Finding a product in a new supermarket is a complex, cognitive process. Earlier studies (Kalff & Strube, 2009, Gil et al., 2009)indicate that shopper’s path choice decisions in such environments are strongly influenced by their background knowledge: the placement of products in a store, especially the collocation of semantically similar types of products (e.g., tinned sweetcorn found with tinned goods rather then fresh corn‐on‐the‐cob). Supermarkets provide an apparently spatially homogenous environment, and it could therefore be expected that a shop’s content (the products) and their placement are the paramount factor in shopper movement, with only limited effects of spatial configuration. In the present study, the spatial structure of a virtual supermarket was systematically varied to investigate cognitive processes and behaviour in unusual building configurations. The study builds upon experiments in a regular supermarket, which serve as a baseline case. In a between‐participant design 41 participants completed a search task in two different virtual supermarket environments. For 21 participants the supermarket shelves were turned towards them at a 45° angle when entering the store, providing high visual access to product categories and products from the main aisle. For 20 participants the shelves were placed in the opposite direction. Both the turning angle of the shelves and the level of congruence between expected and actual location of a product had a significant impact on search times. Environmental features were analysed using space syntax techniques both at the global level of the store, and at the level of individual pairs of start and goal locations for each product, including step depth and isovist measures (particular emphasis is on the visual properties of each product’s location). The area of the main aisle, as visible from each product, as well as the compactness of the isovist generated from the product location, proved to be significant predictors of shopper’s search time. It is suggested that this may reflect the importance of having visual access to a product from relatively long lines of sight. Contrary to the initial hypothesis that higher visual access to a product always yields lower search times, we find that it can also provide distraction. Partialling out these geometric variables for an ANOVA analysis (analysis of variance) reveals that they strongly contribute to the obtained difference of search time between the two layout conditions, and they also have a moderating effect on the influence of background knowledge on search performance. Further analysis suggests that participants rely on different path choice strategies that appear to be influenced by local features of geometry as well as inter‐product similarity at choice points such as corridor intersections. A qualitative analysis of movement trajectories and verbal reports from the study participants was conducted and found to characterize typical decision patterns and possible underlying reasoning along a product search path. In conclusion, despite the predicted strong effect of shopper’s preferences and their prior product knowledge, the spatial layout of the shop was still shown to have a consistent effect upon the selection of search paths and search duration
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