Purpose ‐ Built on De Wulf et al.'s relationship exchange model, the present study aims to examine store attributes as a signal for the process of customer-retailer relationship building in the context of department store operation in the
USA. Design/methodology/approach ‐ A sample of college students at a US university participated in an online self-administered survey. Exploratory factor analysis identified store attribute factors pertaining to department stores and structural equation modeling tested
hypotheses. Findings ‐ Six store attributes relevant to department store environments were found: post-transaction service, direct mail, interpersonal communication, merchandise, preferential treatment, and store atmosphere. Four store attributes (direct mail, interpersonal
communication, merchandise, and preferential treatment) involve perceived relationship investment, while one store attribute dimension (store atmosphere) directly contributes to perceived relationship quality. Perceived relationship investment positively influences perceived relationship quality,
which in turn influences behavioural and attitudinal loyalty intentions. The mediating effects of perceived relationship quality on the perceived relationship investment-loyalty intention links were confirmed. Research limitations/implications ‐ The single retail
setting and student sample are limitations. Future research should examine store attribute dimensions in different retail and/or service operation settings with more diverse populations. Originality/value ‐ The current study demonstrated that store attributes (direct
mail, interpersonal communication, merchandise, and preferential treatment) promote customer-retailer relationship building as relationship-inducing factors in the department store context.