A Socialization Model of Retail Patronage

ABSTRACT - Research on retail patronage has been difficult to assimilate and thus difficult to translate into meaningful retail strategies and directions for future research. This is partly due to lack of a unifying theory or model that can be used to relate the various aspects of patronage behavior that have been studied. This paper presents a model of patronage behavior based on theory and research and summarizes findings, which suggest that most work in the area can be viewed within the context of the proposed model.


Danny N. Bellenger and George P. Moschis (1982) ,"A Socialization Model of Retail Patronage", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 09, eds. Andrew Mitchell, Ann Abor, MI : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 373-378.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 9, 1982      Pages 373-378


Danny N. Bellenger, Texas Tech University

George P. Moschis, Georgia State University


Research on retail patronage has been difficult to assimilate and thus difficult to translate into meaningful retail strategies and directions for future research. This is partly due to lack of a unifying theory or model that can be used to relate the various aspects of patronage behavior that have been studied. This paper presents a model of patronage behavior based on theory and research and summarizes findings, which suggest that most work in the area can be viewed within the context of the proposed model.

Several dozen studies have been reported over the past thirty years that relate to the topic of retail patronage. Research findings in this area are difficult to summarize, however, and generalizations have been slow to emerge due to the fragmented nature of the studies. There is a lack of a unifying theory or model that can be used to relate the various aspects of patronage behavior which have been studied. As Rosenbloom and Schiffman (1981) recently stated,"...this extensive body of theory and research has yet to be synthesized into general or even middle-range theories of consumer shopping behavior in the retail setting" (p. 175). A need exists for a general model or models of retail patronage such as those used in brand choice research. The lack of such a general framework has made the research and resulting knowledge in the field difficult to assimilate and thus difficult to translate into meaningful retail strategies or directions for additional study.

Numerous avenues can be taken in attempting to develop such a motel. Previous approaches to the study of retail patronage behavior have relied either on intrapersonal or interpersonal theories. Intrapersonal theories have emphasized the individual's internal (usually psychological) characteristic(s) as the main explanation of patronage behavior. Such theories include personality, motivation, and attitudinal. Several researchers, for example, have investigated the relationship between consumer personality variables and store loyalty (Lessing and Tollefsoy 1973, Massey et.al. 1968). Similarly, a number of studies have investigated patronage motives related to store selection (Blankertz 1947, Woodside 1973). Finally, attitudinal theories have been used extensively to explain retail patronage behavior using concepts such as store image and consumer attitudes toward stores (Hansen and Bollard 1971, Mackay 1973).

Interpersonal theories, on the other hand, rely heavily on the assumption that the individual's behavior is heavily conditioned by others in his environment; they rely upon sociological rather than psychological perspectives. Under such theories used to explain retail patronage behavior, one could include social class, reference groups and family. For example, researchers have related social class to consumer preference for types of stores (eg., Kelly 1967).

In spite of the merits of these approaches, they all seem to fall short from adequately explaining retail patronage behavior. The existing knowledge in the field suggests that consumers do not behave according to any particular model. Rather, findings of studies using the different approaches suggest that at least some variance in various aspects of retail patronage behavior can be explained by each model. Thus, several theories may better explain consumer behavior, and that the application of a multitheoretical perspective would seem to be more fruitful for future research (Robertson and Feldman 1975).

One approach to the study of consumer behavior that appears to hold particular promise from a theoretical perspective and from the point of view of encompassing existing research is the general conceptual framework of socialization. Socialization refers to "the process by which persons acquire the knowledge, skills, and dispositions that make them more or less able members of their society (Brim and Wheeler 1966). The socialization approach uses multitheoretical perspectives rather than one particular theory and the assumption made is that behavior is acquired and modified over the person's life cycle rather than determined by, for example, situation specific factors. Thus, the proposition made here is that cognitive and behavioral patterns regarding retail patronage are continuously learned and change over the person's life cycle, and that such orientations may be logically viewed from a socialization perspective. This appears to be a reasonable assumption for several reasons: first, recent research indicates that at least some store-related cognitions and behaviors may be acquired through socialization in the person's early life (Olshavsky and Granbois 1979). Since the socialization model can explain changes in human behavior over the person's life cycle (Riley et.al. 1969), it may also account for changes in retail patronage behavior occurring over time that have been reported in several studies (Olshavsky and Granbois 1979). Finally, the socialization model unifies intrapersonal and interpersonal theories into a more cohesive ant, therefore, more powerful model, making the use of such an approach to the study of patronage behavior fairly attractive. Although previous research has approached retail patronage from a socialization perspective (Darden et.al. 1980), little empirical research on retail patronage has been presented to substantiate the approach.

