The Effects of Store Environment on Shopping Behaviors: a Critical Review

ABSTRACT - This paper reviews previous studies about the store environmental effects on shopping behaviors with an aim of identifying issues for future research. A conceptual framework which integrates various environmental effects is first constructed. Using the framework, I analyze previous findings about environmental effects and posit several propositions for future investigation. These propositions concern the multiple effects of individual environmental elements/factors, congruence among these elements/factors, congruence between these elements/factors and a store’s merchandise, the moderating role of consumer characteristics, and the lagged effects of store environment.


Shun Yin Lam (2001) ,"The Effects of Store Environment on Shopping Behaviors: a Critical Review", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 28, eds. Mary C. Gilly and Joan Meyers-Levy, Valdosta, GA : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 190-197.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 28, 2001     Pages 190-197


Shun Yin Lam, City University of Hong Kong


This paper reviews previous studies about the store environmental effects on shopping behaviors with an aim of identifying issues for future research. A conceptual framework which integrates various environmental effects is first constructed. Using the framework, I analyze previous findings about environmental effects and posit several propositions for future investigation. These propositions concern the multiple effects of individual environmental elements/factors, congruence among these elements/factors, congruence between these elements/factors and a store’s merchandise, the moderating role of consumer characteristics, and the lagged effects of store environment.

Many retailers acknowledge the importance of store environment as a tool for market differentiation (Levy and Weitz 1995). Store environment, the physical surroundings of a store, is made up of many elements, including music, lighting, layout, directional signage and human elements, and can also be divided into external environment and internal environment (that is, exterior and interior of a store). The effects of store environmental elements could be complex. While many of these elements influence shoppers’ behavior through their effects on shoppers’ emotion, cognition and physiological state, some of these elements could elicit more direct response from shoppers with very little impact on their thinking, feeling or body comfort . Despite numerous studies on store environment, their findings are not enough to provide a detailed understanding of the store environmental effects.

By reviewing previous studies on store environment, this article attempts to identify research issues inadequately explored or with conflicting findings, and to posit several propositions for future investigation. In this review, I include studies that report empirical results or discuss (review) empirical results of other studies. I used the ProQuest Direct database to search for relevant articles, employing concepts such as store environment and store design, and environmental elements such as music, color and scent, as keywords for the search. The search mainly covers mjor marketing journals in the 1989-1999 period as the articles published in this period would reflect the current, more systematic approach to store environment research. The journals selected for review mainly include the top ten marketing journals based on the survey by Hult, Neese and Bashaw (1997). These include Journal of Marketing, Journal of Marketing Research, Journal of Consumer Research, Journal of Retailing, Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, Marketing Science, Harvard Business Review, Journal of Business Research, Journal of Advertising, and Journal of Advertising Research. As some articles selected from these journals also cite other articles from other sources (such as Advances in Consumer Research) or before the 1989-99 period, I also include in the review some of these articles, considering their contribution to store environment research. In addition, I also looked into the retail patronage and service quality literature for relevant articles as physical facility is often cited as a factor affecting patronage and service quality evaluation.

To achieve the review’s objectives, I first construct a framework that integrates the various effects of store environment, and describe the methodology of store environment research, based on a synthesis of numerous studies about store environment. With the help of the framework, I summarize and discuss previous findings about the store environmental effects, identifying "gaps" not well addressed by previous studies. Based on these gaps, I posit a number of propositions for future research.


The framework proposed here takes account of the multiple effects that store environment could have on shopping behaviors and shopping outcomes (see Figure 1). Store environment may be studied at different levels of aggregation. At an elementary level, one may examine individual environmental elements, such as music, noise, color, odor and furnishing. At a more aggregated level, the factor level, one may study these elements as groups (factors) B for example, the ambient, design and social factors defined by Baker (1986). The ambient factor refers to background characteristics, such as temperature, lighting, noise, music and ambient scent; the design factor includes stimuli that exist at the forefront of our awareness, such as architecture, color and materials; and the social factor refers to social conditions represented by the number, type and behavior of customers and employees (Baker 1986; Bitner 1992). At the factor level of analysis, researchers manipulate several elements belonging to the same factor to project a particular store image (Baker, Levy and Grewal 1992; Baker, Grewal and Parasuraman 1994). For instance, Baker et al. (1992) in their experiment defined a high image by background classical music and soft lighting, and a low image by foreground music and bright lighting. At an even more aggregated level of analysis, the global level, researchers use the environments of different stores as manipulations. Their focal interest is on the relationship between emotions induced by a particular environment and behaviors in this environment, rather than how the emotions or behaviors are related to the characteristics of the environment (Donovan and Rossiter 1982; Donovan, Rossiter, Marcoolyn andNesdale 1994).

