City Trees and Consumer Response in Retail Business Districts

City Trees and Consumer Response in Retail Business Districts

Kathleen L. Wolf (University of Washington, USA)
Copyright: © 2014 |Pages: 21
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-6074-8.ch009
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Many cities and communities are working toward urban sustainability goals. Yet, retailers and merchants may not find environmental benefits to be compelling when compared to the direct costs of landscape and trees. Nonetheless, a quality outdoor environment may provide atmospherics effects that extend store appeal to the curb and heighten the positive experiences and psychological reactions of visitors while in a shopping district. A multi-study program of research shows that having a quality urban forest canopy within business districts and commercial areas can promote positive shopper perceptions and behavior. Positive responses include store image, patronage behavior, and willingness to pay more for goods and services. This chapter provides a summary of the research, connects results to psychological marketing theory, provides evidence-based design recommendations, and makes suggestions for potential future research activity.
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Issue: Retail Environments And Sustainability

Local governments are increasingly interested in pursuing urban sustainability goals. Science, technology, and professional best practices have evolved to integrate natural systems and elements into the basic functions of cities and towns. Yet not all property owners are necessarily committed to ecology and landscape development for the sake of sustainability. For instance shop owners within the retail and commercial districts of cities often lament the dis-services of street trees and vegetation, calling out the costs and annoyances of blocked signs, debris, and sidewalk damage. These practical concerns often lead to plans and practices that preclude plantings, in the belief that open, clear streets provide optimal shopping environments.

The basis of consumer behavior has changed in recent decades. While the retailer-consumer relationship still involves rational economic transactions, it also includes a variety of non-economic factors. Shopping has become much more than an activity of necessity, and now has leisure and entertainment components. The aspects of the retail environment that attract customers and encourage them to purchase are not fully understood. Behavioral economics and neuromarketing are emerging fields of study that pursue better understanding of economic and retail behavior.

Facing competition from online and big box competitors, many merchants in local and neighborhood shopping districts give greater attention to the quality of experience in their shop and customer service. Curiously, in many instances the attention to retail experience and place does not extend beyond the front door. On approach a customer encounters blank walls, barren sidewalks, and large paved areas devoted to parking. The appealing retail experience that is carefully cultivated within the store is often absent at the curb and other outdoor areas of the business district or site.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Biophilia: A hypothesis about the innate and durable human attraction to nature due to an evolutionary history of reliance on landscape for basic needs, now expressed as fascination and aesthetic enjoyment when experiencing nature.

Landscape Preference: A field of study spanning nearly 40 years that demonstrates the general and consistent positive response of humans to certain landscape elements and their arrangements, with large trees and park-like settings being particularly favored.

Urban Forestry: The care and management of trees in urbanized environments (including streets, parks, open spaces, and within all public and private land uses) for aesthetic, environmental, economic, and public health functions and benefits.

Nature Atmospherics: An understanding of how trees, gardens, and landscapes, as an ambient feature in retail settings, play a role in shopping environment appeal and consumer behavior.

Environmental Psychology: A field of research and practical applications, based on contributions of multiple disciplines, concerning the interplay of humans and physical settings, and the mutual benefits that can result. Settings can include natural environments, built places, and any particular places (such as offices or hospitals) where human function is dependent on physical factors.

Green Infrastructure: Using natural systems and their ecological functions to replace, augment, or supplement more traditional gray infrastructure in urban settings, in order to achieve more cost-effective and sustainable management of air and water quality.

Metro Nature Services: The array of human benefits provided by the experience of nearby nature in cities – including positive cognitive, emotional, and physiological outcomes – demonstrated by nearly 40 years of research and indicating that trees, parks, and gardens in cities serve broader purposes than aesthetics and beautification.

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