7.1 The Physical Environment


Retail/Leisure Environment Design
1. Retail Store Architecture
Shoppers respond to the atmosphere of a retail environment in 2 ways:
i) Approach Behaviour = are positive responses such as the desire to stay and explore.
ii) Avoidance Behaviour = negative responses such as wanting to leave, and not explore.

Turley and Milliman (2000) identified and reviewed 60 studies which found statistically significant relationships between aspects of atmospherics and shopping behaviour. They argue that it is possible to create atmospheres which influence customers to spend money.

They grouped atmospheric variables into 5 categories:

  1. External variables: location, building size, display, sign, style, etc.
  2. General interior variables: colour schemes, music, scent, lighting, aisle width, etc.
  3. Layout and design variables: space allocation, merchandise placement, changing room, etc.
  4. Point of purchase and decoration variables: wall decor, displays, etc.
  5. Human variables: employee characteristics, crowding, customer policy, etc.

Turley and Milliman's findings:

  • General interior perceptions affect approach and avoidance behaviour.
  • Music affects sales and arousal levels.
  • Odour and colour influence purchase and the time spent in a store.
  • Lighting influences store images.
  • Unplanned purchases are higher when consumers are unfamiliar with the store layout.
  • Perceived crowding has a negative influence on shopping satisfaction.
  • Professionally dressed staff have a positive effect on satisfaction.
  • The number of staff available can have a positive effect on service quality.


  • Turley and Milliman identified many situational variables that can be manipulated to affect shopping behaviour. It's not possible to manipulate them all, but knowing how to manipulate some can be useful.
    For example, if sales of an item are low, an appropriate scent or music can be added to attract people.
  • There are no ethical issues with their study.
    Their article is a review as they didn't conduct any research themselves. They brought together the findings of many different pieces of research to find general conclusions, thus the sampling and generalisability are high.

2. Leisure Environments
Finlay et al. (2006) compared Kranes's (1995) 'playground model' casino and Friedman's (2000) casino design.

Kranes's 'playground model' casino included a simple, easy-to-understand space with pleasing, natural elements. Environmental elements such as sunlight, green space and moving water should be there to induce feelings of security, pleasure, and freedom.

Friedman's casino design involved machines dominating the area, low ceilings, and no signs in order to not draw the gambler's attention away from the machines. This layout was predicted to reduce feelings of relaxation. It should have short pathways that 'twist & turn'.

Experimental Design and Procedure
Finlay's study used a quasi-experimental design. Researchers found 3 casinos constructed on each design. Measures of emotional reactions (self-reported) to the casinos were collected from people who gambled in all 6 casinos.
There were 48 individuals (26 males) recruited from casinos in Las Vegas, Nevada in May 2006. The mean age was 28 years old. All participants had at least a high school degree.

2-3 participants went to 4 casinos with a researcher. There was a group like this for each of the 4 researchers.
Each of the 16 casinos reviewed by Kranes and Friedman was rated by at least 3 individuals.

Kranes's 'playground model' casinos yielded significantly higher ratings than the Friedman-type casinos on pleasure and restoration (relief from environmental stress).

Future research should focus on how to improve the design variables of a Friedman-type casino to enhance restoration.


  • Finlay's study was a quasi-experiment, and the independent variable was the type of design, which wasn't manipulated by the experimenter. Hence, there may be extraneous variables which interfered with the results, however, the ecological validity is likely to be high as the research was conducted in a real environment rather than an artificial one.
  • Application to real life: The study suggests useful modifications that can be made to casinos.
  • Finlay's study lacks generalisability as it solely focuses on casinos. Therefore, the results cannot be applied to environments such as retail stores and restaurants.
  • Finlay's study used self-reports and there are practical issues. Participants may be biased towards the middle values, and direct comparisons between participants' scores cannot be made.

3. Store Interior Layout
Vrechopulous et al. (2004) argued that the design and layout of a virtual store (online) are crucial for virtual retail store success.

They manipulated the virtual layout of an online grocery store by creating 3 different layouts: free-form, grid, and racetrack. 120 participants were recruited from both Greece and the UK to take part in a lab experiment. They were given a planned shopping task with money to spend and complete the task in 1 of 3 virtual store layouts.

Each participant was given a £20 (or 12,000 Greek Drachmas) budget. Whatever was purchased during the experiment was later purchased by the researchers and physically delivered to the participants. The online store offered mainly European brands (Coke, Pringles) and some own-brand products. To make the online experience similar to a grocery store visit, participants were given a blank shopping list and information on what was available in the store to plan their purchase (to increase mundane realism).


