'Minding the Mall': Do We Remember What We See?

ABSTRACT - In this paper we examine those factors that, from a consumer’s perspective, contribute to the success of shopping malls. In Europe the retail sector is currently characterized by merciless competition. The hypotheses are tested in three related empirical studies. In the first study, we investigate those determinants, derived from environmental psychology, that are crucial in forming positive perceptions of such malls at the point of sale. In the second study, we test whether such positive perceptions evoke positive memory images. The authors assume that memory images have a role to play in the evaluation of shopping centers when the consumer is at home or in the office (that is, when she/he is physically distant from the shops) and has to decide which mall she or he wishes to visit. Finally, in the third study we investigate whether, apart from memory images, word-of-mouth can also influence this decision.


Andrea Groeppel-Klein and Claas Christian Germelmann (2003) ,"'Minding the Mall': Do We Remember What We See?", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 30, eds. Punam Anand Keller and Dennis W. Rook, Valdosta, GA : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 56-67.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 30, 2003     Pages 56-67


Andrea Groeppel-Klein, European University Viadrina

Claas Christian Germelmann, European University Viadrina


In this paper we examine those factors that, from a consumer’s perspective, contribute to the success of shopping malls. In Europe the retail sector is currently characterized by merciless competition. The hypotheses are tested in three related empirical studies. In the first study, we investigate those determinants, derived from environmental psychology, that are crucial in forming positive perceptions of such malls at the point of sale. In the second study, we test whether such positive perceptions evoke positive memory images. The authors assume that memory images have a role to play in the evaluation of shopping centers when the consumer is at home or in the office (that is, when she/he is physically distant from the shops) and has to decide which mall she or he wishes to visit. Finally, in the third study we investigate whether, apart from memory images, word-of-mouth can also influence this decision.


The current strategic situation in retailing is characterized by tough competition. In the US and in Europe the number of shopping centers is rising (BBE 2000; Mitropoulos and Siegel 1999, p.5): In 2001, there were 704 more shopping centers operating in the US than in 2000 (ISCS 2002). In Europe, close to 6.8 million square meters (ca. 73,2 square foot) of retail space in shopping centers were planned for the years 2000 and 2001 (ICSC 2000). Thus today, even in smaller cities customers are sometimes spoilt for choice with four or five different malls to choose from. Consequently, the crucial question is: how can a shopping mall survive the competition, both in winning and retaining customers?

To answer these questions two major approaches are discussed: the approach based on gravitational models, and the approach focusing on consumers’ perceptions of stores, shopping centers, and shopping areas. Probabilistic gravitational models (Huff 1964) try to predict and explain retail patronage as a function of store size and distance from the consumer. Square footage of selling space is often used as a surrogate measure for the attraction of the shopping area (Huff and Batsell 1975, p.165). Approaches based on gravitational models assume that all other elements of the marketing mix remain constant. Thus, probabilistic gravitational models turn out to be problematic as soon as consumers perceive differences between the outlets (Cox and Cooke 1970, p.17; Houston and Nevin 1981, p.677). This is where the second line of inquiry focusing on the perception of retail entities begins (Bell 1999; Gentry and Burns 1977-78; Turley and Milliman 2000; Wakefield and Baker 1998). We follow this second research stream for two reasons: First, empirical studies have shown that the distance between two competing malls is not critical for the success of a mall (Eppli and Shilling 1996, p.466). The second reason concerns the geographical location of the malls we studied: although there are promising attempts to integrate mall perception and spatial variables in explaining patronage behavior (Houston and Nevin 1981; Howell and Rogers 1981; Lusch 1981; Meoli, Feinberg and Westgate 1991), it has to be admitted that the city malls in our study are very close to other similarly large malls. Furthermore, we can reasonably exclude the attraction measure "tenant variety" (Meoli, Feinberg and Westgate 1991, p.441f.) since many malls have become interchangeable due to the ubiquity of almost homogeneous national or global retail chain stores (Meoli et al. 1991, p.441). Therefore, it seems both possible and sensible to focus on perceptions of a mall and its design rather than on the spatial dimensions, "size of the mall", "size, type, and number of the stores", and "proximity to the consumer". Thus, we concentrate on studying consumers’ experiences of the mall as physical space and its mental representation. Adding to the present stream of research in this area, we want to provide insights not only into perceptions of the mall, but also into the importance of the mental representation of these perceptions for consumers when they are distant or away from the mall and deciding whether or not to patronize it.

