odor was congruent with the product class as opposed to incongruent, subjects spent more time processing the data, were more holistic in their processing, and were more likely to go beyond the information given, relying more on inferences and self-references. They concluded that when the odor is congruent with the product class, cognitive enrichment or increased cognitive flexibility may be occurring. Similarly, in a study on mood, involvement and quality of store experience on shopping intentions, Swinyard (1993) found that the effect of mood was more pronounced when consumers are involved in a shopping experience but not if they are uninvolved. He concluded that involved consumers are more active processors of information cues that, according to his study, might include their mood. Swinyard’s (1993) data also suggests that mood is biasing or influencing the selection, encoding or retrieval of cues in a shopping situation.

What we see from these examples, thus, is atmosphere influencing the ELM. As previous research had demonstrated the power of ambient odor as a primer or retrieval cue, then this increased accessibility of information may lead to a greater depth of processing, which results in more elaboration and a greater number of inferences (cf. Mitchell, Kahn and Knasko 1995). In this instance, atmosphere facilitated the motivation to search for additional information.

Schemer (Scheming) Schemas.A schema can be defined "as a knowledge structure, stored in memory, that consists of relevant attributes of some stimulus domain" or "an organized pattern of expectation for a stimulus domain...abstracted from information obtained through knowledge and experience" (Folkes and Kiesler 1991, p. 285). The importance of schemata is that they represent an organization of knowledge and experience leading to a set of expectation in a particular stimulus domain (e.g.,people, social roles and events), and are also applicable to retail settings. In research on the perception of retail environments and their relation to typicality (i.e., categorization), Ward, Barnes, and Bitner (1992) found that both exterior and interior environmental cues were related to overall resemblence amongst fast food restaurants.

Schemata not only represent structures of information, but they also act as information filters and perceptual screens. Schemata operate to selectively influence the information that a person encodes and selectively influence the manner in which the information is given meaning and the inferences that are consequently made. (Folkes and Kiesler 1991). For example, a consumer’s categorization of a restaurant, on the basis of its external appearance, as a place for fine dining, is likely to prompt the consumer to make a variety of inferences about the restaurant’s food, service, and prices, and to retrieve any stored affect toward the category of fine dining places (Ward, Barnes, and Bitner 1992). Having set out the initial basis for schemata, we will now turn to the role that schemer schemas might play.

Schemer schemas (Wright 1986) or scheming schemas [This alternative description was suggested by a helpful reviewer.] may be a moderator of the retail environment for at least certain consumers. That is, to the extent that a consumer is skeptical or cynical with respect to cue manipulation, theconsumers may employ schemer schemas to screen and selectively filter environmental cues. A review of the literature indicates that there has been little, if any, empirical research related specifically to the operation of such knowledge structures.

Why a consumer enters a retail space may not be the only factor the influences the consumer’s awareness and interpretation of the melange of cues in the surrounding environment. How the consumer approaches the environment may also be an important factor.

This could be from a sceptical or hostile perspective, as it has been suggested that consumers may well be aware of attempts marketers make to exercise control through manipulation of information cues (Wright 1986), with how consumers approach retail environments having serious implications for marketers (Donovan et al. 1994; Donovan and Rossiter 1982).

This sceptical and hostile view of marketers is not a recent manifestation. Rather, there is a recognized, historical public hostility toward marketing practice and institutions (Gaski and Etzel 1986), as society honors those who build better mousetraps but suspects those who market mousetraps better (Steiner 1976). As Wright (1986) observed:

Isn’t it very plausible that people have intuitive theories about the tactics that are used in the game of marketplace buying-and-selling? They must surely have personal insights that are pertinent for realizing "Aha! Somebody’s scheming to sell me something! Somebody’s trying to mind-screw me!" and for interpreting and evaluating and dealing with whatever influence tactics are being uses. This intuitive theory about marketers’ influence tactics can be called "schemer schema." (p. 1)

This scepticism still courses through the veins of society to some degree, as Yankelovich (1993) reported that the American public generally lacks confidence in consumer information provided by companies, has low confidence in advertising, and is resistant to "game playing" in the marketplace. As has been shown in retail atmosphere studies utilizing the Mehrabian-Russel environmental psychology approach-avoidance model, how the consumer approaches (or avoids) a retail environment can influence intended shopping behaviors (Donovan and Rossiter 1982) such as time and money spent in a store (Donovan et al. 1994). From an ELM perspective, Wright’s graphic conceptualization of the schemer schema suggests a cognitive process. This would imply that "mind-screw me" cues are consciously recognized, processed centrally, and rejected.


A given retail environment presents the same cues to all who enter it. Regardless of the range and types of cues that may be present in a specific environment, the environment nevertheless represents an integrated whole that is the shopping "atmosphere" which consists of a specific set of sensory stimuli at a given time and place. This is true irrespective of whether the atmosphere is spartan and functional or outfitted opulently with an abundance of cues that communicate symbolically and aesthetically.