Socialization Perspectives

Research into the acquisition of cognitive and behavioral patterns that constitute consumer behavior is based mainly on two models of human learning, the cognitive development model and the social learning model. Cognitive development theories suggest that learning is related to qualitative changes in cognitive organization that occurs as a person matures, as well as during a person's life cycle (Brim and Wheeler 1966). There is little doubt that developmental and experience variables such as age and life cycle position can influence learning and should be included in a learning-based behavioral model of consumer behavior (McLeod and O'Keefe 1972).

The social learning approach stresses sources of influence"socialization agents"--which transmit cognitive and behavioral patterns to the learner (Brim and Wheeler 1966). In this case consumer socialization takes place in the course of the person's interaction with these agents in various social settings. Socialization agents may include any person, organization or information source that comes into contact with the consumer.

The learner may acquire cognitions and behaviors from the agents through the processes of modeling, reinforcement, and social interaction. Modeling involves imitation of the agent's behavior. Reinforcement involves either reward or punishment mechanisms used by the agent. The social setting within which learning takes place can be defined in terms of social structural variables such as social class, sex and family size. Social structural variables can influence learning through their impact on the agent-learner relationship or they may, in some cases, have a direct relationship.

Theoretical and conceptual notions of socialization can be used to form a learning perspective of consumer behavior. Consumer learning involves not only a cognitive-psychological process of adjustment-to one's environment, but also a social process. Figure 1 provides the outline of a general conceptual model of consumer socialization (Moschis and Churchill 1978). The main elements of the model are classified into antecedent variables, socialization processes, and outcome. Whereas the socialization model has thus far been applied to the consumer behavior of the youth, previous theory and research suggest that the model may be applicable to adult consumer behavior (Kohlberg 1969).


Now let us consider patronage in the context of socialization. The outcomes of interest include two interrelated sets--behavioral outcomes and cognitive (mental) outcomes [The outcomes of consumer socialization are generally defined in terms of consumption-related attitude', values, skills and behaviors. See for example, Moschis and Churchill (1978).]. Behavioral outcomes include the consumer's general store patronage patterns (behaviors such as store loyal vs. nonstore loyal), institutional patronage patterns (behaviors such as frequent use of discount stores vs. department stores), and store choice (the selection of Store A vs. Store B). The behaviors are believed to be the manifestation of various mental outcomes which can be called cognitive orientations are applicableCcognitive orientations toward shopping and cognitive orientations toward stores (both specific and general types of stores). Shopping orientations are mental states that result in various general shopping patterns. A housewife with a strong desire for convenience may exhibit a pattern of shopping at stores close to her home. This pattern can, in turn, affect the institutional shopping patterns and individual store choice decision. Cognitive orientations toward stores (store images) have a more direct impact on institutional shopping patterns and store choice. These store-related mental states include the relative importance attached by shoppers to various store features and the perceptions of these specific stores in terms of these features. The socialization perspective assumes that both the cognitive orientations toward shopping and toward stores are learned by the consumer.



As noted earlier, the socialization process incorporates both the socialization agent and the type of learning actually operating. Various communication and interaction variables can act as socialization agents in learning patronage oriented mental states. Advertising media, such as radio and television, store personnel, family, friend and other sources of information and influence that the consumers comes in contact with, can act as socialization agents in this regard.

To complete the model, various antecedent variables must be considered. Social structural variables may relate directly to the learned outcomes or they may indirectly affect outcomes by impacting on the socialization processes. Likewise, developmental/experience variables can have both direct and indirect effects. As a shopper gains more experience in a given market, store choice may become habitual, thus bypassing communication/interaction in subsequent store choice decisions.

The resulting socialization model of retail patronage is shown in Figure 2. Such a framework can be used to organize existing research on retail patronage in a systematic fashion. If this approach can successfully encompass current work, then it should have value in providing direction for future research aimed at extending this area of study.


Let us turn now to the task of linking current retail patronage research to the socialization model. Studies can be categorized in the context of the model according to the variable sets with which they deal and/or according to the linkages explored between variable sets.

