The Effect of the Physical Context on Customer Experience


Edited by Helen L. Bruce, Ewa Krolikowska and Tara Rooney

Submission window 1 February 2022 – 1 April 2022

Background to the Special Issue

Recent services marketing research has shown a growing focus on digital and virtual services. However, despite the relentless pace of technological innovation available to and adopted by service providers and their consumers, private and public sector organisations continue to invest in physical service environments. Take, for example, the newly built $4.3bn Resorts World super-hotel in Las Vegas (, or the $19.3m investment in 2017 by the New South Wales government in state-of-the-art school facilities (Reid, 2017). Ultimately, while technological advancement will eventually replace some aspects of services, sectors as diverse as healthcare, leisure and travel will continue to require some form of physical setting to deliver meaningful and valued service propositions.

The physical context of a service influences the customer experience, a construct which has been hailed as the fundamental basis for effective marketing management (Lemon and Verhoef, 2016). Defined in multi-dimensional terms as comprising a customer’s accumulated cognitive, affective, behavioural, social and sensorial responses to their interactions with a firm or its offering (Verhoef et al., 2009), a service’s physical context presents a wealth of stimuli, likely to provoke multiple responses (Becker and Jaakkola, 2020). However, despite a wealth of research exploring service customer experiences, the physical context of the service is rarely the main focus. Consequently, in this special issue we invite submissions that specifically explore the effect of the physical context on customer experience.


Prior services marketing research has explored the impact of the servicescape (Bitner, 1992) on customers’ appraisals of their service interactions (e.g. Kumar et al., 2020; Lin, 2010). More broadly however, scholars from a diversity of disciplines have highlighted how a place or a setting (or specific aspects of that environment) impacts individuals and groups. For instance, neuroscientific studies exploring people’s cognitive responses to places have generated recommendations for the design of healthcare centres, with a view to optimising care provision for those suffering from mental health problems (Liddicoat et al., 2020; Eberhard, 2009). Also focusing on health and wellbeing, studies of ecotherapy, which entails structured activities in managed outdoor spaces, evidence benefits to individuals and to public health (Burls, 2007). Within the social sciences, behavioural scientists have highlighted the impact of sites and settings on the behaviours of individuals and groups (Scott, 2005), highlighting responses such as territoriality and privacy seeking (Brown and Zhu, 2016; Kaya and Weber, 2003). Urban ecologists have explored ecological patterns and processes within urban locations (Niemalä, 1999), applying lenses such as niche theory to understand interactions between humans and ecological processes (Alberti, et al., 2008). Within the design domain, feminist scholars from the fields of architecture (Adams, 2004) and urban design (Kern, 2020) have highlighted the contrasting experiences of women and men in specific buildings and cities.

Building on this foundation of knowledge, this special issue seeks submissions that focus on physical service context in developing theoretical knowledge of customer experience and articulating contributions to services marketing theory. What can we learn from individuals’ and groups’ interactions with and responses to physical contexts? What variations in customer experiences arise between individuals, groups or cultures? The recent Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in extended periods of isolation for many people globally, with detrimental impacts on physical and mental wellbeing. As the pandemic recedes and people are increasingly able to leave their homes to work, shop, exercise and socialise, how might customer experiences of physical contexts support the recovery of health, wellbeing and economies?

We welcome submissions that cover the variety of the services field, including services marketing and services management. We encourage multi-disciplinary works and those from fields outside services. However, contributions must be specific to the services domain. State of the art literature reviews will be considered.

A non-exhaustive list of topics that could be covered in this special issue are as follows:

  • Urban life following the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • The effect of climate and weather on customer experiences.
  • Temporary changes to places and spaces, such as festivals, pop-up events, restorations, and settings adopting temporary themes (e.g. Halloween).
  • The reinvention of the suburb as the hub of the city.
  • Customer experiences in local, regional and national contexts.
  • Historic, new and unusual tourism locations.
  • The loss of familiar places.
  • Managing outdoor and unbounded service contexts, such as natural parks.
  • Customer experience in smart cities.
  • The role of the home as a location for work, exercise and leisure.
  • Exploring third places.
  • Space, place and gender.
  • Reimagining the servicescape.
  • The intersection of digital and physical contexts; for example, the gamification of places.
  • Customer experiences of vulnerable individuals and groups.


