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The sensory retail environment of small fashion boutiques

Daniel Wade Clarke (Business School, Liverpool Hope University, Liverpool, UK)
Patsy Perry (George Davies Centre for Retail Excellence, Heriot‐Watt University, Edinburgh, UK)
Hayley Denson (Business School, Liverpool Hope University, Liverpool, UK)

Journal of Fashion Marketing and Management

ISSN: 1361-2026

Article publication date: 14 September 2012




The literature holds few contributions regarding the sensory environment of small, privately‐owned retail stores. Hence, this paper seeks to explore the sensory experience of patrons of a small boutique.


The study uses photo‐elicitation to examine the experience of the sensory retail environment of patrons of a small fashion boutique in the North West of England. Participants were asked to “show me how it feels to shop here” by taking photographs to depict their sensory in‐store experiences. Follow up interviews were carried out to explore the participants’ sensory experiences and then qualitative content analysis was used to identify the typical “likes” and “dislikes” regarding aspects of the sensory environment.


The findings reveal that it is not just tangible things that can affect a shopper's experience, but store traits such as smell, lighting and presence of owner‐manager can also influence a consumer's experience.

Research limitations/implications

By providing an illustration case study, this paper provides a visual method for researching shopping experience from a sensory perspective. This research concerned small fashion boutiques. Other research as well as this study indicates that studies of sensory environments in other kinds of boutiques could produce different findings.

Practical implications

The paper is intended not only to equip small fashion retailers with an understanding of why some customers dwell and return to browse, but also to help them discern what it is that shoppers want to experience while shopping. Managerial implications are offered with the aim of converting patronage into sales to support survival of small fashion retailers.


This paper contributes to the literature on small to medium‐sized enterprise fashion retailing and the sensory experience of fashion shopping. The identification of sensory touch points in small fashion boutiques helps owner‐managers to understand female shoppers and provides a handrail for thinking up new ways of improving shopping experiences.



Wade Clarke, D., Perry, P. and Denson, H. (2012), "The sensory retail environment of small fashion boutiques", Journal of Fashion Marketing and Management, Vol. 16 No. 4, pp. 492-510.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2012, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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