Therefore, in the context of this paper, we are interested in the factors responsible for the evaluation of a mall both at the point-of-sale (POS) and away from the POS. The latter is of great importance, since consumers often decide which shopping mall they will visit while at home. Given the findings on the importance of mall perception for mall patronage at the POS (Groeppel-Klein 2001), it can reasonably be assumed that memory images of shopping malls already visited, are equally fundamental to this decision. It further seems conceivable that consumers acquire additional information through word-of-mouth (WOM) which amplifies memory images. To sum up, three questions can be asked:

1. What are the crucial factors for establishing a positive perceptual image of a mall?

2. What factors are responsible for a positive memory image of a mall?

3. Apart from the impact of memory images, are mall evaluation and planned behavior away from the POS influenced by WOM?


Valuable hypotheses explaining the formation of perceptual images can be derived from environmental psychology. The cognitive approach in environmental psychology analyses primarily "geography of mind" and tries to determine how individuals perceive and remember environments. The findings of brain research, perception theory, and gestalt theory can help explain the representation in memory of spatial information, the so called 'mental maps’ (Ittelson 1977; Russell and Ward 1982; Golledge 1987). Several empirical studies of store environments (e.g. Sommer and Aitkens 1982; Grossbart and Rammohan 1981; Bost 1987) show evidence of a significant correlation between the existence of store maps (knowledge of location, assortments, service malls, escalators, etc.) and sentiments regarding shopping convenience. From these findings, the conclusion can be drawn that retailers should study the imparting of verbal and non-verbal information to consumers, in order to improve their internal maps. Such 'landmarks’ can be provided by 'merchandising themes’ (products that are usually used together are presented side by side in the store and portrayed as being "taken from real life"; Groeppel-Klein 1998b, p.492), visually striking elements, and clearly separated aisles and product display zones (Hackett, Foxall and Van Raij 1993, p.389). Using structural semiotics as a tool for retail analysis, Floch (1988) also stresses the importance of easy wayfinding in meeting the expectations of consumers. At an aggregate level, the perceived degree of order and structure in the mall environment allowing easy orientation and easy wayfinding can be measured using the environmental dimension 'easy orientation’. We can assume that this subjectively perceived easy orientation plays a major role in facilitating both mental convenience and cognitive relief for consumers not only in individual stores, but particularly in larger shopping malls.

Empirical studies (e.g. Donovan and Rossiter 1982; Donovan et al. 1994; Flicker and Speer 1990; Groeppel 1991; Groeppel-Klein 1997, 1998a, 1998b; Tai and Fung 1997; van Kenhove and Desrumaux 1997) based on the emotional behavioral model of environmental psychology (Mehrabian 1987) lead to the conclusion that, in addition to easy orientation, the information rate being subjectively perceived in the shopping mall, is responsible for a positive perceptual image. The level of the information rate depends on the novelty (unexpected, surprising, unfamiliar in an environment) and the complexity (number of elements, motions or changes in the setting) of an environment. The more varied, novel, surprising, and animating the environment, the higher the information rate. Environmental stimuli generate primary emotional reactions (pleasure, arousal, and dominance) which, in turn serve as intervening variables that determine the reaction ("approach" vs. "avoidance") to the environment. Approach behavior at the POS for instance means that consumers enjoy staying at the POS and extend the duration of their stay, recommend the store to other consumers, spend more, rate their intention to come back frequently with a higher probability and have a positive overall impression of the POS (Groeppel-Klein 1998a). To sum up, approach behavior can be considered as crucial for the success of stores.

