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ICRB organized by IMT, Ghaziabad on November 19-22, 2008 at IMT, Ghaziabad.
Authors: Dr. Mini Mathur, Assistant Professor, Retail Dr. Manaswini Acharya, Assistant Professor, Marketing Communications.
Mudra Institute of Communications, Ahmedabad (MICA) Shela, Ahmedabad - 380058 Gujarat . INDIA Tel: 91 2717 237946 – 551
Abstract Indian retail market is experiencing a hyper-competitive stage. It therefore becomes important becomes the way the store exteriors and interiors are designed do that the customer is emotionally bonded to the retail outlet. The visual codes in the store design suggest many dimensions in the retail store designing. The designs give a meaning, like that of a product and with this design; the stores have created what semioticians call an ‘emergent discourse’ in its way. It represents retail store designing in a more traditional way. So while semiotic borrowing is apparent in the field, it is not used widely or in extreme ways.
Each one of us is comfortable in our kind of store because there is a ‘fit’ in the store’s environment and culture and that of our own. We get a sense of belonging to a store. With new brands entering into the market everyday, product quality is inferred by the brand image of the store/ retailer than the manufacturer. Shoppers attribute symbolic meaning to the environment within the store, which in turn make up the brand personality. Everything that shoppers experience within the store adds to the retail brand. Semiotics analysis of it helps create the importance of context to the retailers.
Key words: Semiotics, Visual communication, Culture, Consumers, Atmospherics, Retail Brands.
the hyper competition and need to differentiate. A brand is a system of meanings that consumers integrate into their personal space to satisfy unmet needs. brand positioning. and packaging. convenience stores. Experts at Marketing Semiotics are trained to identify. Hart and Murphy (1998) insist that a brand is a “synthesis of all the elements. comfort and clarity go hand in hand. and leverage brand meanings for purposes of market segmentation. distinctive and appealing to consumers. and communication strategy for advertising. According to Joseph Weisher. specialty stores and department stores. like that of a product and with this design. The visual codes in the store design suggest many dimensions in the retail store designing. The findings incorporated recommendations for redesigning a more consumer friendly retail space consistent with overall brand communication. the stores have created what semioticians call an ‘emergent discourse’ in its way. interpret. physical. we used semiotic methods to examine social and psychological cues in-store that shaped the consumer’s experience in the retail setting and affected product purchase for a number of outlets. and convert foot-fall in to patronage.Introduction The context of the study lies in retailing growth. The designs give a meaning. In the study.” . appropriate. Semiotics is a branch of anthropology focusing on symbolic communication.” and that product attributes must be “coherent. retailing. This has led to the development of the concept of branding the experiences within the retail stores. As a branch of anthropology devoted to symbolic communication. ambience. the need to attract customers foot-fall. aesthetic. Brand recall of the store is associated with aesthetics and interiors of the store. SEMIOTICS provides methods of articulating and codifying brand communication and applying findings to marketing problems. Hence retailing brand experience is important. rational and emotional. We are moving from an economy which was products driven towards services driven. ranging from supermarkets.
We visited the different retail outlets to develop research protocols on lifestyles in Ahmedabad. They were asked to recall their recent experience in a retail outlet. including observation of 25 organized retail outlets in the city of Ahmedabad and in- . Field observation notes were of prime importance in this study as we recorded the layouts and various elements within the stores. We then analyzed the interpretations of the store environment and its impact on building a brand image for the retailer. what was it that they were most comfortable with. We also examined that the role of semiotics in much importance is given to elements of atmospherics in building a retail brand and how does these elements influence shoppers in making a final buying decision and creating an experiential image in their minds. color. Methodology The data source was an observation by researchers trained in semiotic analysis. divided approximately with same number of male and females. creativity. asked about the various elements of atmosphere that they felt good and bad about. and ambience while drawing upon their own brand equities. Age of respondents varied from 20-40 years. housewives and working professionals.Objectives: In this paper we examine the static and dynamic elements of design within a retail environment using a semiotic approach. After probing on these lines. We then designed a consumer study that provided insights into ways the retailers could reposition their brand in the store to include user-friendly qualities such as warmth. A number of photographs of these stores taken from various parameters support our findings of the study. they were asked to sum up their experiences in one word/ adjective and how it differed from a similar store and the subjects preference of store. Individual in-depth interviews were conducted in the city of Ahmedabad with a convenience sample of 25 people. Research methodology focused on qualitative tools. including PG students.
