Evidence indicates that experience-related, so-called soft factors, play increasingly a role in individuals’ choice of shopping location and that the introduction of internet shopping has caused a change in the needs of shoppers and benefits they traditionally seek in (physical) shopping trips. In this study, we report the results of a large-scale survey where we applied a cognitive mapping method to elicit individuals’ mental representations underlying shopping location decisions. CNET, as the mapping method is called, uses laddering to identify attributes and related benefits explicitly in a (shopping location) decision context. The advantage of this relatively new method is that it allows large samples and quantitative analysis of mental representations while, at the same time, it uses an open response format to elicit (spontaneous) responses. 

In the study we used an on-line implementation of the method called MentreQe. This tool uses automated text recognition to interpret the responses typed in by the respondent in open format based on an exhaustive database of possible attributes and benefits developed specifically for the present study. In total, 514 respondents from a large Dutch national panel participated in the survey. To incorporate existing variability in drivers for shopping trips, three scenarios regarding the importance of different sense-of-place dimensions for the trip  - place attachment, identity and dependence - were defined; each respondent was randomly allocated to a specific scenario. 

Frequency analysis of attributes, benefits and cognitive subsets (attribute-benefit links) reveals the main characteristics of the mental representations and influence of sense-of-place scenarios. The results indicate that soft factors play an important role in consumers’ considerations in shopping location decisions. Furthermore, the results indicate that these factors are more prominent in place attachment and place identity scenarios and less so in place dependency scenarios. The findings of this study are relevant for investment decisions in retail real estate as it indicates which attributes of shopping locations are important for creating attractive and competitive shopping locations.