PhD Thesis by Sanne Dollerup: Engaging the Shopping Experience

PhD Thesis by Sanne Dollerup: Engaging the Shopping Experience

The overall research question in this dissertation is: How can brick-and-mortar stores be designed to differentiate them from each other and from online stores by addressing how customers can be immersed in a store through participation in a fictional world? To answer this question, Sanne Dollerup has combined the theoretical field of consumer experience with possible world theory, which is mainly used in literary studies as a way to understand immersion in a literary world of fiction.

Photo, Nanna Dam: Kronen Kaffe, Aalborg (Denmark)

Engaging the Shopping Experience - Experience Design as a Way to Increase Customers' Emotional Engagement i Brick-And-Mortar Stores

By Sanne Dollerup

As new technologies such as the automobile, television, computer, credit card and scanner emerged, it shifted attention onto the convenient aspect of shopping. Retailers focused on parking, shopping trollies, low prices, large quantities and quick purchase processes. This attention to convenience made it very easy for online stores to outmatch brick-and-mortar stores: With convenience as the competitive parameter, the online stores have all the advantages. A significant parameter is the ability to shop online anytime anywhere. Competition seems like a lost cause for the brick-and-mortar stores, because why would customers want anything other than convenient aspects such as the cheapest prize, more variety and quick service?

However overview of the last three hundred years demonstrates that people do not always shop for convenience. Historically, people went shopping for social interaction, leisure and identity confirmation. All features that are still relevant today. This indicates the two overall paradigms that are dominating the retail business: A focus on rational benefits through convenience and a focus on emotional benefits through social interaction, a leisure environment and identity confirmation. In this dissertation, I am interested in the last mentioned emotional paradigm. Therefore, the research is based on knowledge from atmospherics, service design and especially consumer experience, because they are all traditionally concerned with the emotional aspect of retailing. Atmospherics aims to set the customer in a certain mood through variables like smiling sales assistants and specific colours. Service design has a more holistic approach with an overall focus on all the touch points that the customer has with the organisation. Research on consumer experience has a more hedonic aim with an overall focus on making experiences pleasurable.

I have combined the theoretical field of consumer experience with possible world theory, which is mainly used in literary studies as a way to understand immersion in a literary world of fiction. Therefore the overall research question is:
How can brick-and-mortar stores be designed to differentiate them from each other and from online stores by addressing how customers can be immersed in a store through participation in a fictional world?

To answer this question I have chosen participatory observation in the store Guns&Gents, which resulted in an observation of 715 customers during a 2-week period. This is combined with several case studies: Two studies that are analyses of extraordinary cases and one that is a systematic data collection of 1153 stores in confined areas. The research in this dissertation is based on cases from Denmark (Copenhagen), Denmark (Aalborg), Sweden (Gothenburg), Germany (Stuttgart), Germany (Berlin), Netherlands (Amsterdam), Scotland (Edinburgh), Italy (Rome), Belgium (Brussels), UK (London), USA (New York), USA (Los Angeles), USA (Atlanta), Canada (Victoria Island), Canada (Edmonton), Canada (Vancouver), Bali (Ubud), China (Dali City).

In the following I will describe the papers in this dissertation individually.

PAPER 1: WHEN MEN GO SHOPPING

This paper is an analysis of participatory observation in the store Guns & Gents. The overall point is that the customers have a play-like behaviour as they enter the store, such as aiming for pretend birds in the sky, showing childish excitement, walking slowly and talking in lowered voices. In other words, they are adapting to the world presented in the store. We argue that this is a recreational mode where the customers are immersed into a dream world of hunting. In Guns & Gents the sociability of the customers seems to have a strategic intention to enhance their professional network through the field of hunting. The store thus becomes a club where the customers can engage sociablly with peers.

PAPER 2: RECOVERING THE POETICS OF SHOPPING

This paper explores the poetic aspect of shopping by investigating the emotional reactions of excitement, boredom and repulsion observed in Guns & Gents. We present a theory of disruption to explain these emotional reactions related to the purchases that seem unplanned and a deliberate waste of time. The overall argumentation is that shopping is purposeful, because it is a purpose in itself. Therefore, it could be an aesthetic experience if the store is disruptive by having a different set of rules than ordinary stores.

PAPER 3: THE POSSIBLE WORLD OF STORES

In this paper we have carried out a categorization of different stores based on possible world theory. As a result we have recovered six worlds: The Standard World, The Replica World, The Perfect World of Everyday Life, The Tribal World, The Museum World and The Fairy Tale World. The main finding is an overall variation in the role-playing of employees and customers, the role of the product and the degree of transportation and transformation. The paper suggests that these factors all contribute to customer engagement in a store.

PAPER 4: CREATIVE IMMERSIVE WORLDS IN BRICK-AND-MORTAR STORES

This paper is an analysis of the store Tarina Tarantino through an exploration of different perspectives of play. It is based on Yelp reviews where customers disclose a very positive emotional reaction toward the store. The paper proposes some general principles for designing immersive stores based on "possible world" theory. I disclose that an essential condition for customer engagement is an overall cohesiveness in all elements in a store. The most significant contribution in this paper is that products become props for role-playing in a store, hence making them central for maintaining that role outside the store.

In this dissertation, I have sought to clarify customer experience in brick-and-mortar stores by introducing possible world theory. It is a clarification of how specific conditions in a store might influence customer behavior. I suggest possible worlds as a way to understand which conditions might engage customers in a store. It is a framework for designing fictional stores that engage customers emotionally in the actual store by transporting them into another world where they are role-playing. As such, shopping can become transformative as the role-playing becomes a way for customers to reinforce, maintain or try on a new identity. In this process the products may become essential for maintaining that identity outside the store. Until now, theory on consumer experience has been focused on employees playing a role and customers being audiences. Therefore, the findings concerning customers’ active role-playing constitute a further development of the theoretical field of consumer experience in brick-and-mortar stores.

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About Sanne Dollerup