“Signs which stand for other things. we tried to identify business decisions that needed to be tailored by culturally determined values and attitudes towards the target customers on the one hand and the retail outlets on the other. product design. The concept of semiotics has been extended to include any instance in which communication takes place including marketing activities as advertising. Approach involved literature review in the field of semiotics and retail branding. Value of visual cues in a retail environment to its brand image was analyzed. And the cultural differences have been “determining variables”. attitudes and beliefs get in to peoples’ head and thereby affecting their culture and surrounding. Consistent with the semiotic structure presented by Saussure the sign (or cue) is thought to comprise of the signifier. new product adoption and applied to retail in-store communications.the denotative . and misses out on the brand as a “rich source of sensory. affective and cognitive associations that result in memorable and rewarding experiences”. or anything that can be made to stand for something else” represents the key concept in semiotics. We further used secondary sources as well as observational research among heavy users of the modern organized formats in different categories in several age segments in order to gauge future trends in the retail outlet category. Issues discussed were how semiotic cues are important in deciding on a store and influencing the purchase decision within the store. Using Ethnography: Tracking Brand Awareness in Ahmedabad Retail Outlets Aaker (1996) proposes that personality is concerned with consumers’ self-identity and as such provides a metaphor to suggest the kind of relationship the consumer might enjoy with the brand. pertains to the concrete form of the component in question and the signified which involves two levels of meaning which consumers can derive from the signifier . Nevertheless Schmitt (1999a) argues that Aaker treats branding primarily as identity. Semiotics involves “the exchange of any messages whatever and of the systems of signs which underlie them” including the communication of a store’s image.depth interview of 25 regular shoppers to these stores. By comparing findings in the Ahmedabad market with findings from secondary research. This would lead to perceptions.
the relationship between the signifier and the signified is often determined or “learned”. consumers within a retail store may represent such an audience. According to them. Within this context. communicators must be familiar with the relationships between signifiers and the signified in the minds of their audience. meaning that there is often no natural connection between them." .cues which act as communicators of the store’s image. "Hedonic consumption designates those facets of consumer behavior that relate to the multi-sensory. therefore.meaning. Hirschman and Holbrook (1982) state. Not much has been studied on the semiotic analysis of store design. It is both an art as well as science. fantasy and emotive aspects of one's experience with products. Since store layout and merchandise selection and assortment are almost always included in “lists” of salient attributes for the determination of a store’s image it is logical to assume that these components of a retailer’s offerings are among the cues to which consumers are exposed. cultural and social context. It derives its learnings from psychology. and a connotative meaning. which involves the component’s capability to satisfy the consumers’ physical needs. which involves non-material and imaginistic meanings applied by the consumers which correspond to the consumers’ psychological needs. Store design is interdisciplinary in nature. marketing. Mason & Paksoy (1982). Consumers are faced with a myriad cues in a retail store as suggested by Markin et al. 1996). Gagon & Osterhaus (1985). Instead. But when considering store image. Saussure suggests that the relationship between the signifier and the signified is “arbitrary”. One such cue within a warehouse grocery setting may be the power aisle (Smith & Burns. Experiencing the store Researchers have studied the impact of displays and store design on the sale of products in a supermarket (Wilkinson. geography. consumers’ process of encoding price information relies in part on the environmental cues which may present themselves in association with the product or products in question.
name and logo to three dimensional experiences at the point of purchase. design orientation adds to aesthetic appeal to the store. . Store atmosphere has been found to influence different senses. predominantly visual. danglers. rather than elegant or high end. smell. For eg.Store design works at subconscious levels. it might not be comfortable for an average height customer to get products from its top most shelf. a high fixture might add to the aesthetic appeal of the store. While marketing orientation takes into consideration functional aspects of elements. touch and taste in that sequence. Store design is thus moving from its two dimensional approach of graphics. There are two aspects in store design – marketing orientation and design orientation. In-depth interactions with customers revealed that they would be comfortable in a store which is as natural as possible and gives a friendly look. colors. but also sound.