Every retail environment has an atmosphere consisting of its ambient, functional and social attributes (Baker, Grewal and Parasuraman 1994). Indeed, many contemporary retail environments are purposefully designed to be utilitarian in terms of convenience, comfort, and efficiency and to create affec through the symbolic and aesthetic use of objects, artifacts and architecture as integral aspects of their servicescapes (Bitner 1992; Wakefield and Blodgett 1994). The quintessential example exists in the form of the contemporary suburban American shopping mall. In this section of the paper, we build on the earlier discussions to develop a number of research propositions to be explored using a proposed empirical study to be situated in a suburban shopping mall.

Proposition Development

Bitner (1992, p. 65) notes that "environmental psychologists contend that people respond to their environments holistically. That is, though individuals perceive discrete stimuli, it is the total configuration of stimuli that determines their responses to the environment." Consumers, however, enter a retail space such as a suburban shopping mall motivated by a variety of utilitarian, personal and social needs (Tauber 1972). What is personally relevant is the environment of the place (its atmosphere) should cause visitors to discriminate among stimuli and attend to certain stimuli.

As developed in the earlier section on extending the ELM to atmosphere, perceptions and response to the atmosphere surrounding the consumer should reflect not the "total configuration of stimuli" but the personally relevant stimuli selected for cognitive processing through the central route. That is, if shopping to make a purchase is the type of involvement a consumer has on a particular visit, we posit that a "place" is perceived as a functional shopping environment and evaluated cognitively as a "good or bad place" to shop. Likewise, if personal or social needs motivate the consumer to visit a place, then it will be personally relevant in an entirely different sense. The visitor’s involvement with the place is then in terms of mood, emotion and affect and the symbolic and aesthetic cues should become central cues and lead to a cognition of the place as a "good or bad place" to be.

Therefore, we posit that the consumer’s involvement may be high either with the functional and spatial attributes of the environment or with the symbolic and aethestic aspects on a given visit, depending on the purpose. If the visit is to make a product purchase, then functional and spacial cues should be attended to and processed cognitively through the central processing route. Alternatively, if the visit is motivated by personal, recreation and social needs, making the environment itself inseparable from the process of consumption, then the symbolic and aesthetic cues should become personally-relevant and cognitively processed through the central route. Having arrived at a proposition for the consumer’s retail involvement, we will now review the shopping mall study of Bloch et al. (1994) which has relevance for our intended study.

The Shopping Mall Environment

The shopping mall will serve as our retail environment of interest and recently has been studied in its role as a consumer habitat (Bloch, Ridgway, and Dawson 1994). One of the purposes of the research by Bloch et al. (1994) was to identify the various activies people engage in when within the mall habitat. Varimax rotation produced a four factor solution. The first factor captured non-purchase activies and was labeled consumption of the mall. Two other factors related to consumption of tangible products and consumption of services. The fourth factor encompassed items on browsing and eating and passing of time without clear objectives.

Four distinct clusters of mall inhabitants emerged in Bloch et al.’s (1994) study: Mall Enthusiasts, Traditionalists, Grazers, and Minimalists. In terms of involvement, the Mall Enthusiasts were clearly the most involved group and distinguished by higher than average values on every activity dimension. The low involvement type, termed Minimalists, were in and out for shopping and uninvoled with eating, browsing, mall services and socializing. Grazers and Traditionalists have distinct niches among Mall users. Each of the four groups perceived benefits from Mall occupancy, but Enthusiasts perceived many benefits while Minimalists perceived few.

This research broke new ground in a creative way by conceiving of the Mall as a consumer habitat and extending concepts previously used in store environments to the Mall where Americans spend more time than anywhere outside the home and work. Like previous store studies, however, the investigation is essentially descriptive and fails to consider the psychological constructs related to various types of Mall behavior.

Nevertheless, the work by Bloch et al.(1994) provides a methodological framework for categorizing Mall users and for classifying the activities of Mall users. We propose to use their methodology for identifying classes of Mall users based on the extension to the ELM’s application that we haved proposed. Mall users can be grouped based on differences in behavioral patterns. Participation scores on the four activity factors will be used in a multi-step cluster analysis as per Bloch et al. (1994). After developing the clusters, the level of involvement will be measured by the Zaichkowsy (1985) Personal Involvement Inventory: PII. It is presumed that Mall Enthusiasts will be chosen as the high involvement cluster and that Minimalists will be selected as the low involvement group.

Having obtained a differentiated population of high and low involvement Mall user populations, we will next want to test how the level of involvement is related to the perception, processing and response of the two groups to the atmospheric cues in the Mall environment. The Information Processing Paradigm maintains that the personally-relevant cues will be processes cognitively through the central route. Because consumers have limited cognitive capacity (cf. Keaveney and Hunt 1992), less issue-relevant cues are processed through the peripheral route. Therefore,

H1: Mall users having low involvement with the Mall environment will process utilitarian (functional) cues cognitively through the central processing system.

H2: Mall users having high involvement with the Mall environment will process expressive and affect cues cognitively through the central processing system.

H3: Mall users having high involvement with the Mall environment will have higher affect for the Mall than low-involvement users.

H4: Mall users having high involvement with the Mall environment will have a more favorable attitude to the Mall than low involvement users.

