Beyond the Physical Realm: A proposed theory regarding a consumer’s place experience

By Mark Rosenbaum, Ph.D.

Abstract

Marketers view place as a marketing mix tool that denotes activities
associated with the distribution of products and services. Thus, the
discipline believes that places are alienated from consumers’ lives
and experiences. This article looks at the place concept anew and
offers an original theory of consumers’ experience in place.

Introduction

The concept of place is well engrained in the marketing discipline
as a basic marketing mix tool that refers to distributional and to
organizational activities associated with making products and
services available to targeted consumers (Kotler 2000, p. 87). As
a result of this conceptualization, it is not surprising that marketers
perceive that places are isolated from consumers’ personal lives
and experiences. Indeed, pundits often chastise contemporary
retailers for creating an urban marketplace that represents a
rendition of human alienation and that is replete with impersonal, cold
relationships between buyers and sellers. This perception of place,
as a mere subdivision of physical space (Sherry 2000), is especially
prevalent among marketing researchers who adhere to the regional
school of thought (Sheth and Garrett 1986; Sheth, Gardner, and
Garrett 1988). Researchers, in this school, consider marketing
as a form of economic activity that bridges the geographic gap,
or spatial gaps, between buyers and sellers (see Grether 1983).
Consequently, these researchers are guided by a philosophy of
consumption which espouses that general laws exist for predicting
spatial regularities between consumers’ residential location and their
selected shopping areas. Although regional researchers have been
developing models since the 1930’s, no encompassing marketing
theory has yet emerged from their endeavors (Sheth, Gardner, and
Garrett 1988).

Marketing’s conceptualization of place has been unwavering since
its inception in the early 1960’s (McCarthy 1960); however, as the
discipline entered the new millennium, Sherry (2000) suggested that
all is not sanguine with it. Sherry’s (1998, 2000) point of contention
with the place concept is that marketers deem consumption settings,
or servicescapes (Bitner 1992; Sherry 1998), as being comprised
of physical elements (Turley and Milliman 2000). Thus, he believes
that marketers fail to consider that places may also be comprised
of intangible, symbolic realms, which may be integral to consumers’
personal worlds and experiences.

Rather than consider that consumers view places as pointsof-
exchange where they satisfy essential consumption needs,
Sherry posits that places have different dimensions of meaning
for consumers, based upon their personal experiences in them.
In addition, he speculates that the impact of these meanings, on
consumer behavior, ranges on a continuum from the subtle to the
profound. However, like Trickster, Sherry (1998, 2000) stops
conjecturing mid-stream; leaving future researchers with the challenge
of generating a theory of consumer’s being-in-place.

The goal of this article is to heed Sherry’s (2000) challenge by
conceiving a theory that (1) illustrates why and how consumers
experience places in their lives, (2) uncovers major antecedents
that impact consumers’ place experience, (3) links place experience
to patronizing behavior, and (4) is parsimonious, relevant, and
modifiable.

The theory serves as a milestone for marketing as it addresses a
chasm in the marketing mix. Namely, that marketing mix, along with
its consideration of place as distribution, is not entirely complete,
is somewhat inconsiderate of consumers’ needs, and focuses on
investigating unidimensional relationships between stimuli and
responses, rather than on the much richer concept of exchange
relationships (van Waterschoot 2000; van Waterchoot and Van den
Bulte 1992). To date, the majority of place studies in marketing
have attempted to discern stimulus-response regularities between
specific environmental conditions (e.g., music, crowding, scent)
and consumer behavior (Bone and Ellen 1999; Chebat and Dube
2000; Chebat and Michon 2003; Harrell, Huff, and Anderson 1980;
Hightower, Brady and Baker 2002; Milliman 1982; 1986). Although
this research is insightful, a limitation of this methodological
philosophy is that marketers construe that consumers simply react
to environmental stimuli. Thus, marketers have essentially failed
to consider that consumers may seek out and patronize places as
a response to internal, unfulfilled needs. Consequently, marketers
are estranged from fully comprehending the interconnectedness that
often exists between consumers and places.

For too long, marketers have been content with permitting sociologists
to explore the evocative relationships that consumers in consumption
settings such as taverns, taxi cabs, department stores, secondhand
stores, and coffeehouses (Lofland 1998 for review) often
form with other customers and employees. Because sociologists
have conducted their studies primarily via participant observation,
their research is rich in description, yet it lacks theoretical
conceptualization. Hence, sociologists have failed to offer research
propositions that explain the preponderance of behavior regarding
how and why consumers transform consumption settings into
significant centers of personal experiences. Thus, the proposed
theory represents a first attempt to unravel and to describe the
experiential nature of place, from the consumer perspective, and in
doing so, it offers an explanation as to why and how places become
meaningful for some consumers.

The plan for this article adheres to Cunningham and Sheth’s (1982)
suggestions for writing a theory development piece, as well as to
established grounded theory methodological procedures (Glaser
1998; Glaser and Strauss 1967; Strauss 2001; Strauss and
Corbin 1998). The article commences with a historical review of
environmental, and place, research in marketing. The review is used
to expose a shortcoming in the discipline’s current stance towards
place and to buttress Sherry’s (2000) request for its reassessment.
Next, I present the proposed theoretical framework that emerged
from the data and provide a brief explanation of its conceptual
categories. Then, I turn our attention to developing and to defining
each conceptual category, one “block” at a time (Cunningham and
Sheth 1982). I conclude the article with a discussion of possible
future research endeavors and of research limitations.

The Study Of Place In Marketing

Marketing’s pursuit of place originates with the 1931 publication of
William J. Reilly’s, Law of Retail Gravitation (Sheth, Gardner, and
Garrett 1988; Sheth and Garrett 1986). Reilly’s objective was to
develop models that espoused rational and economic regularities
concerning consumers’ spatial movements into the marketplace.
Since then, other researchers, primarily those in the regional
school, have continued to pursue the development of general laws
regarding consumers’ movements into shopping areas (Craig,
Ghosh, and McLafferty 1984; Grether 1983 for reviews). Because
regional researchers believe that consumers initiate movement into
the marketplace solely as a response to unfulfilled consumption
needs, and that these spatial movements are perceived as costly
endeavors, they assume that consumers formulate rational and
economic decisions regarding their decision to patronize specific
shopping areas (e.g., patronizing closest stores to residence).
Although this assumption is typically sound, it is highly susceptible
to a fundamental weakness that limits its theoretical generalizablity.
However, to expose the weakness in the place concept, we must
turn to ecological theory.

Ecology refers to “the study of the interrelations between organisms
and their environment” (Stokols 1977, p. 7; Bonnes and Secchiaroli
1995). Encouraged by Darwin’s research, biologists began
developing ecological theory in the early 1900’s by investigating how
organisms collectively respond to objective stimuli that are present
within a spatially-bounded area. By the 1930’s, ecological theory
entered other fields, such as sociology, geography, economics, and
marketing, as researchers searched for general laws to explain
individuals’ collective movement into spatially-bounded areas. These
beliefs gained further entrée into marketing as gravitationalists
(Converse 1949) and behaviorists (Huff 1964) sought to discover
logical relationships between consumers’ residential locations and
their decision to select specific shopping destinations.

