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Title: Do you see what I see? The ecological validity of environmental simulations in customer retail experience research
Authors: PETERMANS, Ann 
Issue Date: 2011
Source: International Colloquium on Global Design and Marketing, Lincoln - UK, 8-9 December 2011
Abstract: In today’s experience economy, wherein consumers often perceive products and services as homogeneous, retailers and designers try to differentiate oneself from competitors by directing the retail and interior design of retail stores towards triggering memorable customer experiences, whereby multiple tangible and intangible stimuli can interact (Carù & Cova, 2003, 2007; Healy et al., 2007). Although the academic literature on the beneficial effects of offering unique customer experiences, to both the retailer and the consumer, is still fairly limited (Verhoef et al., 2009), the strategic role of store atmospherics has been studied by academics for decades, ignited by Kotler’s (1973) seminal work. The scientific disciplines of marketing and retail design however take on distinctive but often very complementary approaches with respect to store atmosphere. Traditionally, marketing and consumer behaviour scholars are often inspired by positivistic paradigms, and thus typically focus on trying to comprehend customer experiences by investigating the influence of a single, isolated environmental cue upon shopper behavior (cf. Mehrabian & Russell, 1974; Donovan & Rossiter, 1982; Bitner, 1992; Turley and Milliman 2000 for an overview). To this end, photographic slides and videotapes are common environmental simulation techniques to gain insight on the effect of a store environmental manipulation on consumer behavior (Bateson & Hui, 1992; Baker et al., 1994). Even if these experimental studies might yield results with a considerably high internal validity, they might suffer from a lack of ecological validity (McKechie, 1974). After all, even though the individual atmospheric variables are important in the development of a retail experience, their final effects rather depend upon the consumer’s affective evaluation of the total environment (Healy et al., 2007; Sands, 2008). This viewpoint corresponds with the ideas of retail and interior designers, who favour an ‘holistic’, in situ research approach, drawing on contexts and reflexivity. Moreover, Bendapudi and Leone (2003: 26) rightly remark that ‘consumers are not just passive receptacles of brand identities projected by marketers: they are co-producers of brand meanings’. As a result, in order to enable them to produce such meanings and to experience a retail setting to its fullest extent, traditional simulation techniques such as photographs or videotapes might not suffice any longer in an era dominated by quick information, acquired from numerous channels, through all senses. This study attempts to systematically assess and compare traditionally used environmental simulation techniques with field studies in terms of both their costs and benefits. The adequateness of these research settings is in particular evaluated for the study of customer experience dimensions (e.g., can watching a video of an experience store provide the consumer with an ‘escape’ from everyday reality equally well as being immersed in the store itself?) as well as for examining consumer emotions and responses evoked by the store environment (e.g., can a single photographic slide ‘move’ a consumer to the same extent as a real store visit?). The ultimate goal of this study is to stimulate further research on customer experiences in retail stores by providing methodological guidelines for academics.
Keywords: customer experiences; environmental simulation techniques; field study
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Category: C2
Type: Conference Material
Appears in Collections:Research publications

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