Store environment could affect shoppers’ behaviors in several ways (see Figure 1). Certain response of human being to environment may be conditioned or hard-wired in the human brain. For example, for a store layout in a racetrack form, shoppers may follow the path defined by the layout with little thought or emotion aroused by the layout (Levy and Weitz 1997). In the environmental psychology literature, Mehrabian and Russell (1974) showed that in a variety of settings (schools, hospitals, homes, etc.), the emotions affected by the environment can be fully described by three states, pleasure, arousal and dominance (PAD). The majority of studies on emotional response to store environment adopt the PAD paradigm, and provide evidence that shoppers’ emotional states can be largely represented by the PAD dimensions (Donovan and Rossiter 1982; Bellizzi and Hite 1992; Babin and Darden 1995). These studies also show that the emotional response leads to a variety of behaviors and outcomes, such as how long the shoppers stay and how much money they spend inside a store. Some other studies use other scales that include some emotion measures (Bellizzi et al. 1983; Crowley 1993). However, many of these measures are similar to the measures found in the PAD dimensions.

Store environment also influences various stages of shoppers’ cognitive process inside a store, including attention, perception, categorization and information processing. For example, it has been shown that perceived waiting time varies with the valence of music and consumers’ categorization of a restaurant as a fast food outlet depends largely on the external appearance of the store (Hui, Chebat and Chebat 1997; Ward, Bitner and Barnes 1992). The influence of store environment on these cognitive stages would subsequently affect evaluations of the store, its merchandise and service, and hence on the shopping behaviors or outcomes (Hui et al. 1997; Ward et al. 1992). Furthermore, store environment may influence these evaluations directly by providing consumers with a peripheral cue or a tangible evidence for assessing the service and merchandise quality of a store, or by transfer of meanings from the environment (Parasuraman, Zeithaml and Berry 1988; Bitner 1992).



While the foregoing discussion is mainly concerned about the immediate effects of store environment, store environment may also have lagged or carryover effects on shopping behaviors. For example, consumers’ impression of store environment can influence their retail patronage decision (store choice or choice of a shopping area for visit) over a period of time. Store environment can provide shoppers with various kinds of shopping value (such as convenience in locating products and recreation), and hence shoppers’ impression of a store’s environment in terms of shopping value that the environment delivers may affect their likelihood of choosing the store for shopping (Darden, Erdem and Darden 1983; Babin, Darden and Griffin 1994).

Bitner (1992) postulates that environmental conditions, such as noise, temperature and air quality, affect people’s physiological state (such as comfort) and hence influence whether people stay in or enjoy a particular environment. Griffitt (1970) demonstrated in a lab setting that attraction and affective feelings towards strangers are negatively related to the effective temperature of the surroundings. Birren (1997) reported that red color increased blood pressure and pulse rate of participants in a lab setting.


Baker et al. (1992) describe several methods of testing the effects of store environment: using a prototype store, asking participants to respond to verbal descriptions of a store, or creating a simulated store environment. Retail chains, such as the Limited, first develop a prototype store and determine customer acceptance before adopting the new design throughout the chains. This approach incurs high cost and may not be feasible for small retailers. An alternative technique is to ask subjects to respond to verbal descriptions of a store. Gardner and Siomkos (1985) found that such descriptions systematically affect consumer perceptions of physical sensations. However, Baker et al. (1992) comment that although this technique is good for laboratory testing, it is limited in external validity because verbal descriptions can be value-laden. Other studies have used slides or videotapes to provide a simulated store environment. Ecological validity of this simulation method is supported by Bosselman and Craik (1987), and Bateson and Hui (1992). Furthermore, the method enables researchers to keep all irrelevant cues constant across subjects. In addition to the foregoing methods, qualitative methodology has also been used by researchers. For example, using the methods of in-depth interview with shoppers and participant observation, McGrath (1989) recorded shoppers’ response to the atmospherics of a gift store.