Ecological perspectives also entered marketing via environmental
psychology, most notably with the work of Barker and the publication
of Ecological Psychology: Concepts and Methods for Studying the
Environment of Human Behavior
(Barker 1968). Barker applied
traditional psychological stimulus-organism-response thinking to
environmental studies by assuming that individuals respond to
observable stimuli (e.g., noise, and temperature) that are present
within a specific environment, or “behavior setting.” For example,
Baker stated, “To laymen they (behavior settings) are as objective as
rivers and forests – they are parts of the objective environment that
are experienced directly as rain and sandy beaches are experienced”
(Barker 1968, p. 11). Barker’s research, and methodological
philosophy, influenced the work of other environmental
psychologists, including Mehrabian and Russell (1974) and Russell
and Ward (1982), who influenced the work of marketing researchers,
including Kotler (1973/1974), Belk (1975), Lutz and Kakkar (1975),
Donovan and Rossiter (1982) and Bitner (1992).

Kotler (1973/1974) was one of the first researchers to explore the
impact of objective environmental stimuli on consumers’ behavior.
He coined the term, atmospherics, to denote stimuli present in the
“air” that all customers, in a specific consumption setting, respond
to via their senses. In a similar fashion, Belk (1975) and Lutz
and Kakkar (1975) sought to uncover situational variables, such
as store location and appearance, which influence all customers
in a specific consumption setting, at a specific point in time. In
contrast to isolating specific time and place stimuli, Donovan and
Rossiter (1982) found that consumer approach/avoidance behaviors
are influenced by their perceptions of a broad range of objective
properties contained in a consumption setting. Bitner (1992)
expanded upon Donovan and Rossiter (1982) by conceptualizing
the properties inherent in a consumption setting’s built environment,
or servicescape, which evoke behavioral and social responses from
customers and employees.

By drawing upon theories and disciplines that all share a common
lineage to ecology, it is understandable as to why marketers
conceptualize places as being comprised of physical, objective
elements that work in harmony to evoke consumer approach and
avoidance responses. Accordingly, this is not to say that the present
conceptualization of place is entirely awry; however, it is not entirely
complete.

The Place Concept’s Theoretical Weakness Exposed

In a classic essay, Firey (1944) puts forward that ecological theory
is based upon two premises. The first premise postulates that
individuals regard spatial movements (e.g., making a trip to the mall),
as being costly and impeditive to their daily routines. The second
premise assumes that individuals are economizing, “fiscal” agents.
On the basis of these two premises, individuals are said to formulate
rational, cost-minimizing decisions regarding their movements into
specific spatially-bounded areas. Although ecological premises are
by and large solid, Firey (1944) points out that they are susceptible
to a major shortcoming. Namely, ecological premises, along with
its theoretical offshoots, which espouse that individuals formulate
rational and economic spatial decisions, fall by the wayside when
individuals imbue a specific place with sentiment due to the nature
of their social relationships held with others in the place. Therefore,
if consumers instill a commercial establishment with emotion due
to the nature of social relationships that they sustain with others in
the place, then marketing frameworks designed to predict approach/
avoidance behaviors, such as servicescape and atmospherics, may
no longer be entirely valid.

Although it is odd to fathom that some consumers sustain meaningful
social relationships with others in commercial establishments,
consider the regulars who routinely gathered at Cheers, the
fictionalized Boston-bar “where everybody knows your name,” or
with Homer Simpson at Moe’s. Furthermore, the psychosocial
literature is replete with studies that illustrate that some consumers,
typically older-aged adults, form emotionally-laden relationships with
customers and employees (Cheang 2002; Day 2000; Lofland 1998
for review). Thus, places must exist, in the marketplace, which
serve as prime forums for hosting meaningful social relationships—
meet the third place.

The Third Place

Third places denote places outside of home and work (which
represent the first and second place, respectively) where people
gather to enjoy each other’s company (Oldenburg 1999, 2001;
Oldenburg and Brissett 1982). Third places are typically eating
or drinking establishments, such as simple, or even run-down,
neighborhood pubs, diners, or coffee shops where a group of
customers, referred to as a regulars, routinely gather (see Tuan
1974 for “fields of care”). Even though the physical surroundings of
third places are often unadorned, the internal atmosphere of these
establishments is vivacious as the regulars come together in these
establishments to engage in sociability and lively banter. This is not
to say that every neighborhood diner or tavern represents a third
place. Third places are viewed from a customer’s perspective.
Thus, although a group of regulars may consider a place such as
a neighborhood McDonald’s a third place, other customers may
consider the same establishment as a straightforward, point of
exchange.

For nearly a century, marketing researchers have considered
the impact of place on behavior from an ecological perspective.
Therefore, the discipline has generated a plethora of macro-level
research regarding the impact of observable environmental stimuli
on consumer behavior and has generally accepted the philosophy
that place is alienated from consumers’ personal lives. Yet, this
predominant methodology of consumption, which espouses the
unearthing of environmental stimulus-response regularities, has
constrained marketing researchers from looking beyond a place’s
physical realm and into its intangible realm. In fact, researchers
have not fully explored the psychological and social significance of a
place, and, are unable to fully understand the particularity of place as
a consumer’s lived experience (Sherry 2000)–until now.

Theoretical Framework

[please see PDF version for all figures]

Figure 1 illustrates the proposed theoretical framework that emerged
from adhering to grounded theory methodological procedures
(Glaser and Strauss 1967, Glaser 1978, 1998, 2001; Strauss 2001;
Strauss and Corbin 1998). The framework breaks the traditionally
held perception that consumers simply experience places in order
to satiate utilitarian, consumption needs (Bagozzi 1975) and that
they only respond to objective environmental stimuli present within
a consumption setting. Indeed, the framework illustrates conditions
under which consumers may be encouraged to actively seek out
and to patronize places and how consumption settings may become
associated with widely-shared social meanings and personal,
psychologically-oriented meanings.

The framework is centered upon the proposition that consumers
instigate marketplace movement in order to successfully resolve
consumption-oriented needs, socially-oriented companionship
needs, and psychologically-oriented emotional supportive needs.
As such, the proposed model brings the place concept into
the consumers’ perspective. Rather than suggest that place is
conceived as activities that organizations “do” to consumers (van
Waterschoot 2000), the model proposes that consumers determine
the purpose of entering specific consumption settings by opting to
experience them as either place-as-practical, place-as-gathering,
or place-as-home. Place-as-practical is conceptualized as a place
that consumers experience in order to satisfy a consumption need.
Place-as-gathering refers to a place that consumers experience
in order to satisfy both consumption and companionship needs.
Lastly, place-as-home is conceptualized as a place that consumers
experience in order to satisfy consumption, companionship,
emotional supportive needs.

Therefore, the model supports Sherry’s (2000) claim that place is
more than subdivision of space that is separated from consumers’
personal lives. In actuality, feelings of unity and interrelationships
may emerge between consumers and places as they deem certain
commercial establishments as not only forums in which they satisfy
consumption needs, but also forums in which they exchange feelings
of human togetherness with others. In essence, the proposed
framework brings the concept of place into the relationship paradigm
by putting forward that consumers transfer their warm-hearted
feelings for people in a specific place to the place itself. Therefore,
marketers do not need to refute their current conceptualization of
place; as a place is a physical locale where buyers and sellers come
together to engage in utilitarian exchange activity. Yet, our goal is
to expand the place concept and to posit that beyond the physical
realm, places can also be conceptualized as repositories and
contexts within which interpersonal relationships among customers
and employees occur (Low and Altman 1992), and it is to those
social relationships, not just place qua place, to which consumers
become loyal to.

