The Sensory Dimension of Sustainable Retailing: Analysing In-Store Green Atmospherics

The Sensory Dimension of Sustainable Retailing: Analysing In-Store Green Atmospherics

Diletta Acuti, Virginia Vannucci, Gabriele Pizzi
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-2220-2.ch003
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The chapter contributes to recent debate on retailing and sustainability, addressing the role of atmospherics in affecting consumer perceptions. First, after reviewing the relevant literature about sustainable retailing, this research addresses some practices oriented towards sustainability that can be implemented by a retailer, and how they can be communicated to consumers. Then, using an experimental design, the authors test the impact of sustainability-oriented visual atmospherics on consumer perceptions and intentions. This chapter provides a comprehensive overview of past and current sustainability research in retailing, with a particular emphasis on store atmospherics. Future research should try to integrate the findings by investigating other sensory stimuli, such as tactile or auditory ones.
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Challenges and concerns related to environmental sustainability issues are assuming a central role in both academic research and practice. Recent literature has analysed environmental sustainability issues from various angles, and focusing on multiple contexts including retailing. Indeed, retailers play a central role in communicating sustainable practices to consumers, given their close relationship with end consumers.

Environmental concerns are increasingly receiving scholarly attention, in response to the relevance of the topic from the perspective of both firms and consumers (Newton et al., 2015). To align themselves with this trend, retailers are facing the need to communicate their sustainable orientation effectively to consumers, in both offline (Tjärnemo & Södahl, 2015) and online (Kang & Kim, 2017) settings. Notably, a store assumes the role of a “central node” between retailers and consumers (Lehner, 2015) where sustainability-related elements can be effectively communicated to consumers. This is the reason why the majority of sustainability-related marketing activities are carried out in store and exploit the multiple cognitive and sensory stimuli to which consumers can be exposed in a store (Kumar & Polonsky, 2019). The previous literature has addressed atmospherics as the controllable characteristics of retail space which entice customers to enter the store, shop, and purchase (Foster & McLelland, 2015). Although prior research has thoroughly discussed the relevant effects of store atmospherics in general, no research has addressed their role in conveying sustainability-related associations. This is not a trivial issue, since research has shown that environmental concern is a multi-faceted construct (Magnier & Schooermans, 2015) that builds on both inferences drawn from situational elements (Ertz, Karakas &Sarigollu,, 2016) and individual dispositional attitudes (Brick & Lewis, 2016; Kim et al., 2017). Attitude is explained as the amount of feeling for or against a stimulus or, in other words, an affect or a general evaluative reaction (Bagozzi, 1978).

Although research in the field of retailing has highlighted the fact that retailers’ actions are capable of shaping the sustainability-related perceptions, choices and consumption practices of consumers, the analysis of the specific tools that can be adopted by retailers to convey sustainability-related messages has received scant academic attention in the past (Fuentes & Fredriksson, 2016). In this vein, store atmospherics play a pivotal role, in that they might both contribute to creating a consistent overall store image (Baker, Grewal & Parasuraman,1994) and spill over into the evaluation of the products on the shelves of the retailer (Turley & Milliman, 2000). However, to the best of the authors’ knowledge, the effect of sustainability-related store atmospherics on consumers’ evaluations is still an underexplored topic in the literature.

This chapter aims to fill this research gap by advancing the theory that sustainability-related store atmospherics exert a positive effect on consumer perceptions. The present research focuses on visual atmospherics.

To fulfil this purpose, the present research focuses on sustainability-related atmospheric cues, and then develops a theoretical model that is tested in an experimental study conducted in the personal care industry setting.

In doing this, the present research takes the original step of combining the literature on store atmospherics with the literature on green consumption, focusing on the “silent” communication role played by store atmospherics in transferring and reinforcing consumers’ perceptions of the sustainability of products. In a context where the importance of sustainable green products is growing, it is relevant to understand whether store atmospherics play an active role in informing and shaping the sustainability of the retailer’s offer as a whole.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Sustainable Retailing: Combination of promotion of a competitive sector with evaluation of the retail workforce and local communities and the improvement of environmental performance and prudent use of natural resources.

Green Atmospherics: All the stimuli that can be adopted in store to transfer to the consumer an overall image of green store.

Sustainable Practices: Activities implemented by companies in order to reduce or eliminate their negative impact on the environment.

In-Store Communication: Strategies implemented by retailers in the point of sale aiming at activating a sale within the retail environment.

Store Atmospherics: All the stimuli that immerge the consumer while is in the store and influence the purchase decision process. These stimuli can be captured through the five human senses: sight, sound, smell, touch and taste.

Experiment: Scientific research method which use manipulation and controlled testing to understand causal processes. Generally, one or more variables are manipulated to determine their effect on a dependent variable.

Green Marketing: Strategies designed to generate and facilitate any exchanges intended to satisfy human needs or wants, such that the satisfaction of these needs and wants occurs, with minimal detrimental impact on the natural environment.

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