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School of Geography

Refining spatial models of individual level consumer channel and store choice behaviours

ESRC White Rose DTP Collaborative studentship

Start date: 1 October 2017
Supervisors: Professor Alison Heppenstall, Dr Andy Newing
Deadline for applications: 17.00 (UK time),5 May 2017

The studentship is in collaboration with Sainsbury’s Supermarkets Limited.

This project draws on our strength in applied retail modelling and will develop considerable refinement to our understanding of – and ability to predict – consumer store and channel choice behaviours.  A sustained body of academic research and industry collaboration has developed the Spatial Interaction Model (SIM) as a robust retail location model, supporting retailers in their strategic decision making and providing an evidence base for Retail Impact Assessment (Birkin et al., 2010).

However, increasingly complex and individualised consumer behaviours are presenting challenges for the calibration and application of SIMs for retail location planning.  Many consumers exhibit less brand loyalty, instead motivated by price, convenience and a ‘top up’ shopping culture, shifting their expenditures towards the convenience and discount sectors, as well as e-commerce (Hood et al., 2015, Wrigley et al., 2012).  Consumers are increasingly shopping in proximity to non-residential origins such as work or as part of complex multi-purpose trips.  The range of consumer behaviours and interactions within the retail supply side are highly complex and not fully captured within existing retail models.

As part of the proposed collaboration we benefit from very rare access to customer purchasing and behaviour data derived from Sainsbury’s loyalty card scheme.   This enables us to capture, understand and model these behaviours at the consumer level.  Using this insight, this research will refine retail location-based decision making by building these behaviours into a retail modelling framework at the individual level.  This will draw on the strengths of the SIM in conjunction with a custom-built agent based model (ABM).  ABMs have been used across the social sciences to create new understanding and insights into the consequences of individual decisions and behaviour.  Within retail, there are few published examples primarily due to the lack of access to consumer data (Heppenstall et al., 2007).  ABMs offer substantial new opportunities to capture more nuanced and individualised consumer behaviours including store and channel choice, shopping frequency, shopping mission, basket size/spend etc.


This studentship can be undertaken on a 1+3 (1 year Masters + 3 years PhD study) or a +3 basis (3 years PhD study only).  To be eligible for +3 study, applicants must demonstrate that they have already completed substantial social sciences training in research methods which would enable them to undertake an independent research project in a particular discipline or interdisciplinary field. A candidate must have at least 60 credits at Masters level of core social sciences research methods training acquired in the last five years. This must include a broad range of methods, including quantitative, qualitative and mixed methods and the use of appropriate software/tools for their application, and comprehension of principles of research design and strategy, and an appreciation of alternative approaches to research. For further information, please click here

To be eligible for 1+3 study, applicants must have obtained a minimum of a 2i undergraduate degree.

If you are uncertain which route you are eligible for, please contact the supervisors listed above.

English language requirements

If your first language is not English, you must meet the University's minimum English language requirements for Masters study and/or PhD study depending on your chosen study route. Further details can be found here

How to apply

Candidates applying for a 1+3 studentship will first undertake the MA in Social Research (Interdisciplinary) from September 2017.  Subject to successful completion of the Master degree, the PhD would then start on 1st October 2018.  You do not need to apply for the Masters programme at this stage but should submit an application for PhD study as outlined here .  If you think you will be applying for a 1+3, your PhD start date will be 1 October 2018.  If you are applying for +3 study, please put your PhD start date as 1 October 2017.

Once you have submitted your PhD application and received your student ID number, you should complete the online scholarship application form available at: It is important that you select the correct studentship type for which you wish to apply, as this will determine the fields you will be asked to complete.  You may wish to discuss the study route with prospective supervisors before doing this.

Full awards will cover UK/EU academic fees and a tax-free maintenance grant paid at standard Research Council rates (£14,553 in Session 2017/18) for full-time study, together with other allowances if appropriate.  EU applicants will be eligible for an award paying tuition fees only or where residency in the UK has been established for more than 3 years prior to the start of the course.