In the following sections, I first discuss the methodology that was
utilized in this study and then we turn attention to defining and to
developing each of the framework’s conceptual categories.

Methodology

Purpose of Grounded Theory

Grounded theory is an appropriate methodology when the focus of
the investigation is on theory generation versus theory verification.
Grounded theory is a general methodology that yields the generation
of substantive theory from data that is systematically obtained and
analyzed. The term, general methodology, is utilized because while
it is true that grounded theory is inductive methodology, meaning
a theory is induced after data collection begins, it also contains a
deductive element. Namely, grounded theorists use deduction to
derive, from induced patterns of collected data, which groups, or
subgroups, to sample next during the data collection process in order
to generate a reliable, broad-based, substantive theory (Glaser 1978;
Strauss 2001). This technique, which is unique to grounded theory,
is referred to as theoretical sampling. The key difference between
grounded theory methodology and traditional deductive methodology
is that researchers do not deduce research propositions from preexisting
frameworks; but rather, from emerging relationships between
conceptual categories.

More specifically, theory emerges when researchers generate
patterns, denoted by categories, and their related properties, from
collected qualitative, or quantitative, data. A property refers to an
aspect of a category, while a category encompasses a set of related
properties. Conceptual categories represent the components that
comprise a theoretical framework and the relationships between the
categories represent propositions that can be empirically verified
in future studies. The propositions can be put forward in either a
“discussional” format or a “frozen” statement.

Glaser and Strauss (1967) established the basic rules of grounded
theory methodology; however, they separated in later years, each
continuing to refine the methodology. A point of contention between
the researchers is that Glaser posits that free-forming theoretical
structures should be permitted to emerge from data, while Strauss
(2001), later joined by Corbin (Strauss and Corbin 1998), espouse
that data could also be exposed to pre-established theoretical
structures, such as those produced by axial coding, in order to assist
with forming a core category (Strauss 2001; Strauss and Corbin
1998; Glaser 1992). Although this difference in methodological
ontology has generated debate, the value of the debate is actually
quite minimal (Strauss 2001) as the methodological foundation of
grounded theory has always remained germane to both Glaser
and Strauss. Regardless of which school of thought grounded
theorists utilize, key grounded theory methodological aspects, such
as the core category, open coding, selective coding and theoretical
sampling, should appear in each and every grounded theory study
(Strauss 2001).

Interestingly, although many marketing researchers have employed
grounded theory methodology (Flint, Woodruff, and Gardial 2002;
Manning, Bearden and Rose 1998; Mick and Founier 1998;
Noble and Mokwa 1999), many researchers have become lax in
there adherence to fundamental grounded theory methodological
requirements. Therefore, an objective of this article is to clarify the
process of theory creation, via grounded theory methodology. In
doing so, this article illustrates how researchers can successfully
field original theories that encapsulate the consumers’ perspectives,
rather than opt to borrow theories from disciplines far removed from
marketplace realities.

Methodological Overview

The first task of a grounded theorist is to analyze collected data in
order to develop and to define the core category. The core category
represents the main concern of the participants in the study. All
of the other conceptual categories in the theoretical framework
relate to the core category. The core category emerges during the
initial stage of theoretical analysis, referred to as the open coding
process. The mandate of open coding is that a researcher analyzes
data patterns without having preconceived notions regarding the
categories that will comprise the core.

It is worth noting here that one can argue that researchers cannot
possibly enter the field without possessing preconceived notions,
and hence, the methodological rigor of grounded theory is often
questioned. However, this argument can be countered by the
fact that a key reason why researchers employ grounded theory
is that an insufficient amount of extant theory exists regarding the
phenomenon in question. Additionally, if researchers decide to
employ grounded theory in order to reconsider a topic that appears
to be theoretically exhausted, or if they possess a significant
knowledge of related literature, then they must engage in “stepping
back” (Strauss 2001). Strauss coined this term to refer to a
researcher’s ability to momentarily set aside his or her knowledge
of the extant literature in order to develop the core category without
having conceptual biases. The bottom line is that grounded
theory is designed to provide researchers with autonomy to freely
conceptualize categories, to determine possible relationships among
the categories, and to assume ownership of original theoretical
ideas. If researchers collect data that simply supports the existence
of known concepts, then emergent theories will be trite and unlikely
to be published in quality, peer-reviewed journals.

During open coding, a researcher reads collected data, which may
be quantitative or qualitative, in an attempt to identify incidents. An
incident refers to a phrase or a few sentences that are indicative
of a categorical property. Researchers conceptualize theoretical
categories by grouping similar properties together. Open coding
terminates when the core category emerges.

Once the core category is conceptualized, a grounded theorist
employs selective coding. Selective coding refers to a process by
which a researcher delimits coding to only those variables that relate
to the core category in sufficiently significant ways that generate
relevant and parsimonious theory. During this process, a researcher
may search collected data, or obtain new data, in order to discover
conditions, consequences, and so forth that relate to the core and
that complete the theory. To acquire an understanding as to the
types of questions that may require probing, researchers may turn
to literature for guidance, often in unfamiliar fields, as relevant
literature emerges in conjunction with theory emergence. After all of
the theoretical categories have been developed, researchers turn to
theoretical coding, which refers to offering the relationships between
categories as propositions that can be empirically verified using
traditional survey or experimental techniques.

Generating Theory by Theoretical Sampling

Theoretical sampling refers to a means by which a researcher
decides which groups or subgroups one turns to next in the data
collection process and for what theoretical purpose. The purpose
of theoretical sampling is to generate a relevant theory by assessing
whether the conceptual categories that comprise the emerging
framework are supported by other data from different samples
or whether the data supports the conceptualization of additional
conceptual categories. Hence, in order to maximize theoretical
relevancy, Glaser and Strauss (1967; Glaser 1978) urge researchers
to collect and to constantly compare data from groups that are
“apparently non-comparable” due to demographic differences such
as location, age, religion, or ethnicity. Thus, theoretical sampling,
along with the comparative analysis of data from different groups, or
subgroups of individuals, helps to ensure that the emergent theory is
expanded and refined by constantly considering collected data with
data collected from comparison groups. Although researchers may
theoretically sample indefinitely, it ceases at theoretical saturation.
At theoretical saturation, the researcher is confident that the
emergent framework is relevant, parsimonious, and modifiable for
future research.

Sampling Plan

Fifty-six depth interviews with customers (44), employees (8),
managers (2), and the owners (2) at Kappy’s, a casual dining
restaurant located in a suburb of a large Midwestern city, during
two data collection waves. The first data collection wave, which
represented the open coding stage, consisted of interviewing 15
customers and the owners, George and Gus, during a three-week
period. The second data collection wave, which represented the
selective coding stage, occurred three months later and lasted
for two weeks. During this time, 29 additional customers were
interviewed along with eight employees and two managers. The
open coding and selective coding stages will be discussed in depth
in later sections.