comfortable.The table given below summarizes the experience of the customers in various outlets. lively. affordable Dull. yellow Blue Red and green Yellow and Grey Predominantly red Red Discounted look Loud. Serene. Brand Bandhej Flying Machine Vimal Fab India Colors used Earthy and warm Black. inculcates hunger Crowded. cluttered Clumsy Serious Fun-loving. Sun Appealing. Morbid Warmth. Pink Blue and green Orange and white Shades of pink and red Red. Beige and Brown Atmosphere/ Experience Traditional/ Engaging/ Ethnicity Sexy / Elegant/ Powerful Elegant / Sophisticated Earthy / organic/ lots of wooden interiors Zapp Lifestyle Green / Pink and Orange Pink and Colorful. Friendly Blue. White and Red Red . cool and high end white Predominantly interiors Adidas More Reliance Fresh Croma Mirch Masala Black and white Orange and green Green and red Grey and white Elegant . uncomfortable Comfortable. mismatch with products Beautiful and sensual Warm colors. Fresh Elegant. White and Black White. goes with the products Red and Green/ colorful Bollywood theme/ enjoyment interiors Lootmart Vishal Megamart Westside Next Enamor Honest Big Bazaar Subhiksha Crossword Catmoss Levi’s Brown and off white Fuschia. Friendly Lively .
Tanishq Spencers’ Pantaloon Maroon Orange Light Green Elegant. marquee. . Analyzing semantically the products gain credence and meaning in relation to the other signs in form of an element inside the store. More is a supermarket for basic necessities of its target customer. (Langrehr. Up-market Dull and boring Freshness and soberness Interpretation of Data: Studies show that retailers appeal to multiple senses of sight. design. The red colored couch inside the store added to the fantasy element of the merchandise. being a superspecialty store in lingerie. taste. The signs communicate a feeling of sensuality. displays feminism to its core displaying beauty and sensuality in every visual element present in the store. So a ‘theatre’ is the metaphor used to represent a retail store. The colors. logo. The observational study indicated that there is a brand experience represented by the colors. Croma’s exterior and interiors gel well with the merchandise it carried as compared to ‘Next’ where a mismatch was observed in its exterior and offerings inside the store. sound. while there was a mismatch in the other. Enamor. windows represented on the exterior reflected in the ambience or environment within the store. 1991). An example that would elucidate the point further is in Croma and Next the stores dealing in consumer durables. The layered presentation of merchandise using available shelves indicates abundance. punch line that were used on the façade and interiors of the retail store. Orange color has been extensively used in the store on the fixtures and even packaging of its private labels. scent. tactile and in case of food.
The look due to the lights. Fig: 1 Entrance of Bandhej . Overall ambience created feeling of warmth inside the store. like using Khadi and cotton as the basis of their clothes. music and props used inside the store. Hidden lights behind the displays enable the customer focus more on the merchandise itself. While FabIndia gave a perception of organic and environment friendly store. right at the reception with the display of a picture which is relation to the meaning of the cultural context in India. More was perceived to be more lively and friendly than Spencers’ due to the brightness in the orange color which in the relation to the elements and store design semiotically meant to bring liveliness inside the store. with the natural elements. The visual balance of space is creatively designed to departmentalize different categories within the store. All the props used indicate ethnicity and are available for sale. The lights give a direction to the eye movement within the store. Raised floor in some categories differentiate it from others. adding to the high-end appeal. Dark mannequins add to the contemporariness and creates a visual block with aesthetics of color blocking applied to the merchandise display. Similarly in supermarkets’. also added symbolically to the meaning of the store. though ‘More’ and ‘Spencers’ use orange color as their brand identity .White and focused light in the fresh produce area add to the aesthetic sensitivities and gives a visual incentive to the customer to buy more. They offer presentation variation at an in-store display every week by showcasing the work from different regions in India. Bulk merchandising was used off the shelf and the wall mounted posters and danglers added to the vertical presentation in the store. The signs that post modern Indian women along with the traditionally aattire add to the meaning. Similarly ‘FabIndia’ and ‘Bandhej’ being a concept / lifestyle store represent absolutely different images because of the environment within the store. Bandhej gives a contemporary traditional cum modern.
Fig 2: The Reception: Contemporary blended with tradition .
promotion. or need fulfillment and may operate at the levels of product. price. This process may include a vicarious experience. and brand logo. to understand how consumer attitudes and behavior are formed in relation to popular culture. Communicating a .Fig 3: Ethinicity Semiotics in shaping brand equity of a retail outlet: A semiotic dimension of brands is instrumental in building “awareness. at a retail outlet. and contributes to trademark ownership and operational advantages such as channel and media clout”. and how marketing and advertising programs can best meet the needs of consumers by improving communication with the end user. The above study shows the importance of the in store lay out in the decision factor of the consumer as to which store would he/she prefer according to the “feelings”. Consumer Attitude in shaping the behavior in a store: Semiotic theories and methods can be used to identify trends in popular culture. a relationship. So a “brand can be defined as a system of signs and symbols that engages the consumer in an imaginary/symbolic process that contributes tangible value to a product offering”. Semiotics is thus a cornerstone of experiencing a brand . Thus researchers have seen in the recent past that. packaging. and long-term customer loyalty. since symbolic communication ties consumption to the form of brand communication in advertising. or placement. managing brand equity means managing brand semiotics. associations. including brands.
