The whiff of nostalgia: place attachment, atmospherics and the vintage clothing consumer

Courtney L McColgun, Christopher A Dodd, Elaine Ritch

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


The Whiff of Nostalgia:Place Attachment, Atmospherics and theVintage Clothing ConsumerScents have the potential to transport individuals to the far reaches of their memories, rekindling thoughts and feelings of previous experience (Milotic, 2003). As part of an extended atmospheric mix, retailers possess seemingly unlimited potential to manage consumers’ emotional and physical states through the manipulation of sensory environments and retail spaces offer marketers unrivalled opportunities to shape the consumer experience. The transformation of the retail servicescape is often evidenced for the consumer via design-led, aesthetic innovations within their front of house encounters and is typically seen as a positive influence upon evaluations of experiential value (Machleit and Eroglu, 2000). Whilst many of these innovations are apparent to consumers, many exist as ambient stimuli within a cluttered sensory environment (Clarke, Perry and Denson, 2012). A driver of retail design value is the acknowledgment and increasing understanding of the role of atmospherics in shaping consumer experience. By offering marketers the potential to manage more abstract components of a consumer experience (such as emotional and cognitive responses), as well as specific behavioural responses (such as visit routes; dwell times and purchase frequency), atmospherics have been embraced by academics and practitioners as a foundation for experiential value (Davis, Kooijman and Ward, 2003).Whilst considerable value exists within these approaches, there appears to be a tendency to underplay the value of the relationship with the place. In particular, that sense of connection with a place that allows the individual to feel empowered to explore and discover, as if the place is designed solely for them yet, simultaneously, to feel fulfilled by a sense of belonging to a wider community of similarly minded people.Given the desire of marketers to create associations between sensations and places (Davis, 2016), there exists considerable value in exploring how consumers form attachments to retail places and, further, the nature and role of atmospherics in moderating this process. By focussing upon relatively homogenous groups of consumers, research may also incorporate personal and social identifications, represented through liminal and/or liminoidal constructions of reality (see Cauldwell and Reinhart, 2014; Taheri et al, 2017) – essentially the notion that consumers are transformed into salient identities at places of interaction (e.g. football fans assume variably transient in-group ‘fan’ identities at the match; parents assume parental traits when engaging with other parents or children; etc.)This research therefore seeks to add value to understanding of experiential retailing by exploring the relationship between elements of the atmospheric mix; consumers’ place attachment and liminality. The research explores this relationship within an experientially sensitive consumer group, the vintage clothing consumer. Not only do these consumers have a particular sense of the appropriateness of ‘vintage’ products but, also, have an expectation that these products be framed within environments that represent qualities synonymous with both that genre and their own liminal identification (Cassidy and Bennett, 2012; Cervellon, Carey and Harms, 2012). To this end, they offer a particularly useful liminal group within which to explore specific branded environments relating to vintage clothing.MethodData were collected via an independent samples, survey design. A survey questionnaire allowed collection of both quantitative and qualitative responses, across a range of items. The instrument was designed to measure 6 core dimensions: Place Attachment (4 item measure of global tendency to form attachments and preferences for specific places); Liminality (3 item measure of retail specific liminality); Vintage Liminality (3 item measure of liminality within vintage retail context); Atmospherics (5 item measure of preferences within retail design atmospherics); Vintage Atmospherics (4 item measure of atmospheric preferences within vintage sale environments) and ‘Vintage Consumer Identity’ (4 item measure of personal identification as a vintage clothing consumer). Scale responses utilised a 5-point interval scale with value label poles of ‘strongly agree’ to ‘strongly disagree’. Bias was controlled via counterbalancing measures of reverse scoring and random question ordering. Additional socio-demographic information was also collected.Respondents were drawn from targeted samples of vintage clothing consumers. To support a more representative framework, a population of groups were identified via a social media platform (Facebook) before randomly stratifying to a sub-set of these groups for this research. A quasi-random selection procedure was applied within the groups also. To gain access to the groups, a member of the research team requested membership, with full disclosure of the nature and purpose of the research.Results309 respondents were reduced to 262 usable cases after data cleansing and validation. Multi-item, unidimensional scales were subject to reliability analysis using Cronbach’s alpha test. Alpha scores ranged from 0.7 (rounded up) for ‘Vintage Atmospherics’ to 0.9 (rounded up) for ‘Vintage Consumer Identity’ offering sufficient support for their retention (see Hair et al, 2010) (see Table 1 for item list). Table 1 – Questionnaire items and Reliability scoresDimensionItems*CronbachVintage Consumer(Identity)I like vintage clothing.895I wear vintage clothingI would you purchase vintage clothingI (do not) own vintage clothingPlace Attachment(Global)I have favourite places.722I would revisit a place because it made me feel goodThe atmosphere of a place helps me form an opinion towards that placeI form attachments to specific placesLiminality(Retail)I (do not) act differently