Different empirical studies focusing on the POS supported the notion that the aggregated 'easy orientation’ and 'information rate’ dimensions are particularly suited to capturing the store and mall environment in an integrated way (Groeppel-Klein 2001; Groeppel-Klein and Baun 2002). In our study, we do not investigate the effect of single visual merchandising stimuli, but analyze the impact of the mall atmosphere on consumer behavior at an aggregated level. In this way, we take into account the fact that stimuli in the mall environment do not impact independently, but interact with one another (Turley and Milliman 2000, .194). Furthermore, Bloch, Ridgway, and Dawson (1994, p.37) note that testing the effects of single environmental cues is somewhat problematic. As a result they propose measuring the overall atmosphere of the mall. This perspective favors the use of aggregated measures of 'information rate’ and 'easy orientation’.

The construct 'information rate’ is especially likely to be a key success factor for an agglomeration of shops under the same roof such as a shopping mall. A shopping mall "lives" off its variety and vividness; shopping and leisure motives often blend into one (Bloch et al. 1994, p.26). A consumer will enjoy staying at a shopping mall and develop a positive overall impression of it, only on condition that she/he can experience a high information rate. However, the above-mentioned easy orientation can contribute to the cognitive relief of the consumer, making him/her receptive to an exciting store design. High information rate on the one hand, and easy orientation on the other, can ensure that the consumer experiences an interplay of arousal and (cognitive) relaxation which can be assumed to influence approach behavior towards the shopping mall positively. Environmental psychology provides a valuable framework for generating hypotheses regarding shopping mall layout and atmosphere. The following hypothesis can be proposed:

H1: The more positively consumers perceive the information rate of a mall and the easier the orientation in the mall, the more the approach behavior will increase.


The first hypothesis links the atmosphere of a mall and the approach behavior at the POS (i.e. inside the shopping mall). However, the decision as to which shopping mall to visit on the next shopping trip, is often made at home. Away from the point-of-sale, consumers cannot perceive environmental cues directly. We therefore propose that a memory image acting as a mental representation of the shopping mall, operates as a link between consumers’ perception of the mall environment and their approach behavior towards the mall when she/he is away from the mall. Again, we expect the two constructs 'information rate’ and 'easy orientation’ to play a major role in the formation of mental representation of malls.

Theories of mental imagery are concerned primarily with the representation and access to information from visual mental images (Kosslyn 1995; Leven 1995; Pinker and Kosslyn 1983). Visual mental images can be divided into perceptual images and memory images. Perceptual images arise when an object, or its reproduction, is actually present. In contrast, memory images are those of the absent object and therefore stored in the absence of the object itself, as remembered perceptual images (Behrmann, Moscovitch, and Winocur 1999; Kroeber-Riel 1996; Richardson 1983). Supporters of the "Percept-Analogy Theory" (e.g. Paivio 1971, 1991) have assumed for more than thirty years that memory images are stored in a non-verbal mode as complete units. Findings from neurophysiology (e.g. Buckner 2000; Grady et al. 1998; Kelley et al. 1998a, 1998b; Wheeler, Petersen, and Buckner 2000) prove that memory images are indeed internal representations which store visual information that is spatially organized and provide an integrated visual experience when retrieved. For instance, in experiments using Positron Emission Tomography (PET) [Positron Emission Tomography (PET) belongs to the neuroimaging methods allowing an insight into the brains of living subjects (Posner and Raichle 1996, p.18ff.). Similar to the x-ray tomography PET produces an "electronic image" of the brain. To receive the tomographies a radioactive market substance (e.g. isotopes of carbon or nitrogen) is injected into the body of the subject. The positrons radiating from the substance emit gamma-rays that can be measured outside the body. From these rays, computer-generated images of the brain, the so-called tomographies, can be produced. From the blood flow which can be gauged from the tomographies, the activity in specific brain regions can be measured.] Kosslyn (1995, p.290f.) gained two important insights into the nature of memory images: when memory images are retrieved, neural links are activated between the brain regions where the visual memory is located, and the topographically organized brain regions where the spatial structure of the perceptual image supplied by the retina are processed. In this manner, memory images stored in the subject’s mind, make visual and spatial information available and open to the subject’s conscious experience. This experience is often referred to as the "quasi-sensory" quality of memory images. Metaphorically speaking, memory images can be regarded as "pictures in the head" (Kosslyn 1995, p.291). These internal representations have quasi-sensory properties and can "depict" three-dimensional objects (Cave et al. 1998, p.15). Furthermore, it can be shown that memory images have several properties (dimensions) which can guide behavior (Ellen and Bone 1991, p.807; Kroeber-Riel 1986, p.83). These dimensions can be used for measuring the behavioral effect of memory images (Kroeber-Riel 1996, p.232f.). Two dimensions that can be regarded as of major importance for the mental representation of shopping malls are the 'vividness’ and 'order’ of the memory image.

