The importance of store image dimensions in apparel retail : customer and management perceptions
Thesis (MComm (Industrial Psychology))--Stellenbosch University, 2008.
The apparel retail environment is highly competitive. Products and services that are easily replicated, together with informed and demanding consumer markets, add to the complexity of this dynamic, fast changing retail and manufacturing industry. One avenue that companies explore to differentiate themselves from the competition is by the development of their corporate identity. A fundamental element of marketing communication and corporate identity representation is store image, as it is a vehicle that affects the customers’ perception of the store and the store’s identity. To be able to invest in store image optimally, retailers should take cognisance of the need to manage store image in order to increase potential sales. The purpose of the current study was to expand the existing body of knowledge on retail store image and the female apparel consumer in the Western Cape with special reference to the perceived importance of retail store image dimensions. The research question directing the current study was formulated as follows: How do consumers perceive the various store image dimensions in apparel retail and how congruent are customers’ and management’s perceptions of these store image dimensions? The literature review focuses on the importance of store image for retail differentiation purposes as well as independent (demographics, lifestyle, shopping orientation) and dependent variables (patronage behaviour, store loyalty, customer satisfaction) in store image research. Congruity as well as gap analysis are also discussed as these are the focus of the research analysis. The Store Image Scale (SIS) was used as measuring instrument. Management (n -= 14) and customer (n = 200) samples from a leading apparel retailer were used to measure the importance of the various store image dimensions. The questionnaire was adapted for the purpose of reaching all the set empirical objectives. The customer questionnaire included five sections to measure the ideal and the actual store image and the management questionnaire included two sections to measure management’s perception of the importance of store image dimensions for customers. Data was subjected to reliability analysis, descriptive statistics and analysis of variance. Results indicated that Atmosphere, Merchandise and Service were rated as most important dimensions according to customer perceptions of the ideal, while Atmosphere, Promotion and Service were the most important dimensions according to management. Atmosphere, Convenience and Merchandise were rated as most acceptable by customers. Due to the nature of the research design congruency analysis was used. The congruency analysis yielded 29 of the 55 attributes as congruent. The analysis of congruency between acceptability and importance ratings of customers indicated that the dimensions Convenience, Institutional and Sales Personnel showed no significant differences. It therefore was concluded that management’s perception and customers’ perceptions of the importance of ideal store image are closely related for these dimensions. However, closer consideration has to be given to the specific attribute design. Significant differences between management’s and customers’ perceptions were found for the Promotion, Merchandise and Service dimensions. Based on the results, recommendations were made to management from which they could infer possible adjustments to the strategic management of store image dimensions. This is one of the first academic studies to attempt to provide management with feedback on the performance of their retail strategy and is therefore exploratory in nature. The recommendations from the current study could help retailers meet consumer needs, and thereby create a competitive advantage and unique market position for the store. This could contribute to building brand equity, store patronage and, consequently, sales, as well as support the possibility of benchmarking the importance of specific store image dimensions as retail practices in the chain store apparel sector. This could contribute to this retailer’s ability to project a store image that meets customers’ expectations while enforcing the strategic corporate identity.