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Selling the experience : the interrelationship between store atmospherics, retail salesperson orientation and patronage intentions.
thesisposted on 2017-01-17, 00:40 authored by Mitchell, Natalie Renae
The last two decades have seen retailers shift their strategy to deliver a satisfying, delightful store experience, and improve customers' likelihood to buy. While most focus on improving the store atmosphere, retail salespeople are identified as a key component in delivering the ultimate customer experience (Baker et aI., 2002; Harris et aI., 2003; Kozinets et al., 2002; Pine and Gilmore, 1999; Schmitt, 1999.) However, there is little evidence to demonstrate how a successful retail salesperson should behave within these improved stores (Mallalieu, 2007.) Focusing on the interrelationship between store atmosphere and retail salespeople, the aim of the thesis is to test how store atmospherics and retail salespeople affect customers' expectations and patronage intentions in different retail environments. Some scholars have noted that improved store atmospherics have the potential to increase expectations of a salesperson's availability and credibility (Sharma and Stafford,2000.) Yet these are only assumptions that improving store atmospherics will lead to customers expecting improvements in a retail salesperson's service quality, selling expertise and relationship building skills (known as 'retail salesperson orientation' .) Store atmospherics and retail salesperson orientation are placed into a conceptual framework, with customer expectations of a retail salesperson orientation, confirmationfdisconfirmation of the customer experience and patronage intentions. Situational variables are also included and comprise moderating effects of a customer's perceived time pressure, merchandise type, and product knowledge and familiarity levels. Two studies were employed to test the relationships proposed in the conceptual model. Both studies consisted of an experimental design, operationalised through the use of hypothetical choice scenarios and accompanying questionnaire. Study Two extended the design to include an additional merchandise category and salesperson gender. Analysed through ANOVA and regression methods, the findings of both studies confirm that store atmospherics do create increased expectations of a retail salesperson's orientation and patronage intentions. However, the power of store atmospherics is reduced when a retail salesperson is introduced. Merchandise plays a moderating effect on the relationship between store atmosphere, retail salesperson orientation and patronage intentions. Differences in product knowledge, familiarity, and respondent and salesperson gender also somewhat moderated customer expectations and overall patronage intent. The thesis provides a number of academic and managerial implications. In the academic discipline, the study is one of the first to understand how the retail salesperson orientation and store atmospherics work together to affect customers' patronage intention. In addition, it demonstrates that overlapping pools of literature should be combined to develop a holistic view of the retail salesperson orientation, with results suggesting that respondents expect all aspects of customer service, selling and relationship management in their store encounters. The study also calls into question the strong emphasis over the past 20 years on understanding store atmospherics, when other aspects of the store experience may be more powerful predictors of shopping intent. Retailers should be cautious of improving store aesthetics, if they are not planning to also invest in recruiting, selecting and matching the skill sets of their frontline employees.