  • The Free-form layout was the most useful layout when it comes to conducting planned purchases as they could reach one page from another page directly.
  • The free-form layout was the most entertaining layout to use.
  • The grid layout was easy to use, and the racetrack was the hardest layout to use.
  • General retail store layouts are not readily applicable to online retail. Customers prefer a tree structure provided by a grid layout when shopping online.
  • Customers spent a lot of time shopping when using the racetrack or free-form layouts.


  • Vrechopulous's study was conducted in a lab, and the ecological validity had been increased by the use of a real shopping task.
  • Application of the study: The study suggests that online retail stores
  • Generalisability is increased as the samples were collected from 2 countries.
  • Self-reports were used, and since they were in a lab, scores are open to demand characteristics.

Sound and Consumer Behaviour
1. Music in restaurants
North et al. investigated the effect of musical style, on the money spent in restaurants.

Location and time
The study was conducted in a restaurant in the UK for 18 evenings (7 pm - 11:30 pm) in February and March 2002. It was in a small affluent town and the restaurant served high-quality food at prices that were 'well above' the market average.

Sample 393 customers participated. There were 141 dinner parties. People who were there more than once were excluded (to avoid confounding variables). There were an equal number of male and female diners. Field experiment. Independent subjects design.

Pop Music condition: 142 participants - 49 parties
Classical Music condition: 120 participants - 44 parties
No Music condition (control): 131 participants - 48 parties

Independent Variable: the type of music played
Dependent Variable: the mean amount of money spent per person, which was calculated separately for each course and drinks category. Then the overall bill, and the total spend.

Procedure Participants did not know they were participating in the psychological research. The experimenter collected data by working as a waitress. 2 76 minute CDs were there for each condition. The music had not been repeated and it was played at a constant volume.
The independent samples T-test indicated no difference in the pace of music between the 2 conditions.

The average spend was much higher and participants were more likely to have starters and coffee in the classical music condition. Statistical analysis revealed the differences in results between the conditions and also indicated that there are significant differences between conditions on the mean spent per head.

Findings were consistent with previous researches which suggested that:
i) playing classical music leads to people reporting they want to spend more,
ii) and actual higher spending.

There are 3 explanations as to why people spend more while listening to classical music:

  1. Classical music is synergistic with other variables of the restaurant. Synergy promotes spending. However, in North and Hargereaves's study, students in a student cafeteria spent more while listening to classical music, but the music had not been synergistic with the surroundings.
  2. Classical music was preferred by customers and this somehow produced increased spending.
  3. Classical music promotes an upmarket atmosphere that 'primes contextually appropriate, congruent' behaviour such as increased spending.


  • North et al.'s study suggests that music will have a positive effect on customer spending in different environments. However, the type of music played in different environments to attract positive spending may differ.
  • The application of the results of the study to different cultures needs to be carefully considered.
  • Individual factors may play a role in determining our behaviour, so it must be considered for further research.
  • The study was a field experiment, so there is high ecological validity, and participants are less likely to exhibit demand characteristics. There were low levels of control, however.

2. Music in open-air markets
Gueguen et al. (2007) investigated the effects of music on spending in outdoor environments.

Conducted at a stall at an open-air market in France, on 2 sunny Saturdays. The stall sold trinkets and toys.

Popular music would increase both the length of stay and the amount of money spent.

Research Method
It was a field experiment as it was conducted in natural settings but the independent variable was controlled.
The independent variable was whether the music was being played or not. The music was described as 'joyful', and it was selected through a pre-test.

154 men and 86 women.

3 female stallholders were confederates. In the music condition, when a participant approached the stall, they would start playing music.
1 participant timed the length of the customer's stay and recorded how much was spent.


  • Customers stayed longer when the music was played.
    Customers in the music condition stayed for an average of 5.27 minutes, and those in the no music condition, for 3.72 minutes. This was significant at p less than 0.001 (which means it's statistically highly significant).
  • In the music condition 18%, of people bought something, whereas only 10% of people bought something in the no music condition.
  • Those in the music condition spent more, but the difference wasn't very significant.

The authors offered several possible explanations for their findings:
1. Music may influence our perception of time.
2. Authors claimed that music can be used to increase sales. A supporting study: Areni and Kim showed that music led to customers purchasing more expensive wine.


  • The study was a field experiment, so there is high ecological validity, and participants are less likely to exhibit demand characteristics. There were low levels of control, however.

3. Background noise and food perception
Woods et al. (2011) used a lab experiment to see the effect of auditory background noise on taste perception.

