Atmospherics in Retail Overview

Retail atmospherics is a combination of sensory experiences and psychological affects that the customer intakes while immersed in the retailer’s environment.

The term was coined by Philip Kotler in the Journal of Retailing, to describe the “conscious designing of space to create certain effects in buyers”, or in more detail, “the effort to design buying environments to produce specific emotional effects in the buyer that enhance purchase probability.”

Explanation of Term:
Retail atmospherics addresses all of the customer’s senses and impacts their experience, with the intention of creating an emotionally driven memory. This approach seeks to create a competitive advantage and increase profitability by providing customers with a unique atmospheric experience.

Elements of Atmospherics:
The following is identified as atmospheric contributors in the retail environment:
Fragrance, lighting, visual displays, sound level, temperature, density within space, wall décor, ambience, architectural/structural design, floor spacing, music, noise-level, air-quality/ moisture, cleanliness, structural maintenance – including display structures, signage/display of price, employees: assistance, attitude, presence, knowledge, logical flow of human traffic (e.g.: aisles), logo, brand image, graphics – gift card image, etc.

These elements serve the purpose of making the customer more comfortable with the retailer’s environment.

Measures of Atmospherics:
Affinity – “The closeness a customer feels to the values and attributes that the retail environment is projecting”
Pleasure – “The degree of enjoyment a customer attains within the retail environment”
Arousal – “The level of stimulation experienced by the senses”
Dominance (plays larger role in Luxury retail) – “The power balance of control a customer has within the retail environment”
Flow – “The holistic sensation a customer experiences when acting with total involvement”

Psychological Research:
Atmospherics plays on the consumer’s powerful degree of interactions that defines the shopper’s experience. The role of atmospherics is to help put customers at ease with the environment and encourage shopping, both planned and unplanned purchases. Much psychological research has been conducted regarding the environment’s role in relation to consumer’s attitudes.

It has been acknowledged that an environment affects one’s emotions. Due to recent innovations and the expansion and accessibility of entertainment technology, there is a greater “desire for sensory stimulation”, this has been found especially true for the younger generations.  Furthermore, there is a growing trend of high definition televisions being place in stores, as well as, interactive features, such as touch screens to increase the sense of stimulation within a retail location.

Creating a Ritual Experience:
When a customer finds a brand that provides them a “reciprocal relationship, dependable experiences, and experiences that delight” then the consumer associates the brand with a higher value. When a customer deems a brand of higher value, which leads the customer to establish loyalty. Brand loyalty leads to brand rituals.

These rituals are “a brand-bonded behavior that customers build with certain brands that make them a central part of their experience”. In addition, “these rituals go beyond habits and routine to create a deeper level bond;” because these brands now become an essential part of the customer’s life. This gives the brand a stronger, more meaningful role in the perspective of the customer than its competitor, providing the brand with an unbeatable competitive advantage.