In terms of setting, store environment research has been done in both laboratories and the field. In a laboratory setting, subjects may be asked to imagine themselves in hypothetical situations and to respond accordingly, or be required to respond as they believe others would in these situations. Gardner and Siomkos (1985) found that assessments of atmosphere effects are not biased by the use of role playing or third party. For studies based on the laboratory setting, researchers can randomly assign subjects to different treatment conditions and balance the number of subjects in different treatment conditions. Most field studies do not have these advantages although they may have higher external validity. The correlation between explanatory variables and the unbalanced design commonly found in field studies reduce the power of hypothesis testing and hence the statistical conclusion validity of the findings. For example, Donovan et al. (1994), failed to find conclusive evidence for the interaction effect between pleasure and arousal on shopping behaviors, and attributed the lack of strong evidence to the unbalanced design of their field study.


Previous findings are summarized in Table 1. Consistent with the integrative framework, I classify the findings into three categories: elementary level, factor level and global level. By reviewing these findings citically, I identify several issues which have not been researched into or have not been studied adequately, and also posit several propositions for future research.

Multiple Effects of Store Environment

As Table 1 shows, previous studies provide evidence at the elementary, factor and global levels that store environment affects cognition (Findings 2, 3, 7, 8, 10, 17, 19 and 27), emotions (Findings 3, 4, 5, 10, 15 and 21) and behaviors (Findings 1, 6, 9, 11 and 16). Furthermore, previous research provides support for the mediating role of cognition and emotions in the relationship between store environment and shopping behaviors (Findings 11, 16, 18, 21 and 27). However, no study has investigated the direct effect of store environment and the mediating role of physiological states in the relationship between store environment and shopping behaviors. Also, no study has empirically examined the consequences of meaning transfer from store environment to a store’s merchandise.

With the exception of Donovan et al. (1994), no study has investigated the multiple effects of store environment simultaneously, and thus our understanding about the unique contribution of each kind of effects is very limited. Some environmental elements may have multiple impacts on shopping behaviors. Lighting, for example, could affect visual acuity of objects in display and arousal experienced by shoppers (Areni and Kim 1993). It may also have a direct effect on consumer movement inside a store as human being may have an innate response towards contrast between light and dark. In contrast, some elements may primarily affect shopping behaviors through a particular route B for example, background color may mainly affect shopping behaviors through the "emotions" route shown in Figure 1. It is worth studying the multiple effects of store environment simultaneously. This investigation can indicate which routes are particularly important for a particular element or factor, and hence enable us to differentiate the elements or factors from each other. Thus, the following propositions are posited.

P1: Individual environmental elements or factors can have multiple effects on shopping behaviors, and these effects vary from one element/factor to another. In particular, the following propositions about specific elements and effects would be worth investigating:

P1a: Through the process of meaning transfer, product display affects the cognitions and emotions of shoppers in a store environment.

P1b: A store layout can affect shoppers’ behavior inside a store without significant impact on their emotions, cognitions or physiological state.

P1c: Lighting condition of a store can affect shoppers’ emotions, attention towards and evaluation of the store’s merchandise, and hence their behaviors inside the store. However, it can also elicit direct response from shoppers in certain circumstances.

Congruence Issues

The congruence between environmental elements/factors may greatly facilitate consumers' categorization of a retail outlet. For example, when both the ambient and design conditions project a prestige image, consumers may readily accept that the outlet is a high-class store. Since categorization and evaluation are often intertwined, the congruence may thus magnify the effect of these factors on product evaluation (Cohen and Basu 1987; Grewal and Baker 1994). This magnifying effect may also manifest itself as a positive interaction effect between the elements/factors on shopping behaviors or the internal response variables - emotions and cognition. However, only two studies investigated this congruence issue (Baker et al. 1992; Grewal and Baker 1994). They reported conflicting results (compare Findings 15 and 19, Table 1). In view of the contradictory findings and the small number of studies conducted, more research would be needed to test the congruence proposition.

P2: If store environmental elements/factors are congruent with each other, their effects on emotions, cognition and shopping behaviors will be magnified. For example, when both the ambient and design factors project a prestige image, their resultant impact on shoppers' evaluation of the store and its merchandise will be greater than the sum of their individual impacts.



