In the last few years, marketing scholars have been showing increasing interest in examining how crowding affects consumers’ emotions and behaviors. As a result, empirical literature on crowding has been growing rapidly. However, the crowding literature in Marketing has reported many inconsistent findings which need to be reconciled. The current meta-analysis paper aims to find out the reasons for heterogeneity in the findings of previous studies on crowding.
In this meta-analysis, the authors analyzed 149 effect sizes from 38 Eastern and Western empirical studies and 81 samples. Each author independently coded the data and discrepancies were resolved through discussion. Based on the measures of crowding used in each individual empirical paper, the authors coded two types of crowding, namely social crowding and spatial crowding. First, the authors analyzed the effects of social crowding and spatial crowding on consumers’ emotional reactions and shopping reactions. Next, the authors examined the potential moderation effects of several contextual and methodological factors, including types of shopping environment, the reality of research context, and sources of research samples (western countries vs. eastern countries, students vs. non-students).
This meta-analysis work obtained many interesting findings. First, this paper documented that social crowding significantly increased consumers’ negative emotions, but dramatically decreased consumers’ dominance. Social crowding was found to be positively correlated with the approach-related shopping responses (ρ = 0.208, N = 28624), and negatively correlated with consumer attitudes and willingness to shop (ρ = -0.135, N = 10094). Second, this paper documented that spatial crowding had a significant negative effect on avoidance-related shopping responses (ρ = -0.409, N = 3223), but had no significant influence on the approach- related shopping responses. Furthermore, moderation analyses showed that some of the aforementioned main effects were significantly moderated by types of shopping environment (utilitarian vs. hedonic), the reality of the context (virtual vs. real), and sources of research samples (western countries vs. eastern countries, students vs. non-students).
To summarize, this paper makes several important theoretical advances. First, drawing on several psychological theories on individuals’ reactions to the crowding environment, this paper builds a relatively unified research framework on consumers’ reactions to crowding. More importantly, this paper also tests this framework via meta-analyzing the effects of social crowding and those of spatial crowding on consumers’ emotional reactions and shopping-related behavioral responses, respectively. The results suggest that the overall influence of crowding on individuals’ emotion and behavior is not as large as that reported in previous studies. Second, by examining the moderation effects of several situational and methodology-related factors, this paper is able to explain why prior literature on crowding has reported inconsistent findings. Finally, this meta-analysis work also puts forth several intriguing and testable future research hypothese. In addition to advancing theory, the current paper’s findings also have practical implications. Companies and managers should consider reducing consumers’ spatial crowding perceptions of the shopping environment. However, it is not wise for firms to universally adopt a policy of decreasing consumers’ perceptions of pedestrian volume.