Independent Variable: no noise, quiet background noise, loud background noise.
Dependent Variable: the rating participants gave in.

Experiment 1
48 students from Manchester University, aged 19-39. They received either payment or credit. 5 smoked and 5 had a cold. They all gave their informed consent.

Participants sat at a table, and a panel hid the food from view. They wore headphones with background noise at either 45-55 dB (quiet) or 75-85 dB (loud).
Participants rated the saltiness, sweetness, and liking. They sipped water between each trial. Each participant had 5 trials. Each participant sat for a total time of 30 minutes. They were fully debriefed.

In the loud condition, the sweetness and saltiness reported were significantly lower than in the quiet condition.

Experiment 2

  1. To check whether sound conveyed food cues are affected by background noise, and how this compares to taste cues.
  2. To check whether the liking of the background noise affected the liking of the food consumed.

34 students from Manchester University, aged 20-49.

Participants rated the overall flavour, crunchiness, and liking. Further, they also rated how much they liked the background noise in the study.

The crunchiness was more intense in the loud condition, and a relationship between the ratings of liking background noise and the ratings of liking the food was found.

The background noise which is unrelated to the food diminishes taste properties but enhances crunchiness.


  • Woods et al.'s study was a lab experiment which had high levels of control, so there are chances of participants showing demand characteristics. Hence, there is low ecological validity.

Lighting, Colour and Smell
Cognition: Mental process of acquiring knowledge such as perceiving, recognising, and reasoning.
Emotion: a conscious mental reaction that influences thought and behaviour.

1. Models of Pleasure-Arousal and Cognitive-Emotion
1. Pleasure-Arousal model by Mehrabian and Russell (1974)
Emotional response acts as a mediator in the relationship between environmental stimuli and human behaviour.
We react to our environment with either approach or avoidance behaviours. Positive responses to environmental factors (music, smell) will increase the customers' time and money spent.

2. Emotion-Cognition model by Zajonc and Markus (1984)
Some emotions can occur separately from or prior to our cognitive interpretations of them.
For example: feeling fear in response to an unexpected loud sound.
So, cognition may produce emotion, but it is not a necessary cause of emotion.

3. Cognition-Emotion model by Lazarus (1966)
A personal appraisal (evaluation) of the situation is required to produce an emotion. Meaning that a thought must come before any emotion.

2. Lighting & Colour in Retail Stores
Kutlu et al. aimed to investigate how colour and light influenced customers' perception of a high-quality brand.

Previous research has suggested that bright/fluorescent light and popular music creates a 'discount-store' image, and having soft lights with classical music creates images of higher quality.

Kutlu predicted that there is a relationship between the store image and product type which will determine the type of lighting that will be the most effective. They referred to this as the 'Square Method' although it is not a recognised research method.

Sample and Location
4 stores of the high-quality brand Nautilus in Istanbul.
121 participants aged 15-60. 15% were males and 85% were females.

Researchers collected data in 2 ways:
i) data on lighting levels in various parts of the store.
ii) data on customer perceptions of the store, using a questionnaire.
The sample completed the questionnaires which had 8 questions made to evaluate the store's image.

75% of the sample thought that the lighting colour scheme of a store had an effect on the brand image.
Lighting was above average at the windows, but not enough near the cash desk or changing stalls.

The perceived image and identity of a store/brand are strongly influenced by light and colour.

3. Effects of odour on shopper arousal and emotions
Chebat and Michon (2003) conducted a field experiment in a shopping mall in Canada for 2 weeks. There were identical sales volumes and shopper traffic. All promotions in the mall were cancelled.

145 participants in week 1, and 447 in week 2.

In week 1, the mall's 'ambient olfactory atmosphere' was not modified. In week 2, a light citrus pleasing scent was sprayed by 10 diffusers for 3 seconds every 6 minutes in the mall's main corridor.
The pilot study ensured the odour intensity did not bother the people.
Graduate students who wore no perfume handed out questionnaires. Participants were unaware of the true aims of the study. The questionnaire asked about their perceptions of product quality, the shopping mall, and how much they spent excluding groceries.


  • Scent indirectly increases the perception of product quality (thus supporting the cognition-emotion model).
  • The ambient scent needs to support the whole store. Product-related scents may help the sales of that product.

General Evaluations:

  • Both studies were conducted in real environments.
  • Findings can be generalised to other environments, but not other cultures.
  • Chebat and Michon's participants were not aware of their participation in the experiment.
  • Both studies clearly showed the impact that situational cues such as colour, light, and scent may have on an individual's cognitions, perceptions and behaviour.