The congruence between environmental elements/factors and product category has also raised some concerns. The study by Mitchell, Kahn and Knasko (1994) on ambient scent indicates that the congruence between a store's merchandise and environment could affect shoppers' information search and processing (refer to Finding 7). While Mitchell et al. focus on the odors of a product category, one may extend their research to other characteristics of a category. For instance, one may look into the congruence between the image of a product category and the image of store environment. Some categories, notably apparel, watches and jewelry, may have specific images associated with them, such as "casual", "formal", "lively" and "prestige". Through careful selection and combination of certain design elements (music, lighting, decorations, etc.), a store environment may project an image similar to that of the merchandise. One may study whether this congruence in image substantially affects consumer response, particularly information search and processing inside a store. Likewise, the effects on shopping behaviors due to the congruence in shopping value between a product category and the type of store design could be examined. For example, Floch (1988) found that consumers tend to emphasize the utilitarian value (such as convenience) when they shop for household and some grocery items, but to focus on hedonic value (such as fun) when they shop for books, perfumes and fashion. Thus, a grid layout that works well for a household section may not be suitable for an apparel section in a store. Furthermore, ethnic products (such as sushi) may be matched by environmental stimuli having the same origin (such as Japanese music). The match in the cultural dimension may help shoppers retrieve from their memory information about these products, thus facilitating them to attributes of the store. Thus, response to store environment may make their purchase decisions.

P3: The congruence between store environment and a store's merchandise affects shoppers' information search and processing, and hence their shopping behaviors. For example, shoppers' retrieval of purchase needs or other information about a product category from their memory is facilitated when a store environment matches the image of the category.

Moderating Role of Consumer Characteristics

Previous studies provide evidence that the effects of store environment on emotions, cognition and behaviors are moderated by several consumer variables, including age, environmental dispositions, self-regulation and task-orientation, and several situational variables, such as purchase risk and time pressure (Findings 2, 12, 13, 14 and 23). However, consumer differences due to countries' conditions are yet to be examined. Consumers in different societies may show different preferences regarding environmental elements because these elements may produce different connotations in different cultures. For example, people in different cultures prefer particular colors because of the meaning that they attach to these colors. Thus, the effects of store decor or store music on shopping behaviors may depend on whether the color(s) of the decor matches the prevailing preference in a culture. In addition, consumers in different countries may adapt to different levels of retail density (Eroglu and Harrell 1986). Thus, shoppers' sensitivity to a change in retail density and hence their response to the change may vary across. countries. The moderating role of culture and adaptation level on consumer response to store environment is to be explored.

P4: The effects of store environment on emotions, cognition and shopping behaviors differ across countries owing to differences in culture and adaptation level of environmental stimuli.

The service quality literature suggests that store environment (indicated by the tangible dimension of the SERVQUAL scale) has weak influence on overall service quality assessment and customers' recommendation of a store to a friend (Findings 25 and 26). Nevertheless, the importance of store environment may actually vary with consumers' shopping experience with the store. Compared to regular customers, new customers of a store may rely more heavily on the tangible cues provided by a store environment in evaluating the service and the merchandise of the store as the new customers may have little knowledge or experience about the other attributes of the store. Thus, resonse to store environment may differ by shopping experience.

P5: The effects of store environment on service quality assessment and shopping behaviors vary with consumers' shopping experience with a store.

Immediate and Lagged Effects of Store Environment

Most of previous studies on store environment focus on the immediate effects, particularly on how consumers react to store environment when they are inside a store. The lagged effects of store environment on patronage decision are examined in the retail patronage literature. Overall, this literature shows that store environment is a weak predictor of patronage. However, anecdotal evidence suggests that renovation of a store often leads to subsequent change in shoppers' evaluation of the store and shopping behaviors (e.g., Discount Store News, February 21, 1994; Chain Store Age, October 1995). Thus, the magnitude of the lagged effects needs to be re-examined.

P6: Change of store environment can have substantial lagged effects on shopping behaviors, particularly consumers' patronage behaviors.

The low level of importance of store environment reported by the patronage literature may be related to the methodology used by previous patronage studies. These studies typically ask consumers to evaluate store environment based on their previous shopping experience in the studied stores. As Donovan and Rossiter (1982) caution that emotional responses by consumers are transient and not always readily recallable, the evaluation based on recall of shopping experience may have weak predictive validity. Perhaps other methodology could better unveil the lagged effects of store environment. For example, an intervention analysis based on time-series behavioral data may capture these effects more precisely.


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Shun Yin Lam, City University of Hong Kong


NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 28 | 2001

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