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Retail Stores – Exploiting the Senses

Updated on April 14, 2012

I recently came across a concept of Retail stores using all of our sensory elements to engage with customers and to attract them back into the bricks and mortar shops. In an excellent article by Stephen Ogden-Barnes and Danielle Barclay entitled “Store Sense: Reclaiming the Four Walls with Sensory Engagement” (published by Deakin University Australia) they explored the concept of having a brand experience in five ways:

  • Sight
  • Touch
  • Sound
  • Smell
  • Taste

Which all lead to a sensory brand engagement. Let’s look at each of these concepts in detail.

Sight – how your brand looks

Friedman teaches us that every time that the business is open that it needs to be presentable, clean and ready for ‘showtime’. Your shop allows the consumer to see into the brand and how it looks and feels is extremely important. Shops are the frontline communication tool between the brand and the consumer.

Sight is all areas of visual communication within your store including store design, ticketing, POS and product facings. Colour has a key role to play in sight as various colours mean different things to different cultures. Examples include:

  • White is the marriage colour in the west, but the colour of death in China
  • Purple is the colour of death in Brazil
  • Yellow is a sacred colour in China but means sadness in Greece & jealousy in France

Some tactics to exploit sight in your store could be to install digital signage that is animated, better use of colour and light instore or providing interactive window displays maybe using QR codes for consumers to download more information.

Touch – giving people an experience

When customers buy online they can’t feel or touch the product. We know that when we shop in stores we want to touch the fabric to feel the texture and this can help us in the buying decision. Once we touch something a sense of ownership can occur – how many times have you put a product into a customer’s hand and they have bought it! Many times it has happened to me.

Many stores are now experimenting with having a physical product as well as an interactive screen to provide more detail to help close the deal. This merging of the on and off line works can help to enhance a sales experience as consumers become more savvy and research more before coming instore.

Sound – enhancing the shopping experience

Sound has always been used to help shoppers feel comfortable within a retail shop and to increase dwell time. Research shows that when slow music is played in a crowded store there are less negative perceptions and happy music helps create positive buying emotions. The key here is that the sound (or music) in your store needs to reflect your brand and what you are trying to achieve as a brand and to then use this tactically to increase dwell time and therefore sales conversion and margin.

Instore music channels are one way to do this and give you more control over the sound than a mainstream radio station. Some brands are experimenting with ‘spotlight’ sound that can be targeted at an area of the shop or even to passerby’s to increase brand awareness.

Scent – smell of success

I remember when I worked at Kleenmaid. Every Saturday morning we would bake some muffins to fill the store with a fresh bake smell from one of our ovens. At lunchtime we would fire up a roast or curry and then scones in the afternoon. We did this because the smell was so good, the customers would feel like they were at home and we could also demonstrate how good our ovens were. We also were busiest on Saturdays and this helped us to close.

Many brands use smell to close deals – think about that new car smell, Sony has a brand fragrance in their stores and there are many others.

A great example is brands like Lush that sell bath goods – smell is how they engage with their customers. Likewise coffee shops – all sold through smell. The great thing about smell is that it can aid recall, so the development of a brand scent is imperative as a part of the overall brand experience in retail.

Taste – try before you buy

One of the oldest tricks in the book is the try before you buy taste test. Every week that I go shopping someone is asking me to sample and product and guess what – I always seem to put a box in my trolley to take home! Recently Coles, an Australia Supermarket, re-entered the taste test in a big way to promote their fresh produce sections – bakery, fresh meat and seafood areas, to great success.

The reason that we want customers to taste test is that it leads to an automatic uplift in sales and a halo effect on other products under that brand.

So Why Should We Do This?

The reason is simple – competitive advantage. Retailers are struggling to compete with the web, especially on price, so the only way to remain relevant is to create an instore experience that provide a mutli-sensory experience that leads to engagement.

Imagine if your store was visually appealing, gave customers a chance to touch and feel, had brand appropriate music and sound, smelt great and allowed you to taste the product – everything that the web couldn’t – then wouldn’t the price be the last thing you looked at?

Multi-sensory engagement is the future of retailing and the challenge to all retailers today is whether we can make the paradigm shift to move into the next evolution of sales.


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    • charmike4 profile image

      Michael Kromwyk 6 years ago from Adelaide, South Australia

      Thanks Theocharis for your comment

    • Theocharis V profile image

      Theocharis V 6 years ago from Piraeus, Greece

      Liked it a lot. Good hub.