Kappy’s opened in 1979, replacing a former “Big-Boy” restaurant and
older-aged Greek, Italian, and Jewish customers typically patronize
it. The restaurant’s exterior is basically non-descript, but its interior is
fully of vitality and sounds of lively banter. When customers walk into
Kappy’s, George, the owner, greets his regular customers by their
first name and kisses them hello. Then, George escorts the regulars
to their usual seating areas. In fact, George has embossed several
booths with brass names plates that denote regulars’ names and
serve to demarcate their usual seat location. For instance, Kappy’s
regulars, such as Toby, Jean, Max, and Anna, tend to sit in the corner
booth, so their brass name plates are affixed to that particular booth.
Kappy’s was elected as the sample site because its patrons seem to
vary widely in terms of their behaviors with respect to the restaurant.
For some customers, Kappy’s is simply a place where they purchase
a meal or buy a cup of coffee. For others, Kappy’s is a place where
they “hang” two to three times a day, seven days a week. These
customers are the regulars whose personal worlds are often deeply
intertwined with the restaurant, more specifically, to their social
relationships held with others in the restaurant.

Another reason why Kappy’s was selected for study is that the
primary author’s mother had become a regular at the restaurant after
she experienced the death of her husband. Therefore, the author
was able to immediately join several eating groups in Kappy’s and
to obtain rich insights from customers in a naturalistic manner. This
personal connection to Kappy’s customers greatly enhanced the
ability to collect rich, personal data (Lofland and Lofland 1995). In
addition, the author’s personal connection to the study is critical
in grounded theory studies as the methodological procedures are
time consuming as the emergent theory is typically slow to emerge
and the relationships with categories are often difficult to define
(Glaser and Strauss 1967; Strauss 2001). In addition, George,
managers, cashiers, and the servers all assisted in the primary
author in collecting data as they were enthused about the interest
that the author displayed regarding the role that Kappy’s plays in its
customers’ lives.

The interviews were theoretically sampled in a manner that
maximized variance in data responses. For example, the primary
author helped the restaurant staff open the restaurant. By doing
so, the author was able to conduct interviews with regulars,
typically older-aged retired, widowers, who volunteer their time
at the restaurant to help the staff prepare for its opening. After
the restaurant opens, these men move to their usual seats at the
counter. Throughout the day, the primary author was personally
introduced to different other regulars, via George, the managers,
employees, or by his mother. In addition, interviews were conducted
with customers who eat with large groups at Kappy’s, such as
members of the “Boys Club,” the “Wednesday Night Bowling
League,” the “Thursday Night AA meeting,” the “Village Hall
Breakfast,” the “Tuesday Synagogue Group. Finally, interviews
were conducted with customers who patronized Kappy’s simply to
“get a bite to eat.” The personal introduction served to set a tone
of immediate comfort as most customers would ask the researcher
to join them at their table while they ate. In fact, over the course of
study, several of the regulars assigned the nickname to the primary
author as “prof”. Interviews were also conducted in the restaurant’s
enclosed waiting area, or outside of the restaurant, in order to
interview customers who do not maintain social relationships in the
restaurant.

Open Coding

The open coding stage of grounded theory represents the initial
stage of a grounded theory. As I previously discussed, the goal of
this stage is to delimit the core category. Because researchers enter
the field without possessing a clear understanding of the primary
research problem, the questions asked of informants typically
change during this data collection stage. In addition, because a
grounded theory study focuses on understanding people’s actions
and interactions related to a particular situation, it follows that some
people are more involved in the situation compared to others. As
a result, the depth and length of the interviews varies across the
informants. For example, in this study, interviews with customers
who simply stopped at the restaurant for a meal would last five to ten
minutes, while interviews with regulars often lasted an hour.

The primary author wrote detailed notes, representing informant
quotes and personal observations, during each interview. Each
informant was permitted to read, and to delineate, his or her
statements. Memos, which represent a compilation of researcher
thoughts and comparisons of the interviews to one another, were
written at various breaks throughout the day. In fact, the restaurant
permitted the primary author to set up computer equipment at the
Boy’s Club booth in order to transcribe notes and observations
during the day.

Consistent with Glaser’s (1998, 2001) and Strauss’ (2001)
recommendations, interviews were not tape-recorded. Both Glaser
and Strauss profess that researchers should focus on writing field
notes by listening intently to informants and that listening is dulled
by a researcher’s reliance on a tape recorder. Also, taping slows
down data collection because transcription yields a plethora of
unnecessary data to code. Finally, tape recorders often inhibit the
free-flowing responses of informants. Pilot interviews revealed that
older respondents provided much richer data when the interview
results were manually, versus tape, recorded. Overall, 250 pages of
field notes were collected.

Place Experience as the Core Category

The purpose of grounded theory is “to account for a pattern of
behavior which is relevant and problematic for those involved”
(Glaser 1978, p. 93). As such, the core category of this study
centers upon uncovering the manner in which Kappy’s customers
experience the restaurant and the role that it assumes in their lives.
In order to develop the core category, each interview began with
questions such as “why are you at Kappy’s today” or “what does
Kappy’s mean to you.” To maximize data variance, five interviews
were each conducted with customers whom George denotes as
family, relatives, and friends. As George said:

We have three types of consumers. I call the first group the
family. They are the regulars that we take care of. They’re the
base of our clientele. They represent fifty to sixty percent of
the business. They’re typically here at least five times a week.
The second group is the relatives. They’re semi-regulars who
are in once a week. They tend to restaurant hop, although they
love the name recognition and warm feeling that they get at
Kappy’s. They represent thirty percent of the customers here.
The third group of customers is the acquaintances, not friends.
They typically come in with coupons for a purpose, like a quick
nit. A lot of them don’t come back. They represent 20% of my
customers.

In addition, in order to maximize theoretical sensitivity, referring
to a researcher’s ability to be sensitive to thinking about data in
theoretical terms (Strauss 2001), the primary researcher altered
sampling so that different types of customers were continuously
interviewed one after the other.

Place-as-Practical

The customers who were personally unknown by the staff, or the
acquaintances, tended to point out that Kappy’s is simply a place
where they satisfy food and beverage consumption needs. Many of
these customers stated that they patronize Kappy’s because it is a
place where they can purchase quality meals at reasonable prices
and that is located near their homes. For these customers, the
restaurant is merely a place of exchange activity that is isolated from
their personal lives. When they were inquired about what Kappy’s
means to them, these customers were stupefied. For example, a
customer said:

I live downtown. My mom lives in the neighborhood, so I’m here
about once every two to three months. We only have breakfast
here, no lunch or dinner. That’s it (F, early 30’s).

Another customer mentioned that the restaurant is only
acceptable for lunch:

I only came to Kappy’s today because I had a $5.00 coupon.
There is nothing outstanding here. The food was average and
we had a good waitress. It was fine for lunch (F, late 30’s).

Overall, the incidents in the data collected from these informants
revealed that they patronize Kappy’s merely as a response to
unfulfilled consumption needs. For example, incidents that
explained why these informants were at Kappy’s included phrases
such as, “to have breakfast,” “to get a bite,” or “to get a cup of
coffee.” As a result, these incidents, or properties, were brought
together under the category, place-as-practical. Place-as-practical
is then conceptualized as a place that consumers experience
in order to satisfy a specific consumption need. Therefore,
this conceptualization of place, from a consumer’s perspective,
corresponds to the discipline’s present conceptualization of place,
as a locale where buyers and sellers engage in utilitarian exchange
activities.

