The image of a town centre: a retail perspective
2012-05-28T14:27:28Z (GMT) by
Retail image has received considerable attention in the academic literature in recent years, its influence on consumer behaviour demonstrated extensively in contexts such as stores, brands, shopping malls and tourist destinations. It is therefore surprising that the study of retail image in a town centre has been neglected. Town centres, since time immemorial existing as markets facilitating the exchange of goods, have throughout history been of significant importance to local and national economies. Yet academic interest in consumers choice of town centres, and particularly their image perceptions of these locations, has only been stimulated in response to competition from the development of purpose-built shopping malls. Research into town centres as distinct locations has been extremely limited. The research reported in this thesis has studied town centre image as a specific retail location. In doing so, the research has also addressed a further limitation in the retail image literature. Researchers have pointed to the limited theoretical development in retail image studies, and particularly to the discrepancy between image conceptualisation and its operationalisation. Image is conceptualised as having both tangible qualities and an aura of psychological attributes (Martineau, 1958), but its measurement has focussed almost exclusively on its physical properties, ignoring the less tangible elements which it is hypothesised to contain. As a consequence of adopting a theoretical approach to town centre image, this research has for the first time developed a model of town centre image which addresses both its tangible and intangible qualities, and which comprises three dimensions: functional, experiential and symbolic. The model was tested using Structural Equation Modelling based on a survey of 816 consumers in three town centres. Analysis of the results suggests that consumers perceive town centre image as a higher order construct consisting of these three dimensions, and that their image perceptions focus on top-level salient aspects of the retail provision, together with feelings, emotions, and subjective attitudes towards the town centre. It is suggested that this conceptualisation provides a more accurate measure of consumer perceptions of town centre image for future academic researchers and for practitioners, particularly as town centres are currently the focus of government policy to support their continuing preservation as important local and national economic drivers.