In marketing the term atmospherics is used to describe the discipline of designing commercial spaces. Atmospherics was coined by Philip Kotler in a 1973 article in the Journal of Retailing.

Kotler argues that the tangible product is only a small part of the total consumption package. Buyers respond to the total product, which include services, warranties, packaging, advertising, financing, pleasantries, images and so on. Atmospherics covers three major art forms important to retail: architecture: exterior structure; interior design and the design of window displays. The atmosphere of a commercial space performs three functions: creating attention, messages (communication) and affect.

The term atmosphere is a term borrowed from architecture. Space designed to make feel people in a certain way. This is apparent in cathedrals, which inspire a feeling of spiritual awe.

Kotler provides two definitions of atmospherics. It is the "conscious designing of space to create certain effects in buyers" or more precise, "the effort to design buying environments to produce specific emotional effects in the buyer that enhance purchase probability".

Atmospherics is a qualitative construct that encompasses the four of the main senses, with the exclusion of taste. The atmosphere of a commercial space can be divided in the intended atmosphere: the designed space; and the perceived atmosphere: the consumer's perception of that space.

Atmospherics is a relevant marketing tool where the product is purchased of consumed and where the seller has design options. These are generally retail spaces such as shops and restaurants, but also libraries, religious buildings, civic buildings and so on.

Atmospherics is more relevant as the number of competitive outlets increase and where product or price differences are small. Kotler presents atmospherics as an important concept in the positioning of the value offering. Atmospherics is also considered more relevant where product and services are targeted at at specific buyer groups.

Kotler proposes a causal chain, connecting atmosphere and purchase probability:

  • Sensory qualities of space surrounding purchase object
  • Buyer's perception of the sensory qualities
  • Effect of perceived sensory qualities
  • Impact of buyers modified information and affective state

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... Atmospheric variables include sight, sound, scent, and the general feel of both the exterior architecture and interior design of the library ... Examples of these atmospheric variables within the library structure include colour schemes, acoustics, ventilation, lighting, electronic support, furniture ... The exterior atmospherics of a library are just as important to the feel of entrance walkways, landscaping, and parking lots ...
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