'Vividness’ is widely considered to be the main dimension of memory images and plays a major role in attitude formation and behavioral intentions (Babin and Burns 1998; Ellen and Bone 1991; MacInnis and Price 1987; Ruge 1988, p.105). Vividness refers to how colorful, detailed, and varied the memory image appears to the "mind’s eye". Since the quantity of stimulation coming from a store or shopping mall environment can be expressed by the information rate, we can reasonably propose a direct link between the information rate provided by the shopping mall and the vividness of the shopping mall’s memory image. In short, we propose the perceived information rate as an antecedent of a vivid memory image of the mall. Therefore, we consider vividness as the dimension corresponding to the information rate of the shopping mall environment.

'Order’ can be considered another important dimension of memory images. 'Order’ means that consumers have a distinct and consistent internal picture of a certain object. For the present study, we define 'order’ as the degree to which a mental representation of a shopping mall is structured. Findings from gestalt psychological imagery research support the high relevance of spatial organization of objects for memory and interpretation performance: only a meaningful spatial structure of an object makes it possible for the observer of the object to get his bearings, to memorize, and to evaluate the object (Arnheim 1981, p.80; Haber 1981, p.6; Kroeber-Riel 1996, p.79). Neuropsychological research indicates that the spatial structure of an object is stored in and can be retrieved from memory (Kosslyn 1996, p.227f., 256f.). Thus, we propose 'order’ as the memory dimension mirroring the perceived easy orientation of a shopping mall. However, away from the POS, it may be asked whether the 'order’ of the memory image displays the same important influence on the approach behavior as easy orientation does at the POS. At the POS itself the comfort experienced when shopping depends heavily on how easily consumers can find their way through the mall. However, away from the POS, "finding one’s way through the memory image" plays only a secondary role for consumers. Further research will show if the 'order’ dimension of the memory image away from the POS, has a similarly strong influence on approach behavior as did easy orientation in the shopping mall itself.

The link between mental imagery (Kroeber-Riel 1986, 1996; MacInnis and Price 1987; Paivio 1971; Pinker 1998) and evaluative processes, has been researched primarily in the context of advertising research (see Babin and Burns 1997, for an overview). Babin and Burns show that mental imagery acts as a mediator between imagery-eliciting stimuli in advertisements and attitudes towards the advertised product as well as towards the advertisement. Their model indicates that the 'vividness’ dimension in particular exerts a significant positive influence on attitude towards the ad, thus stressing the importance of memory images for attitude formation. This again points to the particular importance of memory imagesBad especially the 'vividness’ dimensionBfor approach behavior. Kroeber-Riel points out that memory images are perceived "as reality" (Kroeber-Riel 1996, p.36). While the effect of memory images is weaker than that of perceptual images, they canBeven though to a somewhat lesser extentBproduce the same effects as perceptual images. He therefore concludes that the effect of memory images is based on their functional equivalence to perceptual images, which means that internal pictures can also influence consumer behavior, because of their "realistic appearance" (Kroeber-Riel 1986, p.81). This notion of functional equivalence between perceptual and memory images, presented by Kroeber-Riel, is supported by recent findings by Damasio (2000) and Wheeler et al. (2001). The findings suggest that during the perception of an object, as well as during the retrieval of its memory image, the same neural processes in the brain are involved (Damasio 2000, p.146). This is particularly true for very vivid memory images, as Wheeler et al. (2001, p.11129) record: "vivid retrieval of sensory-specific information can involve the reactivation of sensory processing regions". If we transfer this line of reasoning to shopping malls, it can be asked whether a positively toned memory image of a mall, can influence shopping mall-assessment outside the shopping mall in the same way as the perceived mall environment does when consumers are in the mall. In other words: do the specific dimensions 'vividness’ and 'order’ of the memory image, influence the approach behavior towards a mall as significantly as the 'information rate’ and 'easy orientation’ dimensions of the perceptual image (hypothesis 1) do? Thus, we can hypothesize:

H2: The easier the orientation, and the higher the information rate of a shopping mall, the more positive the order and vividness of the memory image of that mall, in such a way that order and vividness influence approach behavior towards the shopping mall when physically distant from it.

In order to ensure that the above-mentioned hypothesis does not turn out to be a tautology, it is necessary to ensure that the constructs of 'memory image’ and the evaluative component of the approach behavior, are separated clearly from each other. The key to this differentiation is again to be found in results from neurophysiology. Neurophysiological studies have shown that an absent object (in our case the mall when the consumer is at home) has first to be generated as a mental representation, before secondary emotional reactions can occur as a basis for more complex evaluative processes (Damasio 2000, p.18f.). Memory images in their own right act as "neutral knowledge stores". These non-evaluative representations can play an important role in the process of object evaluation. In this process memory images are first of all retrieved from memory and then subsequently evaluated. Findings from neurophysiology show that these consciously-perceived memory images do indeed guide emotional reactions (Damasio 2000, p.187ff.).


Finally, in a third step, we investigate if, apart from memory images, approach behavior is also influenced by word-of-mouth. Away from the POS, consumers can share their experiences or gossip about a shopping mall. This kind of oral communication, which is perceived as non-commercial by the receiver, is defined as word-of-mouth (WOM) (Gelb and Johnson 1995, p.54; Richins 1984, p.697). Several studies have shown that WOM influences product or service judgments and choice (Herr, Kardes, and Kim 1991, p.457; Putrevu and Lord 1999) and the attitude towards brands (Sundaram and Webster 1999). Herr et al. (1991) found that the power of the WOM effect depends on the presence of prior impressions consumers have formed o the object. Herr et al. (1991, p.457) show that consumers’ own impressions of the relevant object to be evaluated, play a distinctive role in evaluation, since their own impressions are rated more trustworthy than those of other consumers which may be seen as somewhat ambiguous (Herr et al. 1991, p.460; Hoch and Deighton 1989, p.8f.). Since memory images cannot be studied independently from other information about the object stored in the consumers’ minds (Kroeber-Riel 1986, p.85), we need to consider whether the 'vividness’ and 'order’ dimensions of memory images and WOM have an independent effect in the same direction on consumers’ approach behavior. Given the higher salience of the consumer’s own impressions, we can presume that the effect of the two dimensions of memory images is likely to be higher than the effect of WOM. Thus, the following hypothesis can be derived:

H3: Approach behavior towards a shopping mall depends not only on the perceptions at the POS and the resulting memory image with its accompanying 'vividness’ and 'order’ dimensions, but also on WOM received after forming this memory image.




To test our hypotheses, we conducted three empirical studies in three different malls in Germany. While "Mall A" is one of the most high-class malls in Germany, "Mall B" and "Mall C" represent a less prestigious type of city mall. Standardized interviews were conducted in malls in study 1 and in consumers’ apartments in studies 2 and 3. In all three studies, we ensured that respondents of all ages, educational and income levels were interviewed. To avoid respondents terminating the interview process, interviews in the malls and apartments were brief; no interviews were longer than ten minutes. For the same reason the scales were restricted to two to three items per construct. Moreover, the use of such parsimonious scales guarantees the efficiency demanded of "real life" retail studies (Reardon, Miller and Coe 1995, p.87). In all three studies scale reliability was satisfactory. All items were measured on anchored five-point rating scales.

