An Exploration of the Shopping Experience
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Recreational shopping has long been of interest to business academics and practitioners, but research on it has been underdeveloped in the leisure field. Although the leisure literature and business literature represent distinct perspectives, there appears to be many significant parallels between recreational shopping and leisure. The purpose of this study was to examine the intrinsic meanings of shopping; to explore the experiential aspects of the recreational shopping experience (including the influences of the retail environment on individuals who regularly engage in recreational shopping). This study took place in Toronto, Ontario. The sample included five female self-proclaimed recreational shoppers. The researcher accompanied each participant on a shopping excursion which took place at a shopping mall selected by the participant. Data were collected through three qualitative methods. First, participant observation involved the researcher walking alongside the participant as she shopped. Following the shopping session, the researcher conducted an in-depth face-to-face interview with each participant; the interview was guided by a set of open-ended questions. In addition, this study utilized photo-elicitation in which the participants were asked to photograph ‘anything’ that made an impression during their visit to the mall. The photographs offered tangible illustrations of shopping experiences and were used as a catalyst for discussion during the interviews. The data was analyzed using Grounded Theory coding which lead to the identification of two main themes and six respective subthemes. The emergent themes are all connected to the key idea that shoppers are motivated by their expectations and desires when they partake in the recreational shopping activity. Shopping offers numerous opportunities that provide immediate hedonic pleasure as well as intrinsic rewards. Such opportunities often include, the ‘before and after’ phases of experiences of acquisition and unexpected discoveries, the positive interactions which occur both inside and outside a retail environment, and lastly, the individual’s use of shopping as a means of self-expression and a tool to manage their self image. Satisfaction, spontaneity, familiarity, mastery, accomplishment, and feelings of escape were all present in these shopping experiences. The findings also described the role of shopping malls as a leisure space and as facilitators of recreational shopping activities. Furthermore, this study demonstrated that shopping can offer a profound leisure experience for many people and the activity should not only be researched in terms of just ‘recreational shopping’ or ‘utilitarian shopping.’ Rather, the findings indicate several overlaps between the two types of shopping and further research is needed to more fully understand the complexities of the activity.