For purposes of discussion, the following categories will be used:

* Effects of Social/Structural Variables

* Effects of Developmental/Experience Variables

* Effects of Socialization Processes on Outcomes

* Effects of Mental outcomes on Behavioral Outcomes

Some caveats are in order before turning to a review of research related to socialization perspective of retail patronage. The studies cited to support various linkages in the model are not uniform in nature. The quality of the measurement, operationalization of variables, types of samples and methods of analysis vary. Thus, existing research simply fits the framework; it does not verify the specifics of the model. The exact variables and their relative significance must be left for further study. It should be noted that correlations found in various studies do not prove causation in any sense. Also, because socialization involves continual adjustment between the individual and the situation changes in the environment, such as institutional changes, are likely to result in changes in the individual's orientations toward his environment. In such cases, the individual is expected to relearn specific patterns of .behavior, and the process is commonly known as "re-socialization," with antecedent variables and socialization processes playing again an important role (Riesman and Roseborough 1955). Thus, the direction of influences should also be explored to complete the specifics of the model. In addition, the selected studies are each of a limited scope. Thus, a complete picture with various possible interactions has never been explored.

Effects of Social/Structural Variables

Social structural variables may have direct effects on cognitive and behavioral outcomes that comprise store patronage. A number of studies have found certain socioeconomic variables that fall in this category to be associated with store selection. Tate (1961) reports an inverse relationship between education and loyalty toward grocery stores. Enis and Paul (1970) also found education to be inversely related to customer loyalty to grocery stores. Similarly, in a study of female shoppers, Bellenger, Hirschman and Robertson (1976-1977) found education to be strongly related to the actual store selected to purchase specific categories of merchandise. In another study of the image of the store-loyal customer, education was again inversely related to store loyalty (Reynolds et.al. 1974).



Occupation and income also appear to be strong predictors of store choice. They have been associated mainly with grocery store patronage (Enis and Paul 1970, Tate 1971). Family income was found to be negatively related to store loyalty (Reynolds et.al. 1974). Income was also found to be related to cognitive orientations toward shopping (Cort and Dominguez 1977-1978). Working status per se is also likely to affect a person's shopping behavior (McCall 1977).

Myers and Mount (1973) suggest that income is superior to social class in the consumer store choice for a wide variety of home furnishings, appliances, and ready-to-wear product categories as well as some services. Hisrich and Peters (1972) also found income superior to social class in explaining store choice behavior. Thus, the relative importance of income and social class as a predictor variable seems to vary depending upon the type of store patronage under investigation.

Sex may also be an important antecedent of store patronage, but its effects have not been fully examined. There is some evidence indicating that loyalty to banks may be higher among males than females (Fry and Shaw 1974).

Ethnicity is another factor which is likely to affect cognitive and behavioral orientations toward stores. One study found significant differences among Mexican-Americans and Anglo-Americans with respect to selected shopping orientations (Boone et.al. 1974). Similarly, Feldman and Sear (1968) found racial differences in shopping behavior of Chicago shoppers.

Similar social structural variables have been found to be related to vendor or institutional-type loyalty. For example, consumers who are loyal to department stores have the following characteristics: they are white-collar workers, have higher incomes, and high education (Rich and Jain 1968). Similarly, shoppers who tend to patronize discount stores are normally blue-collar workers, younger with children living at home (Cox 1971).

Finally, social structural variables are likely to affect the respondent's general store shopping patterns. For example, the extent to which a person is loyal to stores in general is affected by his educational background, level of income, occupation, and number of children living at home (Peters and Fort 1972). In addition to their relationship to behavioral outcomes, social/structural variables have been shown to relate to cognitive outcomes such as shopping orientation. Bellenger, Robertson, and Greenberg (1977) found that various demographic variables such as income and occupation related to women's shopping orientation with respect to shopping centers.

Social structural variables are also likely to have an indirect effect on outcomes by impacting on socialization processes. For example, socioeconomic characteristics are likely to affect the person's frequency of interaction with the various socialization agents which may in turn have differential impact upon the patronage behavior. Studies of media use behavior, for example, found that television is a medium consumed heavily by individuals who tend to be of lower socioeconomic status, have lower education and tend to be of minority background (Schramm et.al. 1961, Moschis 1981). On the other hand, newspaper reading is most likely to take place among upper class and more educated consumers (Schramm et.al. 1961, Moschis 1981). Similarly, a study of female shoppers found significant differences among working and nonworking women with respect to their frequency of interaction with various socialization agents, including personal and commercial sources of information (McCall 1977). A host of other antecedent variables are likely to be associated with different socialization processes. For example, marital status, education, urbanity (i.e., extent of shopping opportunities), income and ethnicity are likely to be related to different preferences for mass media and other sources of consumer information (Allen and Clark 1980, Engel et.al. 1978, Urban 1980).