” such as packaging. Great experience brands generate customer excitement by offering their customer more than a mundane experience. media choices. According to Berry. (Ko Floor. Thus helps in retaining customers. And thus affecting that the communicative intentional action of the addresser is left for the consumer to brand the experience across in the surroundings and the way the brand is placed in the store. a relationship that should be developed and sustained across other points of contact with the brand. The link between the semiotic variables and shopper behavior is the result of his/her demonstrative reaction to elements in the retail environment. Static refers to the stationery element in the store affecting the senses of the shoppers. These brand experiences are recalled by the customer and s/he patronizes the store. Though analysis of brands in print and television advertising is the most obvious application of semiotics.brand plays a significant role in building a relationship with the consumer. dynamic refers to the customers’ involvement/ interaction with different . this methodology makes a science out of integrating brand communication across other marketing “occasions. customer excitement means experiencing genuine pleasure in interacting with the retailer as a result of freshness and creativity of the store. and even sponsored events. 2007). It’s a coordinated effort of different elements within the store that contribute to the overall brand experiences. retail display. merchandise and/or employees. Pine and Gulmore (1999) point out two elements in a retail environment – Static and dynamic.
Having a clean and pleasant looking trial room in a department store is static element while the comfort and convenience elements added in the trial room for customers’ usage in terms of his/her interaction would be dynamic. design is about and what it does. as designing retail outlets. object. in other words their cultural orientation. This is especially applicable to outlets aimed at a young market. People. As seen in the study and shown in detail the sign. either by shocking the receiver or being unconventional or unpredictable. This objective can be achieved in various ways. . But it can be said that people are more prone to react and respond to situations and ideas that fall within their frames of reference. irrespective of whether these markers have positive or negative meanings or value. Semiotics and Retailing: Information overload abounds. Culture has the most impact on their receivers. it must arrest the eye of the receiver. who are the receivers of the information forced upon them from all quarters. and interpretant (or interpretation) must be manipulated in such a way that the receiver immediately recognizes the logo of an outlet either through a uniformity in colour as in case of the Aditya Birla groups outlet “more” or brand to generate a specific meaning and thus a message. are the reason for the existence of the in store layout design of a retail mall that persuade them to take certain actions. the attention-grabbing interiors must have or do something that differentiates it from other discourses.elements. therefore this market has to be coaxed and challenged in another way to buy the product through the retail design. the savvy generation as in case of the local retail outlets “ Bandhej” are streetwise about what colour. In other words.
which marks all the products of the culture: fashion. in other words how the different elements and parts work together as a discourse to perform a certain function.The assumption is that culture is all of one piece. the translator gets additional insight into the receivers who might respond to the advertisements. Semioticians drag the unconscious messages being transmitted into consciousness by isolating and identifying the signs to constitute the message. and may consequently use signs that have an adverse effect on the target receivers by not generating an equivalent message (of the source message). go to the outlet and buy the product. and make an estimate of the bond the consumer will form with the outlet that he would associate with most of the times.a common set of assumptions. colour. advertising. Furthermore. Another problem is that the translator might not be fully adapted to deal with cultural nuances in the target language. and television shows. as a discourse. Although only a few examples of retail outlets were analysed. The codes are taken for granted and embedded in man’s behavior that s/he does not realise. music focuses on emotions rather than objects or ideas. Thus the translator might not treat that particular discourse as such. A shortcoming of this approach was that advertisements. light. and thus a message and effect. if cultural codes are at work and as such evident. The translator must create a similar effect on the receivers in the target language. Some outlets strive towards a state of non-cultural categorisation: in other words the interiors. There is a cultural system -. beliefs and symbols called “codes” -. are dynamic. The translator has a double role: as semiotician and as transference agent or translator. food. . it can be said that Semiotic Interpretaion can (and should be) translated in terms of semiotic guidelines. movies. music. Semiotics gives the translator of a retail outlet a better understanding of the intrinsic appeal of designing the retail outlet. While the above variables were quite feasible in most of the cases in Ahmedabad. It might not always be obvious that a specific discourse is an advertisement.
