- The purposes of this study were to investigate consumers' responses (aesthetic response, approach response, and perceived risk) to two types of visual merchandise displays (full size mannequin and flat hanging display) in an in-store retail setting. An interest for this study arises from retailers' constant effort to differentiate themselves from other retailers and increase retention through in-store entertainment or "shopper-tainment". Kotler (1973/74, p.50) defined atmospherics as "the conscious designing of space to create specific effects in buyers to enhance purchase likelihood". An aspect of effective atmospherics is known as visual merchandising – "how merchandise is visually communicated to the customer" by the retailer (Kerfoot et al., 2003, p. 143). Many retailers have specific visual merchandisers who strive to create the most attractive and beneficial type of window and in-store displays to attract customers and give information about products. In-store displays also provide customers with a mental image of how merchandise can be used or combined.
A model, based on the S-O-R model (introduced by Mehrabian and Russell in 1974), was proposed that a stimulus, in this case display type (flat hanging display, full size mannequin) can influence a behavioral response in a consumer, in this case approach response and perceived risk, which is mediated by that consumer's affective or cognitive response, which in this is case is aesthetic response. An additional component added to the traditional S-O-R model was shopping value as a moderator. Shopping value refers to a customer's orientation or goal while shopping, measured by hedonic score. To test the proposed model, a convenience sample of 76 males and 76 females was employed. The independent variable for this study was display type (full size mannequin or flat hanging display) for each gender, which was performed twice due to stimulus sampling procedure. The moderator was shopping value; the dependent variables were aesthetic response, approach response and perceived risk. Cronbach's alpha was used to test internal consistency of each measure. An ANOVA was used to compare participants' responses between the two experimental days; i.e., test to see if the styles of clothing in the displays affected the responses. A MANOVA analysis was used to examine relationships between the independent variable (display type) and dependent variables (aesthetic response, approach response and perceived risk). A second MANOVA was run to test the moderating relationship of shopping value (hedonic) on dependent variables (aesthetic response, approach response, perceived risk) caused by display type. Pearson's Correlation was utilized to examine the correlation relationships between the dependent variables (aesthetic response, approach response and perceived risk).
A post hoc ANOVA analysis was run between gender and shopping value to examine gender differences in hedonic shopping value scores. Lastly, an exploratory analysis was conducted to provide the reader with ideas for future research in identifying specific demographic characteristics and their relationship to consumers' utilitarian shopping value. The results of this study support the significance of visual merchandising in a retail environment. The results demonstrate that all individuals (regardless of their gender or shopping value) had a higher aesthetic response (which led to an increased approach response and decreased perceived risk) to the clothing displayed in a full size mannequin display than to the flat hanging display. Unexpectedly, male respondents had a preference for the full size mannequin as did female respondents. Expectedly, females had a higher score for hedonic shopping value than males did in this study. Hedonic shopping value did not play a role as a moderator, whereas all respondents had a higher aesthetic response leading to an increased approach response and decreased perceived risk associated with the full size mannequin.
This study offers further support for the S-O-R model introduced by Mehrabian and Russell (1974). The results of this study support the significance of visual merchandising by in a retail environment. This study suggests that a customer's mental imagery processing through viewing a retailers visual display can raise aesthetic response and therefore encourage approach response and reduce perceived risk associated with the products displayed. This study suggests that all consumers (regardless of gender or shopping value) prefer exciting, realistic and aesthetically pleasing visual displays, but require a full size mannequin display to raise their
aesthetic response, approach response and reduce perceived risk associated with the items displayed. The limitations of this study include the use of convenience sampling which means the results of this study cannot be generalized beyond the product category (college licensed merchandise) and sample.