Study I

To test our first hypothesis empirically, we conducted standardized interviews in a 'high-quality’ mall ("Mall A") in the center of Berlin in June 1999 (n=103). To operationalize the 'information rate’ construct, we used the items 'varied’ and 'something new can always be discovered’. 'Easy orientation’ was measured by the items 'easy orientation’ and 'clearly laid out’. A factor analysis (table 1) performed on the four items of the scale revealed that the statements loaded clearly on the two proposed dimensions with a factor variance of 83.5% (factor loadings between 0.758 and 0.936).

The computed factor scores (method: regression) were used as independent variables for regression analyses. The results show that both constructs have a significant influence on the dependent approach variable 'intention to recommend the store’ (table 2). Summary table 3 shows that 'information rate’ and 'easy orientation’ also have a significant impact on 'overall impression of the mall’, and 'willingness to spend’. We measured the latter intention with a 'coupon question’. The subjects were asked to imagine they received a coupon worth 10,000 DM (ca. 5,113 EUR) which they could cash in anywhere in Berlin. Subjects named the share of the coupon value they would be willing to spend in "Mall A". Multicollinearity can be ruled out for all analyses.

In addition, we correlated the constructs describing the mall environment with the time spent in the mall. We determined a highly significant Pearson correlation between information rate and time spent in "Mall A" (in minutes), r(76)=0.305, p=.007. No significant correlation could be found between the perceived easy orientation and time spent in the shopping mall. This comes as no surprise, since easy orientation helps consumers find their way around the shopping mall more effortlessly thus possibly reducing the time spent searching. Summing up our results, we did establish support for hypothesis 1. Thus, from the consumers’ point of view (when perceiving a mall at the POS) information rate and easy orientation can be considered crucial factors for the success of shopping malls.

Study 2

To test our second hypothesis, we conducted two empirical studies in June 2000 using standardized questionnaires in another shopping mall ("Mall B") in the center of a medium-sized German town. The studies were conducted in Mall B (n=90) and in the apartments of respondents (n=90). The subjects, who did not receive any monetary or non-monetary incentive for participating in the survey, were informed that we were interested in the image they have in mind when thinking of "Mall B". Using the data collected at the point-of-sale, we first tested the link proposed in hypothesis 1 for robustness. As expected, the items measuring the aggregate assessment of the mall environment again loaded clearly on the two dimensions 'information rate’ and 'easy orientation’. Once more, multiple regression analysis using the computed factor scores as independent variables and the dimensions of the mall approach behavior as dependent variables shows the positive influence of information rate on the intensity of mall approach behavior (tables 4 and 5).





However, results for the aggregate dimension 'easy orientation’ are mixed. For "Mall B", easy orientation explains only a portion of the approach behavior. This effect could possibly be attributed to the fact that at the time of the survey, "Mall B" had been open for only three months and therefore an impression of novelty (information rate) dominated the overall impression of the mall, thus reducing the importance of easy orientation for approach behavior. Furthermore, due to this dominance of novel stimuli, it might have been difficult for subjects to assess the ease of orientation reliably. So, for "Mall B" it was decided to concentrate on information rate and its mental representation. Further analysis of the memory image dimension 'order’ (mirroring the perceived 'easy orientation’) was left for the study of "Mall C" which had been open for about two years at the time of the research and where consumers could consequently be expected to be able to assess the dimension 'easy orientation’ with greater reliability.

In principle, it would have been possible to ask subjects for a detailed description of their memory image and to analyze associations with reference to the 'vividness’ and 'order’ dimensions. However, to keep interviews short and comparable with respect to the interview techniques used at the POS and in the household sample, we decided to use standardized scales to investigate the dimensions of the memory image in detail.

Measuring Memory Images

For our household sample, the same operationalizations and rating scales used in study 1 to examine perceptual image were employed here also. However, we had to solve the problem of how to measure the memory dimensions 'vividness’ and 'order’. Kroeber-Riel (1986, p.82f., 86ff.) recommends measuring visual information processing with a technique of the same modality (i.e. non-verbal / pictorial scales), because the primary disadvantage of verbal measures of imagery is that they require the subjects to translate sensory experiences into verbal protocols. Therefore, we used a pictorial scale for measuring the dimensions of the memory image. For this pictorial scale, we selected pictures that constituted "visual metaphors" expressing the 'vividness’ and 'order’ dimensions particularly well. Both pictures for the 'vividness’ and 'order’ dimensions (cf. appendix, figures 2 and 3) were recognized as representations of the respective target dimension by more than 80% of randomly selected respondents in a pretest (n=27). Therefore, the pictorial scale can be deemed to have a high internal validity (Groeppel 1988, p.187).

