Perception of crowding at retail stores : an empirical study examining the effect of design factors on approach responses using virtual reality simulation
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[ACCESS RESTRICTED TO THE UNIVERSITY OF MISSOURI AT AUTHOR'S REQUEST.] In the retail business, retailers invest a great deal of time and money to attract more customers into the store; however, a crowded store can cause lasting negative effects. Researchers have noted that when customers infer difficulty in their shopping experience due to crowding condition, they react with negative emotions leading them to unfavorable in-store shopping behavior such as spending less money than planned or leaving the store without making a purchase. Retail designers are capable of controlling the negative effects of perceived crowding through store design to diminish the feelings of being crowded. However, literature with empirical knowledge on the role of design pertaining to crowding in a retail context is limited. The aim of this study is 1) to explore the influence of retail design on consumers' perceived crowding and its impact on behavioral responses, and 2) examine the influence of emotional reactions generated from the crowding condition perceived during the shopping experience. The issue of crowding was explored in this study using virtual reality, a technology capable of simulating realistic, controlled environments with an engaging experience and reactions similar to real environments. I predicted that the negative impact of crowding on customers' subsequence responses to engage in shopping activities can be resolved through the physical configuration of a store. I further hypothesized that the influence of perceived crowding is dominated by the consumers' emotions which, in turn, lead their behavioral responses. To examine these hypotheses, a between-subject experiment was designed and conducted on college students. A virtual stimulus was constructed of a department store with a combination of physical design factors, particularly store layout and ceiling height, under variations of crowding levels. Results of the current study suggest that the type of store layout had a weighty role where approach intentions were greater at stores with grid-based layout than those at the free-form lay
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