Effects of Developmental/Experience Variables

Developmental variables are likely to have some effect on selected aspects of consumer patronage behavior directly as well as indirectly. First, with respect to the direct effect of such variables, previous research suggests that experience is an important factor in store selection (Steilen 1972). Another study by Bellenger, Hirschman, and Robertson (1976-1977) found age to have a strong relationship with store selection process of new residents tended to be experimental may affect institutional store patronage.

Age and life cycle have also been found to have some effect on cognitive orientations toward shopping (Lazer and Wyckham 1969). Finally, age has been shown to be positively related to store loyalty suggesting that maturation or experience may affect the development of loyalty to stores (Reynolds et.al. 1974).

Developmental variables are also likely to influence store patronage behavior indirectly by affecting the person's frequency of interaction with various sources of consumer information. For example, as people age, they tend to interact more frequently with the mass media and less frequently with peers (Bernhardt and Kinnear 1976, Phyllips and Sternthal 1977). These agents are in turn likely to have differential impact upon the person's cognitions and behaviors regarding store patronage.

Effects of Socialization Processes on Outcomes

The findings of several studies support the relationship between socialization processes and patronage outcomes, although in many cases--this is not the major- focus of the work. One study that does center on information use and shopping orientations was reported by Moschis (1976). This study related various shopping orientations (store-loyal shopper, special-shopper, problem-solving shopper, and the like) to selected communication variables (such as sources of information used for new products and source credibility) for cosmetics shoppers. The findings showed that shoppers possessing different orientations exhibit different communication behaviors; they have different information needs and preferences for sources of communication. A rather clear link was established between communication patterns and cognitive orientations toward shopping.

An earlier study by Kelly (1967) also examined the role of information in the patronage decision. The manner in which both formal and informal information flows among prospective customer groups was found to have a profound influence on the patronage decision process associated with new retail outlets. This exploratory research suggested that there is a hierarchy of influence in the determination of patronage decision outcomes: in-store experiences was found to be most influential, followed by personal influences, while newspaper advertising had less impact than might have been supposed. Another study reported by Woodside (1973) investigated the linkage of store patronage and promotion. Again, direct experience and personal contacts were found to have the greatest impact.

Hisrich, Bornoff and Kernan (1972) have suggested that the relationship between information seeking and store selection is moderated by perceived risk. As the perceived risk increases, the extend of information seeking about alternative stores increases up to a point. Their study examined the interrelationship of antecedents (perceived risk and self-confidence), communication variables (information seeking) and behavioral outcomes (store selection).

Bearden, Teel and Durand (1978 reported a study of the differences in demographics, psychographics and media usage of patrons versus nonpatrons of four different types of retail institutions (convenience stores, department stores, discount stores and fast food outlets). Several significant differences were found in the media usage patterns between patrons and nonpatrons of the four different types of retail institutions.

Another study by Darden, Lennon and Darden (1978) showed that outshoppers have different media behavior than inshoppers. Different types of outshoppers also used significantly different information sources. This points to a relationship between general shopping patterns and communication/interacting variables.

A number of other studies have found that advertising and other sources of consumer information can have a powerful impact on consumers' perceptions of a store as well as on their patronage behavior (Enzel et.al. 1978). In general, research supports a linkage between socialization processes as measured by communication/interaction variables and retail patronage outcomes. The linkage with both mental and behavioral outcomes has been explored and significant relationships found in both cases. It should be noted that many variables in both sets have not yet been explored but findings to date tend to support this linkage in the socialization model.

Effects of Mental Outcomes on Behavioral Outcomes

As with other linkages, several studies can be cited that support the relationship between various mental patronage outcomes and behavioral patronage outcomes. To illustrate this, let us first consider the linkage of cognitive orientation toward shopping and general shopping patterns.

A study of supermarket shoppers by Darden and Ashton (1974-1975) found a relationship between supermarket attribute preference and consumer shopping orientations. For example, a significant percentage of those shoppers who prefer supermarkets offering stamps have a high score on the "special shopper" shopping orientation scale. Thus, a relationship is suggested between the general shopping pattern of selecting supermarkets that offer stamps and a favorable cognitive orientation toward shopping for specials. Looking at another type of general shopping pattern, Goldman (1977-1978) examined the relationship be tween store loyalty and the consumer's shopping style (cognitive orientation toward shopping). In general, it was concluded that store loyalty "appears to be part of a low search, a low knowledge, and a low utilization level shopping style."