In addition to the pictures, a new verbal "metaphorical scale" for imagery measurement was added to the questionnaire. The verbal scale we propose, is based on visual metaphors that arise when thinking about the dimensions of memory images presented as verbal stimuli. The use of visual metaphors should ideally trigger dual encoding (linking verbal and visual association chains) of statements (Paivio and Walsh 1993, p.321). Although a metaphor is a verbal expression, it can, due to its pictorial quality, evoke mental images in the consumer’s mind (e.g. "wild like a bull at a rodeo"). Therefore, over and above pictorial scales, this method seems suited to measuring memory images in a modality-specific fashion. Modality-specific measurement in this case means that the visual association evoked by the visual metaphor can be compared with the memory image of the mall that is stored in a visual mode. We draw on research where metaphors, as concrete "entities" i.e. imaginable words, are likely to be subject to dual encoding (Paivio and Walsh 1993) involving both hemispheres (see Ley 1983, for an overview). Recent findings from positron emission tomography (PET) research measuring brain activity when hearing nouns of different imageability, show that imageable words are processed with reference to previous sensory experiences of the respective living or non-living objects (Wise et al. 2000). Hence, we operationalized the 'vividness’ and 'order’ dimensions using selected visual metaphors connected with them. To generate the metaphors used in the scale, we conducted a pretest (n=27) with a modified version of step 5 ('most representative image’), and step 6 ('opposite image’) from the guided conversation used by ZMET (Zaltman and Coulter, 1995). In order to gain a deeper understanding of the metaphors associated with the concepts of 'vividness’ and 'order’, we analyzed the content of images, metaphors and concepts that came to the minds of respondents when thinking about the dimensions presented neutrally as verbal stimuli. Ambiguous metaphors closely associated with both dimensions were eliminated. Unambiguous metaphors most frequently mentioned in association with a dimension were used as items to measure the dimensions of memory images: 'lively like children playing on an adventure playground’ and 'lively like a fish in water= [a German metaphor that could be translated as "fit as a fiddle", which gives the gist of it.] for the vividness dimension; 'clearly structured like a chess board’ and 'not messy like an upset toy box’ for the order dimension.





The memory image was measured at the beginning of the survey. To avoid context effects, distraction questions were inserted between the memory image and the approach behavior scales. In order to collect data on the memory images of the mall in consumers’ minds, all subjects were asked to 'see’ (visualize) the mall with their mind’s eye. When subjects reported that they had the picture of the mall in their mind, they were asked to rate this memory image using the metaphorical items and pictures described above. The correspondence between the visual metaphors of both picture scale and verbal scale and the memory image was measured on a 5-point-scale with 1='doesn=t fit my memory image at all’ to 5='fits my memory image perfectly’.

In the remainder of the paper, we are mainly interested in the results from the household sample concerning the mall perceptionBmall memory relationship. Using the household sample, a factor analysis for the dimensions of the constructs "perceptual image" and "memory image" was computed. The results show that the items load clearly on the four postulated dimensions, thus indicating four different constructs (table 6).



However, as explained before, for "Mall B" we are only interested in the trajectory 'information rate’ -> 'vividness’ -> 'approach behavior’. To analyze this link postulated in our second hypothesis, we tested a causal model (n=90). For parameter estimation of the path diagram the maximum likelihood method (ML) was used. Figure 1 shows the path diagram for the LISREL 8 analysis.

