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Crowding Dimensions in Retail Store

Dr. Satya Prakash Pandey Bhaskar Banerjee

AbstractCrowding in retail store is an important environmental condition with implications for both the Retail manager and the consumer. Retail managers see themselves confronted with the consequences of retail crowding on a more frequent basis than ever, with growing populations and urbanization. Store crowding is a concept that generates many associations in consumers mind, often very different ones. Store crowding is associated with long waiting lines for the checkouts & with high sales and profits.

When is a store "crowded"? A manager and a consumer may respond differently to this query. Stokols (1972) identifies two components of crowding: (1) a physical condition, and (2) an experiential state. The physical condition, density, involves the restriction of movement imposed by limited space, while the experiential state, crowding, encompasses the individual's perception of the restrictive aspects of limited space. The challenge for the manager is to increase density without triggering the experiential state of crowding among shoppers.

Several companies considered crowded stores are a sign of success and high sales, and to a certain extent this theory obviously holds. It is interesting to see if store crowding has downsides as well, that may have been overlooked until now. But not many managers acknowledge the downsides that could occur when customers perceive the crowding level too high. The managerial challenge retail crowding brings along is not only to find a solution for too crowded retail stores but also to find a balance between high store attractiveness and high store traffic. On the one hand, high density is required to maintain profitability; on the other hand, perceived crowding may have adverse effects on the shopper's attitudes and buying behavior.

Kotler makes an important contribution in introducing Atmospherics as a Marketing Tool (Kotler, 1974). He contends that in some cases "the place, more specifically the atmosphere of the place, is more influential than the product itself in the purchase decision" (Kotler, p. 48).

Atmospherics is defined as "the conscious designing of space to create certain effects in buyers" (Kotler, p. 50). This conceptualization can be extended to include not only the created physical structure but also the atmosphere created by individuals shopping in the store. Thus, the atmosphere of the store can take on a dynamic quality, and conditions of crowding can alter the psychological atmosphere of a store to evoke different patterns of shopping behavior.

The results obtained from this research make it clear that the perceived crowding level is something that should be taken seriously. Retailers wanting to be successful in todays competitive environment need to understand the consequences that can result from this perception. Managers who can adequately adapt to the upcoming phenomenon of retail crowding will be in a privileged position of being able to target and attract the right customers to their stores. Present study gives an overview of the interrelationships between several important store attributes and perceived retail crowding.

To interpret the effects of store crowding we have used the survey method applied through a structured questionnaire. The direct effects of crowding have been analysed along with its relation with price and quality perceptions and the overall experience inside the store. The study has been conducted in hypermarkets operated by a large, nationally known retail chain. The stores are located in Kolkata (aprox. population 50 lac) & Ahmedabad (aprox. population 40 lac). The study spanned a Ten week period starting on March 03, 2012 and ending on May 12, 2012. All data were collected exclusively during rush hours (on Fridays afternoon,Saturdays & Sundays). Shoppers were intercepted after entering the check stand (while roaming) and asked to respond to a brief questionnaire. Approximately, fifteen percent of the intercepted persons declined to be interviewed. The final sample consisted of 400 customers.

The objective of this paper is to discover and highlight the importance of retail crowding in current and future shopping environments. While managers often aim for crowded stores because it reflects a high sales volume, this paper shows that there are downsides as well. Also present paper provides a better understanding on the role of retail crowding, giving managers guidelines to cope with the challenges raised by increased store traffic.

The results derived from the study have long term implications for the retail industry as it will help the industry to understand and exploit in a better way an emerging but long lasting phenomena which can have a positive or negative impact. The paper should encourage future research in this subject to cover a wider market.

Kotler, P. (Winter, 1973-4).Atmospheric as a marketing tool. Journal of Retailing,21, 48-64

Stokols, D. (1972). On the distinction between density and crowding. Psychological Review, 79, 275277.