Retail space invaders: when employees’ invasion of customer space increases purchase intentions

  • Carol L. Esmark
  • Stephanie M. NobleEmail author
Original Empirical Research


This research fills a gap in the retailing literature regarding physical proximity while shopping. Most research in this area examines perceived crowding or social presence and largely ignores issues of distance. Using four studies we explore the impact of the physical proximity of an employee to a shopper. Contrary to common belief, we show that such encroachments can increase consumers’ acceptance feelings and their purchase intentions. We illustrate how these results are consistent with social identity theory. The results show a shopper can have higher purchase intentions the closer an employee physically gets to them due to an increase in feelings of acceptance. This result is strengthened when being included to an in-group is important to the shopper. The negative effects of feeling anxious in a purchase situation can also be buffered the closer an employee gets. Finally, the positive relationship of felt acceptance to purchase intentions is most critical when the product being purchased is perceived as less expressive. These results have important implications to our understanding of shopper behavior and reactions to physical proximity.


Physical proximity Personal space Social identity theory Shopper behavior Acceptance Purchase intentions Retailing 



The authors would like to thank Daniel Flint, Charles Noble, and Ann Fairhurst for their thoughtful comments and suggestions on previous drafts of the manuscript and Adam Farmer for his help with PROCESS.


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Copyright information

© Academy of Marketing Science 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Marketing, Quantitative Analysis, and Business LawMississippi State UniversityMississippi StateUSA
  2. 2.Department of Marketing and Supply Chain ManagementUniversity of TennesseeKnoxvilleUSA

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