All submissions should be made to the special issue identified on the ScholarOne Online Manuscript submission system To be considered for publication, the article must be prepared according to the requirements on the Emerald website. Manuscripts must not exceed 40 double spaced pages (9,000 words), including the abstract, references, tables and/or figures. Manuscripts should use Times New Roman 12-point font, with 1 inch margins surrounding each page of text. All submitted manuscripts should not have been published, accepted for publication, or be currently under consideration elsewhere. Manuscripts should follow the style guidelines available on the Journal of Services Marketing home page at:

All manuscripts will be evaluated on the basis of adequate coverage of the research domain, originality in summarizing our understanding of what we know, and what we do not know, and the potential for advancing understanding of the field of services. Other important considerations include the length-contribution ratio, and the quality of written expression.  Potential contributors can contact the JSM Special Issue Editors to discuss their ideas for a paper prior to submitting a formal proposal.


Key dates/deadlines

  • 1 February 2022 – submissions open
  • 1 April 2022 – submissions close


Adams, A. (2004). Architecture For Feminism?: The Design Of The Women's Library, London. Atlantis: Critical Studies in Gender, Culture & Social Justice29(1), 99-105.

Alberti, M., Marzluff, J. M., Shulenberger, E., Bradley, G., Ryan, C., & Zumbrunnen, C. (2003). Integrating humans into ecology: opportunities and challenges for studying urban ecosystems. BioScience53(12), 1169-1179.

Becker, L., & Jaakkola, E. (2020). Customer experience: fundamental premises and implications for research. Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science48(4), 630-648.

Bitner, M.J. (1992). Servicescapes: The impact of physical surroundings on customers and employees. Journal of Marketing, 56(2), 57–71.

Brown, G., & Zhu, H. (2016). ‘My workspace, not yours’: The impact of psychological ownership and territoriality in organizations. Journal of Environmental Psychology48, 54-64.

Burls, A. (2007). People and green spaces: promoting public health and mental well‐being through ecotherapy. Journal of Public Mental Health, 6(3), 24-39.

Eberhard, J. P. (2009). Brain Landscape: The Coexistence of Neuroscience and Architecture. Oxford University Press.

Kaya, N., & Weber, M. J. (2003). Territorial behavior in residence halls: A cross-cultural study. Environment and Behavior35(3), 400-414.

Kern, L. (2020). Feminist city: Claiming Space in a Man-made World. Verso.

Kumar, D. S., Purani, K., & Viswanathan, S. A. (2020). The indirect experience of nature: biomorphic design forms in servicescapes. Journal of Services Marketing, 34(6), 847-867.

Lemon, K. N., & Verhoef, P. C. (2016). Understanding customer experience throughout the customer journey. Journal of Marketing80(6), 69-96.

Liddicoat, S., Badcock, P., & Killackey, E. (2020). Principles for designing the built environment of mental health services. The Lancet Psychiatry, 7(10), 915-920.

Lin, I. Y. (2010). The interactive effect of Gestalt situations and arousal seeking tendency on customers' emotional responses: matching color and music to specific servicescapes. Journal of Services Marketing, 24(4), 294-304.

Niemelä, J. (1999). Is there a need for a theory of urban ecology? Urban Ecosystems3(1), 57-65.

Reid, J. (2017). “Govt opens new ‘state of the art’ school”, The Educator Australia. Available at: Accessed 2nd March 2021.

Scott, M. M. (2005). A powerful theory and a paradox: Ecological psychologists after Barker. Environment and Behavior37(3), 295-329

Verhoef, P. C., Lemon, K. N., Parasuraman, A., Roggeveen, A., Tsiros, M., & Schlesinger, L. A. (2009). Customer experience creation: Determinants, dynamics and management strategies. Journal of Retailing85(1), 31-41.