in a retail environment.809My behaviour changes in a retail environmentMy personality changes in a retail environmentVintage Liminality(Vintage Retail)I (do not) act differently in a vintage retail environment.799My behaviour changes in a vintage retail environmentMy personality changes in a vintage retail environmentAtmospherics(Retail)I prefer more space in a retail environment.671The way a retail environment looks is important to meSmell is important to me within a retail environmentI prefer when it is easy to find itemsAn untidy retail environment bothers meVintage Atmospherics(Vintage Retail)I enjoy the search within a vintage retail environment.636I like the ‘buzz’ within a vintage saleThe way a vintage retail environment looks is important to meI like searching for items at a vintage saleN=262*Response measure is 5-point interval scale (strongly agree to strongly disagree)Correlational analyses revealed significant associations across key dimensions. ‘Vintage Consumer Identity’ (buyers and users of vintage clothing) was associated with ‘Place Attachment’ (r = 0.237; N=262; p<0.001); ‘Atmospherics’ (r = -0.286; N=237; p<0.001) and Vintage Atmospherics (r = 0.530; N=232; p<0.01) but not with the two liminality measures. ‘Place Attachment’ (general tendency to form attachments to places) was associated with Atmospherics (r = 0.157; N=237; p<0.05); ‘Vintage Atmospherics’ (r = 0.292; N=232; p<0.001) and Vintage Liminality (r = 0.125; N=247; p<0.05) but not the general retail ‘Liminality’ measure. ‘Vintage Liminality’ was associated with ‘Vintage Atmospherics’ (r = -0.198; N=231; p<0.001).Ad hoc analyses of socio-demographic data also revealed significant effects. ‘Level of achieved education’ was positively correlated with ‘Vintage Consumer Identity’ (r = 0.177; N=250; p<0.01). T-tests revealed a significant difference between two genders (male (Mean=3.80) and female (Mean = 4.54) on ‘Vintage Consumer Identity’ (t=-3.62; df=21.105; p<0.01). DiscussionThere is apparent interplay between place attachment, atmospherics and liminality in the context of both general retail and particularly vintage retail experience, within this sample of vintage clothing consumers. Whilst it is perhaps less surprising that vintage consumers have a strong sense of attachment with vintage retail places, it would seem that they also have a strong sense of attachment to places generally and this may be a feature of this cohort that lends support to a tailored retail experience.To provide a flavour of this attachment, additional questions sought to provide more qualitative insight to this attachment/atmospheric relationship. First, attachment characteristics were explored with respondents asked to describe what moves them towards place attachment. These words are represented in Figure 1, where larger text equates to higher frequency of occurrence.Figure 1 – Reasons for Forming Place attachment Second, respondents were asked to describe the scents they associate with vintage retail environments, represented in Figure 2.Figure 2 – Expectations of Vintage Scents Vintage consumers would certainly seem to possess a consistent set of characteristics around place attachment, with a predominance of emotional and experiential factors underpinning this relationship. Further, expectations of olfactory signs represent a fairly stereotypical appreciation of vintage as both temporally and artefact dependent (this is about agedness; products of bygone ages and the physical manifestation of being a product of a bygone age).This seems reasonable. It is worth noting, however, that the sample represented ages from 18 to 65 years. Hence, many of this sample are removed from the realities of interacting with these products at their earliest incarnation. So, whilst older consumers may have those scents hardwired into their memories, borne of interactive experience, younger vintage consumers do not. Yet the expectation around scent is fairly consistent. This suggests that expectations of scent may be learned, alongside a natural tendency to pursue place attachment and would seem to confirm Cervellon et al’s (2012) assertion that consuming vintage clothing and environments enables the (partial) experience of a world long since closed to newcomers.ReferencesCassidy, T. and Bennett, H. (2012). The Rise of Vintage Fashion and the Vintage Consumer. Fashion Practice, 4(2), pp.239-261.Cauldwell, J., & Rinehart, R. E. (2014). Liminoidal spaces and the moving body: Emotional turns. Emotion, Space and Society. doi:10.1016/j.emospa.2013.12.006Cervellon, M., Carey, L. and Harms, T. (2012). Something old, something used. International Journal of Retail & Distribution Management, 40(12), pp.956-974.Clarke, D., Perry, P. and Denson, H. (2012). The sensory retail environment of small fashion boutiques. Journal of Fashion Marketing and Management: An International Journal, 16(4), pp.492-510.Davis, A. (2016). Experiential places or places of experience? Place identity and place attachment as mechanisms for creating festival environment. Tourism Management, 55, pp.49-61.Davies, B., Kooijman, D. and Ward, P. (2003). The Sweet Smell of Success: Olfaction in Retailing. Journal of Marketing Management, 19(5-6), pp.611-627.Hair, J.F., Black, W.C., Babin, B.J. and Anderson, R.E. (2018) Multivariate Data Analysis, Cengage; LondonMachleit, K. A. and Eroglu, S. A. (2000). ‘Describing and measuring emotional response to shopping experience’, Journal of Business Research, 49(2), pp.101-111.Milotic, D. (2003). The impact of fragrance on consumer choice. Journal of Consumer Behaviour, 3(2), pp.179-191.Taheri, B., Farrington, T., Gori, K., Hogg, G. and O’Gorman, K. (2017). Escape, entitlement, and experience: liminoid motivators within commercial hospitality. International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management, 29(4), pp.1148-1166.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 6 Dec 2018


Dive into the research topics of 'The whiff of nostalgia: place attachment, atmospherics and the vintage clothing consumer'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this