Place-as-Gathering

In contrast to the acquaintances who patronize Kappy’s solely to
purchase a meal or beverage, the relatives, who typically dine with
friends in the restaurant, discussed that in addition to eating, they
patronize the restaurant to socialize, to kibitz, or to “hang” with the
group. A Boy’s Club member said:

The Boy’s Club…On Taylor Street, there were all clubs, not
gangs, clubs. But, when you move to the suburbs, it’s all
different. At some point, you don’t even know who lives next
door to you. And, George, one day, said I’m going to build a
booth, a special booth, for us…the Boy’s Club (M, 72).

For these customers, Kappy’s is a place where they eat and
socialize:

The food is excellent, quality and quantity, and the service is
excellent. They josh around with you here. It’s a lot of kidding
around. They’re friendly. They got to know our names, all of
them (M, 87).

As the social camaraderie may be more valuable than the meal
itself:

We get camaraderie for our money; the latest jokes, commentary
on whatever is in the news or sports team in Chicago, a wager
here or there. If the food wasn’t good, we would still be here.
The food might have brought us in, but it has become more than
that (M, 65).

In excerpts from these customers, the incidents revealed that they
patronize Kappy’s not only to eat a meal but also to gather with their
commercial friendships (Price and Arnould 1999). For example,
the incidents that explained why these customers were at Kappy’s
included phrases such as “to have fun,” “to josh with the girls,”
“to kibitz,” or “to socialize.” These incidents were considered as
properties that were subsumed in the category, place-as-gathering.
Place-as-gathering is conceptualized as a place that consumers
experience in order to satisfy consumption and companionship
needs. This category transcends the discipline’s view of the place
concept, as a mere subdivision of space, into a space in which they
sustain meaningful social relationships.

Place-as-Home

The richest data arose from the family members, referring to regulars
who patronize Kappy’s with alacrity two to three times a day, five to
seven days a week. The typical Kappy’s regular is an older-aged, or
elderly, widow or widower, who is also retired and who resides alone.
When asked what Kappy’s means to them, the regulars usually
described the restaurant as their home-away-from-home and they
talked about the care, the sense of being acknowledged, and the
kindness that they receive at Kappy’s.

The following excerpt, from a recent widow, provides insight
into the love, kindness, and assistance that regulars receive at
Kappy’s:

It’s sometimes tough for me to get up in the morning. Sitting
alone has not been as painful as I expected it to be. You see,
it’s a friendly atmosphere here. I am lonely at times, I have
friends, but I’m still alone. But, I’m not alone at Kappy’s. This
place is my home away from home. I feel like I belong here, it’s
the kindness, friendliness, and so much love. You know, when I
couldn’t get my car doors open because of the ice, I didn’t know
what to do. So, I called Kappy’s and talked to Mike (morning
manager). He told me what to do (F, early 70’s).

Another widow relishes being acknowledged and feeling safe at
Kappy’s:

I’m told that I belong. I’m told, “It’s nice to see you.” I’m
acknowledged, they tell me, “Where were you? I looked for you”.
This tells me that someone cares. I feel safe knowing that if I
have a panic attack that there is always someone there that I
know will do the right thing for me (F, 62).

While another widow experiences Kappy’s in order to escape the
eerie quietness of home:

I feel at home here. It’s hard going places alone. In a way, it’s
my second home. I feel better when I’m here. I like seeing other
people; it’s not an empty, quiet place. There are different people
here and I like to hear the music. I enjoy my meal better eating
with other people than I do sitting in my house with nobody (F,
70s).

Another regular uses the restaurant to escape their humdrum
everyday life:

I feel better about myself when I’m at Kappy’s. When I’m at work,
at about 3:00, I think about going to Kappy’s. You’re getting
away from the regular stuff, it’s an escape. I can’t go to Florida or
Vegas, so I come here. It’s an hour or two away from the world
(F, late 50’s).

These incidents revealed that regulars tend to patronize Kappy’s
not only to satisfy a consumption need and to socialize with others,
but also to satisfy a need for personal, emotional support. For
instance, in addition to coding incidents relating to the food and to
commercial friendships, these informants discussed that they were
at Kappy’s because “this is where I belong,” “they care about me,”
“so much love,” “to temporarily escape” and “to feel safe.” These
incidents were classified as properties that were fused into the
category, place-as-home. Place-as-home is conceptualized as a
place that consumers experience in order to satisfy consumption,
companionship, and emotional supportive needs, such as feelings
of well-being and care. The concept of place-as-home greatly
extends the discipline’s understanding of the place concept. For
the place-as-home concept reveals that customers can humanize
a servicescape and transform it into a second home; a place of rest
and refuge in the contemporary marketplace.

To date, marketers have essentially perceived that place is
comprised of objective elements that are isolated from consumers’
personal worlds (Sherry 1998, 2000). Yet, place-as-home
demonstrates that this conceptualization of place, as a simply point-
of-exchange is not entirely valid as consumers may experience
places in order to obtain more than products and services, but a
sense of togetherness, belongingness, and love.

It is worth noting here that we do not believe that consumers
initially experience places-as-home; in fact, it is unlikely that many
consumers initially plan to experience a commercial establishment in
this manner. By speaking and eating with customers who experience
the place-as-gathering and place-as-home, it became clear that
many of them had an aura of loneliness, often due to experiencing
negative life events such as retirement, empty-nest syndrome, an
empty marriage, divorce, or death of a spouse. Perhaps, in an
attempt to escape, or to prevent, the melancholy and isolation of
their personal lives, regulars attempt to vivify a servicescape into
a new home. Hence, a third place may be conceived as a human
place, where customers are at ease, in a place that is their home-
away-from-home.

Open coding represents that initial step of a grounded theory
analysis and the mandate of this stage is that the researcher enters
the field with “conceptual nothingness” and ends the stage with
creation of the core category. The core category for this study was
finalized at the end of the three weeks. The next step in the study
was to turn to the selective coding stage.

Selective Coding

As we previously discussed, during the selective code a researcher
rounds out the core category by delimiting coding to variables
directly, or indirectly, related to it. Given that the core variable in
this study explains how consumers experience places, a pertinent
question regards understanding why consumers experience the
same place differently. In addition, from a marketing management
perspective, it is worth exploring how a consumer’s place
experiences impact behaviors such as loyalty and repeat patronage.

Alleviate Social and Emotional Loneliness in the
Marketplace

In order to acquire an understanding as to the questions that will be
asked of informants during the selective coding stage, researchers
may turn to relevant literature, usually outside one’s substantive area
of research, for guidance. Given the predominance of loneliness
within data collected from customers who are either family or
relatives, we turned to the loneliness literature for guidance (Forman
and Sriram 1991; Goodwin and Lockshin 1992; Kang and Ridgway
1996; Lofland 1982; Lopata 1969; Rook 1987; Russell et al. 1984;
Sorkin, Rook and Lu 2002; Stroebe et al. 1996; Stroebe and Stroebe
1996; Stroebe, Stroebe, and Hansson 1988; Weiss 1973, 1975).
Within this literature, researchers typically discuss the “driving
force” of loneliness; a force great enough to cause people who were
normally shy to aggressively seek social activity. Along these lines,
loneliness appeared to represent a driving force that encourages
many of Kappy’s customers to seek out and to patronize it on a
regular basis.

