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All that is solid melts into air: the servicescape in digital service space

David Ballantyne (Department of Marketing, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand)
Elin Nilsson (Umeå School of Business and Economics, Umeå University, Umeå, Sweden)

Journal of Services Marketing

ISSN: 0887-6045

Article publication date: 8 May 2017




The emergence of new social media is shifting the market place for business towards virtual market space. In the light of the emerging digital space for new forms of marketing, the traditional servicescape concept is critically examined. This paper aims to show why servicescape concepts and attitudes need to be adapted for digital media.


First, the authors explain how the traditional servicescape concept adds meaning to a service provider’s value-proposition by modifying customer expectations and customer experience. Second, recognising that the environment for service is no longer bound to a physical place, the authors discuss the implications of the epistemic shift involved.


The authors’ examination shows that digital service space challenges traditional concepts about what constitutes a customer experience and derived value. The authors conceptually “zoom out” into a virtual service eco-system and show with exemplar examples why the servicescape in digital space is more socially embedded and necessarily more fluid in its time-space design. In the more advanced sites, interactions between various artificial bodies (avatars) are co-created by controlling off-line participant-actors; yet, these participant-actors remain strangers to each other at an off-line level. This is entirely a new and radical development of old times.

Research limitations/implications

The research findings are based on scholarly research of the relevant literature, from practitioner reports, and evidence emerging from the examination of many digital web-sites. It has not been the authors’ intention to objectively represent current servicescape functionalities but more to indicate the major directions of change with exemplar examples. The future cannot be predicted, but their interpretive conclusions suggest major challenges in service marketing and management logic ahead. New forms of digital servicescape are still being created as technology and service imagination enables, so further research interest in virtual atmospherics can be expected.

Practical implications

Social media platforms are enabling organisations to learn more about their customers and also to engage them more. In these changing times, bricks and mortar stores would be well advised to review their servicescape presence to allow and encourage engagement with the more involved consumers. And, by integrating their digital space into their physical place, bricks and mortar stores might take on more relationship oriented process-like characteristics, both in the digital space and in their physical places, with developments on one platform leading to possible service innovations on the other.

Social implications

The digital era is changing consumer behaviour. Service managers need to take into account that many customers are already equally as engaged with digital-space social networks as they once were with bricks and mortar stores. The more time consumers as participant-actors spend in social networks, the decision on what and where to buy is decided by interactions with friends and other influencers.


New forms of digital servicescape are being created as technology and service imagination enables. Further scholarly research interest in virtual atmospherics can be expected, impacting on the authors’ sense of place, and self-identity.



There are no conflicts of interest or funding issues occasioned by publication of this paper.


Ballantyne, D. and Nilsson, E. (2017), "All that is solid melts into air: the servicescape in digital service space", Journal of Services Marketing, Vol. 31 No. 3, pp. 226-235.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited

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