Proposed Study Design

The atmospheric environment has been operationalized in various ways by a number of researchers. For example, Darden and Babin (1994) utilized a structured research instrument designed to appraise perceived retail affective and functional quality. Baker et al. (1994) utilized a laboratory-type setting which operationalized store environment as consisting of Ambient, Design and Social factors, while Owens (1991) operationalized store atmosphere as consisting of Comfort/Pleasure, Arousal and Ease of Task dimensions. Considering the exploratory nature of much of this work, and the varying manners and fashions of operationalizing the Store Atmosphere construct, we foresee that our efforts will entail a certain amount of scale modification for the atmosphere construct (scale refinement and explication will follow the procedures as suggested by Churchill [1979]).

For attitude towards the mall, we again find a lack of directly relevant literture to guide our efforts. However, Jackson and Jayanti (1991) have developed a five-item scale designed to capture a subject’s global attitude towards shopping at a particular store, which would appear to be a suitable candidate for our initial purposes. For measuring affect toward an establishment, however, considerable effort has been devoted to measuring the image of the retail establishment and/or various affective reactions towards a store (e.g., Darden and Babin 1994; Russell and Pratt 1980), which should allow us to develop and refine an item pool for what additional scale refinement (as per Churchill [1979]) may be necessary for our research purposes.

Initially, we propose to utilize the method of Bloch et al. (1994), with our mall of choice being an elegant, up-market mall such as Phipps Plaza in the Summer Olympics city of Atlanta in the US. Phipps Plaza is located in a trendy part of Atlanta and is a decidely luxerious shopping mall, with polished marble floors and columns, spot lighting, soft background music and a mix of up-market stores such as Saks Fifth Avenue, Parisians and other expensive boutique shops. Its patronage reflects this, as mall visitors appear to be quite well dressed and the car park is full of more expensive cars (e.g., Mercedes-Benz, Lexus, etc.).

We propose to randomly select mall visitors at Phipps Plaza on a randomly selected day of the week over a several week period, utilizing either trained reseasearch assistants or a commercial service. Qualifying respondents would be administered the survey at that moment to capitalize on the mood (affect) of the visit, as affect has been noted to be transitory and fleeting and difficult to recall later (Donnovan et al. 1994), as on-site data collection is considered to be essential for this type of study (Bloch et al. 1994). For initial theory development purposes, it is desirable for the variables of interest to be able to exhibit variance, and the cue-rich environment of Phipps Plaza should prove quite adequate for our initial purposes.

However, it could said that Phipps Plaza is not a "typical mall", rather an elegant, upscale mall, so the following step we would take would be to first replicate the efforts across the street at the Lenox Square shopping mall. Lenox Square sits on the corner opposite of Phipps Plaza, and has recently experienced a renovation to give it a lighter airy feeling, with skylights added along its length.

It has stone, but unpolished, floors and a retail mix more comparable to the average mall, though it does have a small number of more upmarket stores such as Nieman Marcus. The patronage of the mall reflects more of the middle class dress in general, as do the cars in the car park. This replication at Lenox Square would not only serve as a validation step, but we would also expect a somewhat different range of results due to the difference in mall traffic composition. Additionally, the unique caddicorner location of the two malls would hopefully rule out potential location-based biases.


In this paper, we have set out to extend the rich tradition of the ELM to the atmosphere of the retail environment. While we have shown on the basis of conceptual and empirical arguments that, indeed, extending the ELM to the atmosphere construct is a viable proposition, there are still a number of questions left unanswered. For example, which environmental cues are central or peripheral under the ELM, or both? As noted by Swinyard (1993) with respect to the effects of mood, some studies have argued that moods occupy the peripheral end of the central-peripheral continuum (e.g., Batra and Stayman 1990) while others (e.g., Swinyard 1993) have argued differently, with Swinyard (1993) even suggesting that mood may not be a cue at all, rather influencing the situational cues available for processing. This discrepancy suggests a difference in conceptulization for mood (and potentially other cues) that should be further researched to build a common foundation for further retail atmosphere research.

Another question worthy of further investigation is the process by which consumers formulate their evaluations of atmosphere, via either a piecemeal or gestalt approach. In this paper, we have implicitly supported the gestalt approach. However, the ELM by its origins suggests more of a piecemeal approach to processing, though the more recent mood-related research reviewed here (which shows the generalizable affective nature of mood and its gestalt-like influence) might suggest a break from the traditional "information processing machine" approach to consumer beahvior research. Additionally, in the retail store image literature, Keaveney and Hunt (1992) have suggested that it is the ability of category-based processing theory (rather than piecemeal) to explain the gestalt and the associated affect and inferences. Finally, operationalization of the atmosphere construct is also an area ripe for further investigation, as most studies thus far have investigated single dimensions of atmosphere such as music (Milliman 1982) and scent (Mitchell et al. 1995) or two dimensions such as ambient and social cues (e.g., Baker, Grewal and Levy 1992), with more comprehensive studies integrating the consumer behavior and retail streams of research being a next step to pursue. We hope that this paper will stimulate additional interest in this area from both scholarly and managerial perspectives.


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James R. Bardzil, Georgia State University
Philip J. Rosenberger III, Georgia State University


AP - Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 2 | 1996

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