In order to develop an understanding regarding the possible
relationship between loneliness and place experience, I turned
to Weiss’ (1973) classic loneliness typology, which is often cited
in health and social psychological literatures. Weiss postulated
that individuals could suffer from two types of loneliness; social
and emotional. Individuals confront social loneliness when they
perceive that they lack a sufficient number of friendships and
the feelings of companionship that friends provide. Individuals
often tackle social loneliness after they experience events such
as relocation, retirement, empty-nest, or the death of friends. As
a consequence of social loneliness, individuals also endure its
negative symptoms including boredom, aimlessness, and feelings of
marginality. Individuals may permanently remedy these symptoms
by forming new friendships. Perhaps, we can now understand why
some customers experience Kappy’s as place-as-gathering. The
ability to habitually “hang out” with commercial friendships alleviates
pathogenic effects associated with social loneliness.

Individuals confront emotional loneliness when they perceive that
they lack a close, emotional relationship with another individual,
such as a spouse, or partner and the feelings of emotional
support (e.g., well-being, security) that these individuals typically
provide. Individuals often suffer from emotional loneliness after
they experience events such as the death of a spouse or partner,
divorce, or marital separation. As a result of experiencing emotional
loneliness, individuals often confront negative symptoms such
as anxiety, isolation, or a “nameless fear” that prevents one from
concentrating on activities such as reading or television. In addition,
after experiencing the lose of a spouse or partner, individuals often
experience social loneliness, along with its negative symptoms, as
established friendships tend to diminish, or to lessen in quality after
conjugal bereavement and divorce (Lofland 1982; Weiss 1973).

Individuals may temporarily allay symptoms associated with social
loneliness, by forming a close relationship, marital or non-marital,
with another individual who provides emotional support. In fact,
Weiss (1973) coined the term, supplementary relationship, to
delineate relationships betweens individuals who are “in the same
boat” and who are able to provide each other with emotional support.
A caveat is that although individuals allay feelings of loneliness
with their supplementary relationships, the pangs of loneliness
rematerialize when individuals return at night to their empty homes
(Hunt 1973)

Perhaps, we can now understand why some customers experience
Kappy’s as place-as-home. As a result of experiencing the death of
their spouses, individuals confront negative symptoms associated
with both social and emotional loneliness. By serving as a forum for
large eating groups that engage in pure sociability, as well as a place
where the conjugally bereaved and divorced may routinely assemble,
regular patronage to a third place becomes cathartic to customers’
overall health.

In order to probe whether or not Kappy’s customers alleviate
loneliness symptoms via patronage, a second data collection wave
occurred approximately ninety days after the first wave. Twentynine
customers, eight employees, two managers, and George, the
owner were interviewed during a two-week period in the restaurant.
Similar to the first wave, informants were asked questions such as,
“why are you at Kappy’s today” and “what does Kappy’s mean to
you.” However, the customers were also asked questions about their
patronage and to explain whether or not their patronage to Kappy’s
had changed over the years. In addition, employees and managers
were asked questions such as their opinion as to why regulars
patronize the restaurant.

During the second interview wave, it became evident that many
customers patronize Kappy’s in order to remedy pathogenic effects
associated with social and emotional loneliness. For example,
George said:

People come to Kappy’s for the social as much as they do
for the food. There are a lot of single people. People have
passed away. I don’t want to say they’re lonely, but they come
to Kappy’s. And, they come and we kibitz. We sit around and
talk. After a mate passes away, the customer always comes to
Kappy’s more.

While a waitress explained the real reason why a regular patronizes
the restaurant:

A regular is looking for good service and conversation. They like
the entertainment. We have squirt gun fights in the restaurant.
I have so much fun here. I’m the Easter Bunny here at Easter,
and at Christmas, I’m an elf or Santa. Last summer, we were
goofing around and the guy at the counter tipped me for being
entertained. He said, “You know, it’s my first time here. I’ll be
back for the entertainment.

The data also revealed that customers who experienced the placeas-
gathering did so after they experienced events such as emptynest
or retirement. For example, an empty-nester said:

I’m not cooking anymore. My children are out of the house.
What do I need it for? We come here six nights a week for
dinner. Why do we come here? The food, the social, George;
he is so caring. We’re regulars here so they cater to us. They
make us feel welcome (F, 62).

While a retired customer said:

We come here to get out of the house and to have adult
conversation. Otherwise, I’d sit in the house doing nothing but
clean all day. We’re both retired. (F, 66).

And her husband commented:

Sure, I’d sit home and watch war tapes all day (M, 70).

The data also revealed that customers who experience the place-ashome
often maintain extremely close relationships in the restaurant.
For example, many customers maintain a relationship with George
that is analogous to a parent-child relationship. For instance, a
widower said:

Well, you have the atmosphere of this person, George. He is
warm and he has a good heart. He is cordial. And, he makes
you enjoy being in his company. He makes you feel like you
belong, like your part of his family, his extended family; not his
immediate family (M, 80).

While a widow considers George as her adopted son:

It’s fun here; it’s hamesha (Yiddish for cozy, home). I get kissed
by George every time I’m here. He is my adopted son. I’m sure
that he has a lot of adopted mothers here (F, 72).

Another widower described why she left Ruthie, a waitress, a $20 tip
on an $18 bill:

You see, if I went to a psychiatrist, he would charge me a
hundred and sixty dollars. So, Ruthie listens to me for an hour,
and I give her a twenty dollar tip on an eighteen dollar bill. I feel
better telling her my problems. So, it’s really a deal (F, 65).

Another customer, whose wife is dying from cancer, spoke about
how his patronage to his “second home” will change after his wife
passes away:

This place is damn near my second home. People tell us that
all the time; that it’s our second home. The owners treat you like
family. My wife can’t walk, but we still come here on Saturday
for breakfast. That’s all my wife can do now. It makes her feel
good to see the people. We have Ellen on Saturdays, but all the
waitresses are good to us. When my wife is no longer here, I’ll
be coming here for two meals a day (M, 72).

This discussion leads us to argue that place becomes interconnected
into customers’ worlds as the drive to remedy, or to prevent,
symptoms associated with social and emotional loneliness
encourages them to seek out and to experience place-as-gathering
or place-as-home. Rather than create new conceptual categories
regarding the antecedents that impact the manner in which
consumers experience place, I linked together Weiss’s loneliness
typology with the core category. As a result, I put forward the
following propositions:

P1: As a response to unfulfilled consumption needs,
consumers will experience a place-as-practical.

P2: As a response to unfulfilled consumption and
companionship needs, consumers will experience a
place-as-gathering

P3: As a response to unfulfilled consumption,
companionship, and emotional support needs,
consumers will experience a place-as-home.