It is a familiar tool in advertising. In cases where cultural elements play an important role in persuasive advertisements. Unlike competitive flyers. they present "plain folks. sabse achcha” advertising flyers are distinctive. services marketing and consumer research. (This applies to all media forms in which the advertisements appear." spouses." apparently ordinary people "associates. which use professional models. suppliers and customers. including in-store advertisements. The best example is Big Bazaar’s “ Sabse saste teen din” during republic day. semiotics acts as a tool or measure to gauge the cultural elements. their signification and meaning. Semiotics and In-Store Communication: The effect of semiotics on in-store communication can be clearly illustrated by the example of a warehouse grocery store. according to the need of the season depending on the traditional and cultural festivities. not sales.) In that case a semiotic analysis would yield fewer results and the translator could rely more readily on other translation methods. They emphasize low prices. They also devote an inordinate amount of space to community-oriented and patriotic topics. will logically seek to convey that image to its customers. the mere establishment of a lower pricing structure will . This information provides the translator with added insights that might not always be apparent at first sight or intuitively. A warehouse grocery store. This draws our attention to the importance of retail image and retail symbolism. children.In the case of retail advertisements (which could border on informative advertisements rather than persuasive) cultural signs or markers are not always that apparent: the language used can be plain and without idiomatic expressions or figures of speech. Since a store’s image is based only in part on the functional cues of the store. parents. The Retail Players in the Ahmedabad Market: Big Baazar quote “Isse sasta Isse acha aur kahan”. Vishal Megamart quotes “sabse sasta. whose primary competitive advantage over conventional supermarkets is lower prices.
The power aisle provides for the display of large quantities of a relatively small number of SKUs with the goal of creating an impression that the products are available at very low prices. Conclusions and Implications: . The existence of “value signals” is of special interest in the grocery industry since the majority of supermarket shoppers lack knowledge of actual product prices. This encoding process may be based on information in addition to the actual product price itself . it has been observed that environmental cues will affect consumers’ price perceptions. A power aisle in a warehouse grocery store may be one such attribute or cue which may affect one’s price perceptions. or attributes apart from the merchandise or the pricing alone which can affect consumers’ perception of value . that environment cues other than actual product price may have the potential to affect the price perceived by consumers significantly. therefore. these consumers appear to encode price information in ways which provide meaning for them. The existence of cues which act as “value signals”. the power aisle has since become synonymous with several areas of discount retailing.typically be insufficient to convey effectively this image to consumers. Indeed.information which may logically be expected to include a number of environmental cues which may be encountered in the retail shopping experience. It appears.attributes which can logically include the layout and display encountered in a retail store. Instead. a retailer may need to structure the overall store environment to convey that image. This identification in turn may provide consumers with a visual cue which may aid them in assigning an image to a store by providing them with a method of store categorization.. Although price is unquestionably an important cue. The power aisle may act as an environmental cue by presenting a “massed out” look. Instead.
This environment. Once retailers have devised the value proposition and personality of a brand. services and the staff in the store. The mood of the customers change with the time of the day and the season. moreover. a structured environment for discussion.In this respect semiotics can be highly reassuring—setting a framework. a consistency in the shopping environment would create an universal experience across different stores from the same retailer. 2000) Customers are looking for a good experience in each of their visits and thus it requires flexibility and innovation in design. Although semiotic analysis of a retail outlet is not initially based on work with consumers. and semiotics together would help in retail strategic decisions. Store design is contextual in nature. We examined the interaction of customers with the elements. size. which make up an experience. Sherman and Smith (1986) found in a survey of shoppers that a more positive mood resulted in purchasing more items and spending more money in a store. Our analysis is based on the theories of semiotics and visual rhetoric. what might be successful in a space and time context might not work in another.Results suggest that non-verbal cues used in the in-store communications influence the decision to purchase from a particular store. findings can be tested and refined in research (using specially designed stimulus material). they must give it visibility (Hendirson & Mihas. As retailers offer products in a social and cultural context. It is important to recognize the importance of elements of store design in the cultural and social context in which they operate and customize their offerings accordingly. a discipline. merchandise. negotiation and decision making. ethnography. as a lot of factors interplay with each other. Total experience of a retail brand is formed by a number of elements. Though elements might change. This also supports the fact that about 70-75% of the purchase decisions are taken inside the store. is very much in touch with the way the world is heading— towards ever greater sophistication and discrimination in relation to communications and culture. An integrated study of marketing. systematically and holistically. including location. importance of semiotics in the . Gardner (1985) posits that shoppers probably select stores that induce positive moods and avoid those that create negative ones.
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