Research has also shown a relationship between a shopper's cognitive orientation toward stores and the behavioral outcome of institutional shopping patterns. A study by Schiffman, Dash and Dillon (1977) showed a relationship between the relative importance of various store features and shopping at different types of retail institutions for the same merchandise. Their findings indicated "that for audio equipment specialty store patrons, the expertise of the retail salesmen and the assortment of brands and models were critically important; the department store customer, on the other hand, was primarily concerned with convenience of store location and guarantee/warranty policies.

Finally, numerous studies have established linkages between the cognitive orientation toward stores (store images) and specific store choice. Doyle and Fenwick (1974-1975), for example, examined how store image affects the selection of a grocery store. The assumption of relationships between attitudes and subsequent behaviors is basic to the general area of attitude research.


While examples of specific hypotheses between each possible pair of variables would seem to be beyond the scope of this paper, some examples of general expectations and predictions of the model would seem to be useful in illustrating its value and suggesting directions for future research. First, with respect to the effects of social structural variables, social class, for example, may be a useful predictor of retail store patronage. Previous socialization theory and research suggest that minority groups in general tend to interact more frequently with television (Schramm et.al. 1961). Frequency of interaction with television (thus, exposure to advertisements) may in turn lead to the development of cognitive and affective (shopping) orientations toward brands and stores as posited by mere exposure theory (Zajonc 1958).

With respect to developmental variables, previous theory and research suggest changes in cognitive and behavioral orientations as people approach middle and later years, accumulating experience and becoming more committed to norms 9 people and ways of doing things (Phillips and Sternthal 1977). The positive relationship found between store loyalty and age may be a reflection of such changes. In addition, age is likely to affect the individual's frequency of interaction with various socialization agents, which in turn are likely to impact on the development and changes in the consumer's cognitive and behavioral orientations toward stores. For example, television viewing is heaviest during early and later years, while interactions with significant others are most frequent during the person's early adult years. Interactions with these agents, in turn, are likely to impact upon the person's patronage behavior. For example, research shows that store loyal consumers show moderate to heavy socialization with their neighbors (Reisman and Roseborough 1955).

Finally, the effects of communication and interaction variables on cognitive and behavioral orientations are suggested by communication theory and research. For example, diffusion models suggest that interactions with the mass media and significant others are likely to have an impact upon both cognitive and behavioral outcomes. Cognitive orientations would be expected to lead to behavioral responses, as suggested by hierarchy of effects models of consumer behavior.


The paper has presented a model of patronage behavior based upon the notion that shopping behavior is a learning phenomenon which is developed and reinforced over time. Research findings were presented to support the linkages of the motel. It should be noted that most of the work in retail patronage can be viewed in the framework provided by such a model. This supports the value of socialization as a general framework and a unifying theory for studying and understanding this specific area of consumer behavior.

The socialization model provides numerous directions for further research on retail patronage:

* The key variables that related to socialization in a patronage context must be clearly established.

* The best way in which to measure key variables need to be studied so that some uniformity can be obtained in patronage research.

* Linkages between variables must be established.

* The importance of variables at different stages of the consumer's life cycle should be explored.

* The importance of different variables to the learning of patronage behaviors for different segments of the population (teens and new residents. for example) should be investigated.

The outcome of this avenue of study can be very useful to retail managers. An improved ability to segment markets along life cycle lines could be possible. A better understanding of how new residents and teens formulate patronage behaviors should lead to improved strategies to attract these groups. The decisions related to market segmentation should be enhanced in generally a more orderly study of the learning of retail patronage by various subgroups within the population. The retailer's ability to select media that will most effectively communicate with various target markets should also be enhanced as more attention is given to the socialization process. The socialization model of retail patronage offers a framework that incorporates outcomes, antecedents and the socialization processes which link the two. As the specifics of such a model are developed, the ways in which retailers can employ strategies to influence outcomes for specific groups (based on antecedent variables) by impacting on the socialization processes should become clear. The potential for a very useful link between an understanding of consumer learning and retail strategy formulation is offered by the socialization model.


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Danny N. Bellenger, Texas Tech University
George P. Moschis, Georgia State University


NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 09 | 1982

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