Relationship between Experience and Behavior

I now explore the relationship between place experience and
outcomes such as patronage behavior and expressed loyalty. To
probe this relationship, the informants were asked when they
plan to patronize Kappy’s again, and whether or not they consider
themselves loyal to Kappy’s. The data revealed that customers who
experience the restaurant as a place-as-practical typically expressed
a weak, or a nonchalant commitment to patronizing Kappy’s. These
customers typically stated that their future patronage depended upon
whether or not they were in the neighborhood at the same time that
they felt like eating “diner food” or whether they had a coupon to the
restaurant. Other customers said that they would return to Kappy’s
in a few weeks, when they were in the neighborhood doing errands,
such as visiting relatives who live close to the restaurant. For
example, a customer said pointed out:

I wouldn’t say that I’m loyal to Kappy’s. I like having a diner in
the neighborhood. I like the prices and I like the food. So, I
wouldn’t care what was on this corner, as long as it served good
food at reasonable prices (M, 45).

For these customers, the drive to repatronize the restaurant is
based upon their commitment to objective elements that is found
within the physical servicescape, such as prices, location, and
product selection (Bitner 1992; Sherry 1998). Thus, loyalty among
customers who experience Kappy’s as place-as-practical is directed
towards information about the place, rather than to the place per
se. The properties that delineate this information (e.g., location,
prices) were encompassed under a category conceptualized as
cognitive loyalty. Oliver (1997, 1999) coined the term, cognitive
loyalty, to describe a shallow type of customer loyalty that stems
from customers having a commitment to “information” (e.g. attribute
performance levels) about a particular brand, rather than to the
brand itself. In this state, purchasing is routine and customers do
not even process their satisfaction with it. By extending the cognitive
loyalty concept from brands to places, I put forward that customers
who experience a place-as-practical demonstrate a cognitive place
loyalty as they are loyal to information about the place (e.g., product
selection, prices, location), as opposed to being loyalty to the place
per se.

Customers, who experience Kappy’s as place-as-gathering, tended
to express a desire to patronize the restaurant primarily in order
to sustain their social relationships with other individuals inside it.
Overall, these customers discussed that their loyalty stemmed from
their commitment to their social relationships that they sustain with
other customers and employees in the context of the restaurant,
rather than to the place itself. For example, a customer said:

I’m a regular because my brother-in-law and his wife come here.
If they stopped coming here, we would stop coming. We come
to Kappy’s mainly to socialize with them, more so than the food
(F, 60’s).

Another customer said his family’s patronage is dependent upon
Lucy, a waitress.

We come here for Lucy, then the food. Breakfast food is pretty
much straight forward. Now that Lucy is pregnant, we’ve talked
about leaving Kappy’s. We’re not sure if we’ll come back if Lucy
doesn’t come back (M, 30’s).

The properties such as “loyal because of my friends here,” “loyal
because of an employee or manager,” “loyal because of a person
or persons” were conceptualized under the concept of community
loyalty. Community loyalty extends Oliver’s (1997) loyalty phase
concept by putting forward that customers may express a loyalty to
patronizing a commercial establishment because of their coveted
membership in a place-based social village (Oliver 1999), or
given the meaningful nature of their commercial friendships in the
place. Thus, the depth of this loyalty to is strong; yet, it is also
entirely contingent upon a group consensus to gather in a particular
commercial establishment.

Many of the customers who experience Kappy’s as place-as-home
expressed having an affective bond to the establishment, so that the
place and social relationships held with others in the place, become
deeply integrated into the customers’ personal lives and experiences.
For example, a customer stated:

I wouldn’t leave this place even if someone gave me a $1M
home on a beautiful island in a beautiful place. I depend on
George (the owner) for my meals and he said he would never let
me down (F, 60s).

Another customer said that her peers could not prevent her from
patronizing Kappy’s:

Now, when I call my girlfriends and I tell them that I want to go to
Kappy’s and they say that they don’t want to go, I still go by myself.
You’re never alone at Kappy’s. If I had my choice, I would eat here
every single day (F, 60s).

In fact, some customers expressed that they feel disoriented without
the restaurant:

Kappy’s was closed Christmas and New Years Day and I felt
lost. George said I should come to his house for dinner. So I
did. Kappy’s is comfortable, it’s home, and I’ve become friendly
with the people, with the waiters, waitresses (F, 50’s).

After all, Kappy’s is more than a restaurant; it is a sacred, hallowed
place:

We’re here to serve and I personally believe that God wants me
at Kappy’s. God brings people together at Kappy’s for a reason
(George, Night Manager).

For these customers, their commitment to patronize Kappy’s is
indisputable as they use terms such as “loyal until the day I die,”
“forever loyal,” “can’t live without Kappy’s” to describe their loyalty
to patronizing the restaurant. Thus, I encapsulated these properties
under Oliver’s (1999) concept of ultimate loyalty. Although Oliver
conceptualized the term to denote an intense, resilient loyalty
between a customer and a brand, we suggest that customers may
also express ultimate loyalty to a place.

This discussion leads us to put forward that a relationship exists
between consumers’ place experience and their future behavioral
intentions. The findings suggest that as a place assumes a role in
customers’ lives, beyond that related to facilitating austere product
or service consumption, customers become increasingly committed
to repatronizing the place. While many places may satisfy utilitarian
consumption needs, fewer can simultaneously satisfy social needs,
and fewer places yet can further satisfy both social and emotional
needs. As such, I propose the following propositions:

P4: Consumers who experience a place-as-practical will exhibit
a cognitive loyalty to the place.

P5: Consumers who experience a place-as-gathering place will
exhibit a community loyalty to the place.

P6: Consumers who experience a place-as-home will exhibit
ultimate loyalty to the place.

Grounded Theory Workshop

At this point in the research, all of the conceptual categories that
comprise the emergent framework (Figure 1) have been developed
and defined. In order to ensure the accuracy of the core category,
as well as methodological procedures, the author attended three
of Glaser’s semi-annual grounded theory workshops (see Glaser
1992, p. 230-233, or www.groundedtheory.com for details). During
these workshops, both Glaser, and approximately 12-15 doctoral
candidates, who are involved in grounded theory dissertations, meet
to exchange and to code each other’s data. In addition, participants
have the opportunity to have their working papers critiqued by Glaser
and to meet with him personally to discuss individual research
projects.

Although Glaser and the participants approved of the framework’s
core category and related antecedents and consequences, Glaser
pointed out that the core category could also be centered upon a
process that illustrates how senior citizens move from “hanging
out” with their traditional families to commercial friendships.
Another participant took a philosophical view of the Kappy’s data
and suggested that the core category could be conceptualized
as consuming food-for-body, food-for-spirit, and food-for-soul.
Overall, both Glaser and the participants concluded that the offered
framework illustrates a relevant and interesting explanation as to why
older-aged adults develop meaningful relationships with customers
and employees in commercial establishments.

Discussion

The primary objective of this article was to heed Sherry’s (2000)
challenge by generating a comprehensive theory regarding how and
why consumers’ experience places in their lives. I met this challenge
by adhering to the tenets of grounded theory methodology (Glaser
and Strauss 1967, Glaser 1978, 1998, 2001; Strauss 2001; Strauss
and Corbin 1998). In doing so, I generated a parsimonious, relevant,
and modifiable framework that centers upon the manners in which
consumers experience places in their lives. In addition, by clarifying
grounded theory methodological procedures, which have somewhat
disappeared from articles that claim to utilize the methodology, I
demonstrated a process by which other researchers can follow in
order to field original theories that arise from consumers, rather than
from samples and from disciplines far removed from the realities of
the marketplace (Sheth, Bagozzi, and Chakravarti 1992).