The results of the causal analysis indicate clearly that 'information rate’ has a significant effect on the 'vividness’ dimension of the memory image. Thus, the more consumers consider the shopping mall to be varied and "full of discoveries", the more vivid their memory image of it. The 'vividness’ dimension in turn influences the approach behavior towards the shopping mall: the more vivid the memory image, the more positive the overall impression of the shopping mall, the greater the feeling of value for money for the merchandise offered in the mall, and the more emphatically consumers will recommend the shopping mall to others (i.e. they plan to provide positive WOM). Although a direct path between the information rate and the approach behavior can be drawn, the path coefficient is relatively low (0.17) and non-significant (t-value<2). This result demonstrates that the memory image indeed works as a representation mediating the effect of the mall environment on approach behavior when the consumer is away from the POS. The validity of the causal model can be considered satisfactory.

Interim conclusions: Our results show that the 'information rate’ experienced in the shopping mall (perceptual image) influences the 'vividness’ dimension of the memory image. The 'vividness’ dimension in turn has a strong impact on approach behavior towards the shopping mall when away from the POS (e.g. at home). The second hypothesis therefore, can be supported fully with regard to the link between 'information rate’ and 'vividness’.

Study 3

In the third empirical study in Summer 2001 at another local Mall ("Mall C"), we finally tested the third hypothesis, investigating if negative or positive word-of-mouth when away from the POS can add to the effect of memory images and thus possibly exercise a similarly strong effect on approach behavior. Again we interviewed 198 subjects in their apartments of whom 166 had already visited "Mall C", having presumably formed a memory image of it. Consequently, we restricted the analysis to those subjects who had the chance to form a memory image based on their own perceptual image of the mall. Subjects were asked to report any WOM they had received about the shopping mall. These reports were rated on a 5-point rating scale measuring how positive the perceived WOM was [1=not at all positive (more than two negative statements)B5=very positive (more than 2 positive statements)]. The factor scores for the 'vividness’ and 'order’ dimensions of the memory image were derived from a factor analysis. To test hypothesis 3 we used multiple regressions with the 'vividness’ and 'order’ dimensions of the memory image and the perceived positive valence of WOM as independent variables on the approach behavior variables (tables 7 and 8).

The results support hypothesis 3: WOM and memory image together influence the relevant approach variables. The WOM effect turns out to be significant but less strong than the combined influence of the two dimensions of the memory image. Furthermore, we note that there is no multicollinearity between the three independent variables.





Discussion and Further Research

The aim of the three studies presented was to analyze the link between perceptual images and memory images of shopping malls. The first study, carried out at the POS inside the mall, was based on findings from environmental psychology and supports the relevance of the 'information rate’ and 'easy orientation’ constructs for approach behavior at the POS. For memory images as mental representations of shopping malls, 'vividness’ and 'order’ are the corresponding dimensions. Our second study shows that, outside the shopping mall, 'vividness’ is responsible for evaluation and planned behavior towards the mall. Finally, the third study indicates that WOM exerts a significant influence on the approach behavior in concert with memory image. As expected, the WOM effect is somewhat weaker than the combined effect of the two dimensions of the memory image. However, WOM should not be neglected, since it exerts an influence even when consumers have a memory image on which they can rely exclusively. Thus, a positive WOM adds to the memory image that consumers retain and leads, outside the POS, to approach behavior of consumers towards the shopping mall.

In future studies, it would be useful to test whether the results confirmed for malls can be replicated for individual stores in the mall. Furthermore, it would be of interest to consider the 'time’ dimension in new studies: one could test if the 'order’ dimension is influenced more by the "pleasant design of the mall" than by the patronage behavior of the consumers, and especially by the frequency with which they shop in the mall. It is possible that the perceived easy orientation of the mall increases in step with consumers’ learning process as they form detailed mental maps of the mall. Likewise, it is conceivable that the information rate is subject to a "wear-out" process where the mall is perceived as less varied and full of surprises, the more often it is visited by consumers. If these effects can be proven, it would be useful to test if they can be influenced by retailers and mall management, and if the two effects compensate for each other in their influence on approach behavior towards the mall. From the perspective of international consumer research it would be of additional interest to find out if there are intercultural differences in the importance of the 'easy orientation’ and 'information rate’ dimensions and their respective mental representations for approach behavior towards malls.







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Andrea Groeppel-Klein, European University Viadrina
Claas Christian Germelmann, European University Viadrina


NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 30 | 2003

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