Atmospherics Online – Social Media the Final Frontier?

The term Atmospherics, coined in 1937, refers to the conscious design of (retail) space for the purpose of creating certain effects in buyers. It has traditionally been partitioned into three dimensions: Ambient, Physical and Social.

Carla Ferraro, Research Fellow from the Australian Centre for Retail Studies, takes us through how atmospherics is applicable to the online retail realm, explains the ‘social servicescape’  and discusses the findings from ACRS research into the social media dimension of atmospherics.

How do you see retailers being able to apply the practice of Atmospherics online?

Atmospheric elements need to be addressed in a retailer’s web strategy and presence, whether for a dedicated website, blog forum, consumer review site or social networking site. In the context of online, atmospherics can include the look and feel of the website (entertaining and engaging), functionality, visual imagery (brand and product), information (often relating to education), audio bites/video content, and associated service arrangements (link to call centre, the ability to return/claim warranty in a store, etc). Essentially, any element which can bring the online experience to life in a similar way to the store experience and ultimately encourage a shopper to buy, revisit and recommend the experience to others.

What is the ‘social servicescape’ and why it is important to retailers?

Typically, the ‘social’ atmospheric element, concerns the retail store environment (the relationship between consumers and staff and between consumers themselves). However, with the rise in social media and demand for peer input into purchase decision making, social media offers the ability for  consumers to connect with their peers to seek opinions and facilitate purchase decisions. This can be achieved via a smart phone device or web-enabled kiosk in store.

This is important for retailers in terms of staying abreast with emerging consumer trends and in providing a differentiated store environment which is engaging, interactive and convenient for consumers in their purchase decision making and behaviour.

Supré - a successful example of multichannel brand engagement.

The social dimension of atmospherics has traditionally focused on the interactions between customers and sales staff – as retailers move into multichannel, does this interaction translate ?

With multichannel, the relationship is between consumers and the brand itself, regardless of which channel consumers are engaging in – consumers see the brand, not the channel. This can be achieved through the development and maintenance of an integrated multichannel strategy which ensures consistency (in product range, pricing, service, promotions, etc) across channels and therefore a seamless interaction for customers regardless of which channel they choose to interact with the brand. Sportsgirl and Supré are great local examples of successful retailers in this regard.

What trends has your research revealed about peer-to-peer interactions via social media tools?

Social media tools are enabling peer-to-peer interactions when ‘mobile’ (e.g. when in a store) via smart phones and kiosks, as two examples from this research. However, we found that the effectiveness of such tools differs by retail format, specifically that a kiosk is most effective within a boutique retail store and a smart phone within a department store setting. These findings hold true across all generations of consumers (Gen Y, X and Baby Boomers), with Gen Y and Gen X most engaged in social media.

From the results of your research what are the implications and recommendations for retailers?

  • Social media has become a permanent part of consumption behaviour;
  • Social media offers an opportunity for interactivity and engagement with consumers, both within and outside the store environment;
  • Allowing consumers to engage ‘beyond’ store boundaries can act as a draw card for consumers in store choice; and
  • Integrating social media (within the servicescape) is not necessarily a panacea for retail success.

Ferraro will be speaking at the Retail 2010 Conference and Exhibition.

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