Sherry (1998, 2000) was the first marketing researcher to suggest
that the discipline’s widely accepted conceptualization of place,
which dates back to the work of McCarthy (1960), and which
considers place analogous to organizational distributional activities,
was imperfect. Also, it was Sherry who exposed that marketers
tend to deem place as being alienated and isolated from consumers’
personal lives and experiences. Consequently, he speculated that
marketing researchers have become estranged from understanding
how consumers vivify a built environment and how consumers may
transform physical servicescapes into significant centers of their
lives.

Interestingly, Sherry forewarned that others in marketing might
perceive his call to reassess the place concept as him “peddling
the strange.” Yet, I found Sherry’s call enlightening. This was
especially so as I was intrigued that his mother began demonstrating
unexplainable loyalty to a neighborhood diner following the death
of his father. In actuality, it is the discipline’s frameworks, which
postulate that satisfaction miraculously leads to loyalty, and not
Sherry’s assertion, which are somewhat unsettling (see Oliver 1999).
Most extant frameworks fail to offer an explanation as to why and
how regulars transform a non-descript neighborhood diner into their
home-away-from-home. As a result, I dedicated myself to exploring
the place concept anew and to momentarily setting aside my
knowledge of the literature in order to field an original, parsimonious,
relevant, and modifiable theory of why and how consumers
experience places in their lives.

By utilizing grounded theory methodology, with its emphasis on
generating theory from groups, or subgroups, of individuals, I
developed an understanding of the role that places may assume
in consumers’ lives from their perspective. As such, I discovered
that consumers might deem certain places as more than mere
subdivisions of space where they engage in utilitarian exchange. If
truth be told, it is not Sherry who is “hawking the anomalous,” but
rather, it is the widely-accepted marketing mix, and its one-sided
emphasis on how consumers simply respond to seller initiatives,
that has estranged marketers from fully understanding how and why
servicescapes can be profoundly meaningful for some consumers.

Is it not intuitive that consumers must do more in the marketplace
than simply respond to a seller’s product, price, place, and
promotional efforts? Indeed, this study demonstrates that
consumers are active social agents who enter places not only to
purchase products and services but also to obtain feelings of human
togetherness, such as companionship and emotional support, which
only other individuals can provide. Furthermore, while products
and services are integral to sustaining a consumer’s health and
wellbeing, so to is companionship and emotional support. Perhaps,
it is now clear why regulars patronize third places with steadfast
loyalty. Regulars not only buy a meal; but also, they purchase a
remedy that helps them either prevent or assuage the pathogenic
effects of loneliness that ensues from their experiencing negative life
events.

A half-century ago, the sociologist, Gregory Stone (1954), postulated
that some consumers enter the marketplace not only to obtain
products and services, but also to obtain feelings of friendship
from retail employees in order to counter loneliness. Since then,
marketing researchers have also found that some consumers
engage in exchange activities as a means to obtaining feelings
of friendship from service providers and from other customers
(Adelman and Ahuvia 1995; Adelman, Ahuvia, and Goodwin 1994;
Forman and Srinan 1990; Goodwin and Gremler 1996; Gremler
and Gwinner 2000; Gwinner, Gremler, and Bitner 1998; Kang and
Ridgeway 1996; Price and Arnould 1999). In addition, over twentyfive
years ago, Bagozzi (1975) put forward that most marketing
exchanges are laden with social and psychological significance,
and yet, he reiterated that marketers insist on exploring utilitarian
marketplace exchange activities. Finally, I can offer the discipline
a theoretical framework that organizes these disparate articles and
that provides an explanation as to how and why consumers can
satiate unfulfilled biological, social, and psychological needs in the
marketplace.

Future researchers may consider utilizing the proposed framework
to heed Bitner’s (1992) and Sherry’s (1998) call to extend the
servicescape framework. In fact, the framework suggests that
a consumption setting may be comprised of three types of
servicescapes. The first servicescape delineates physical elements
comprising a consumption setting (1992). The second servicescape
appears to denote the existence of a social servicescape (Tombs
and McColl-Kennedy 2003), referring to the social relationships
that are held among customers and employees in a consumption
setting. The third servicescape may be considered as the humanistic
servicescape, referring to personal, emotional elements such
feelings of well-being and security, which customers may receive
from other individuals. Truly pioneering work regarding the impact
of each servicescape on consumer approach/avoidance behavior
remains to be accomplished.

In addition, other researchers may attempt to apply the framework
to recent research on consumers’ desires to participate in product
or brand related communities (McAlexander, Schouten, Koenig
2002; Muniz and O’Guinn 2001; Oliver 1999). Perhaps, the need to
remedy symptoms associated with social and emotional loneliness,
compared to mere brand affinity, is a more powerful influence
that encourages some consumers to partake in brand/product
communities. This is not to say that all consumers who partake
in communities do so as a response to loneliness; however, the
prevalence of loneliness among older-aged adults may encourage
many to seek solace in the commercial domain.

Beyond doubt, we know very little in the discipline about loneliness
as a driver of consumption. Yet, with the graying of America,
this topic is of extreme relevancy. Additionally, while this study
emphasized how older-aged consumers may remedy loneliness in
the marketplace, other researchers may explore how other consumer
groups, who are susceptible to loneliness, such as teenagers,
business travelers, or ethnic (e.g., African-American, Hispanic;) or
subcultural (e.g. gay/lesbian) consumers (Meyer 1995; Weiss 1973),
utilize the marketplace in order to remedy loneliness symptoms.
A limitation of this research is that the data emerged from Kappy’s
present customers; hence, the restaurant played some positive
role in each informant’s life. However, it is possible for places to
assume negative roles in consumers’ lives. For example, rather
than facilitate exchange between buyers and sellers, some places
may encourage consumers to engage in place avoidance via
discriminatory practices. Interestingly, place avoidance is also a
topic worthy of future exploration.

Another limitation of this study is that grounded theory generates
propositions that are empirically assessed in future studies. Thus,
whether or not the proposed relationships empirically hold is not
yet known. In addition, because a grounded researcher may
theoretically sample indefinitely, a grounded theory project does not
possess a true ending point. However, due to time, monetary, and
creative constraints, a researcher terminates a grounded theory
study at some point. As a result, although the offered framework is
relevant, generalizable, and able to organize disparate articles, future
theoretical development regarding the consumer-place relationship is
warranted.

Author

Mark Rosenbaum
Assistant Professor of Marketing
Research Director, Center for Retail Excellence
College of Business Administration
Department of Marketing C501K
University of Hawaii
2404 Maile Way
Honolulu, HI 96822
(808) 956-6607 (phone)
(808) 956-9886 (fax)
mark.rosenbaum@hawaii.edu

Financial assistance was provided by The Research Support Grant
Program at Arizona State University, W.P. Carey School of Business,
and the Department of Marketing. The authors thank Barney Glaser
for his assistance and personal guidance on this project and the
owners, managers, employees, and customers of Kappy’s.

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