Sensory Retail Marketing Strategies Center on the Customer Experience


There is no doubt that online apparel sales are causing big changes in brick and mortar retail businesses; online businesses can offer a huge selection and be price competitive in a way that traditional retailers may not be able match because of space and cost restraints.

But the truth is that brick and mortar retailers do not just have to resign themselves to becoming fancy distribution centers for online order pickups. They have something in their arsenal that a website cannot duplicate: the physical customer experience. Savvy retailers are taking full advantage of having customers in their stores by making the store experience pleasant, exciting and unique.

At the very most basic level, customers are human beings, experiencing the world through their five senses. Once embedded in the customer's subconscious, these sensory experiences get paired with emotions and qualitative evaluations that drive buying decisions. By strategically controlling the sensory input in retail stores, we can significantly increase sales amount per transaction, frequency of return visits, customer loyalty and recommendations.

Lighting and color
The store's lighting and color have a huge impact on setting the mood and tone of the store environment and can highlight certain products. According to the National Association of Lighting Manufacturers in Spain (ANFALUM)1, warm light will make leather goods look better while cool tones sell jeans and suits. In color, a rule of thumb is to use a neutral color in 80 percent of your store and an accent color in the remaining 20 percent. 

Down lights can bring customers' attention to a particular featured product group, and the proper brightness can make people feel comfortable in the store. The color choice will relate to the brand positioning and the emotion you want to evoke in your customers. For example, yellow and orange tend to be happy colors, while green is calming and blue encourages trust.

Smell is the most underappreciated of the senses and also one of the most powerful. In the brain, the sense of smell is the only sense processed in the limbic system, the seat of emotion and memory, making scent an excellent tool for branding and marketing. The presence of a pleasant scent directly affects sales by encouraging customers to stay and buy who otherwise might have left empty-handed or with fewer items.

Scent in stores also improves customers' perceptions of the store and its products.2 Research shows that customers are willing to pay 10 percent to 15 percent more for the same product in a store that is scented compared to the same store without scent. Individual products, too, are perceived as being of higher quality or more suitable for the consumer when the store uses ambient scenting.

While there are no absolutes, there are some fragrances that tend to be associated with emotions. For example, citrus makes people feel happy, lavender and green tea induce calmness, vanilla and amber encourage trust and comfort and florals provide a romantic or exotic air.

Research has shown that when customers touch the merchandise, they are able to picture themselves owning the item and are more likely to buy it.3 To this end, stores should consider using wood, rather than metal or laminate tables, to display their wares. Wood tables encourage shoppers to touch the merchandise, increasing the likelihood of purchase. In designing stores, retailers should be careful to provide aisles that are wide enough that customers will not have to step back and touch the shelf or display on the other side; research has shown that shoppers get irritated if touched from behind.

The type and tempo of music affects the speed with which customers navigate your store and how long they stay.4 Music has also been shown to reduce customers' perception of wait times, which is particularly useful during high-traffic shopping times. Music can also set the mood (i.e. island music in a swimsuit store or Christmas music around the holidays) and tie in with the store's brand positioning.5

Sensory marketing can be used in any retail environment, from big box stores to department stores to branded specialty retailers.  Retailers as diverse as Jimmy Choo, Bloomingdale's and Goodwill use sensory marketing to boost sales and distinguish themselves from competitors, online and off.  If you want your store to survive and thrive in this period of change, make sure you provide a superior customer sensory experience that will make your cash registers ring.

1"Sensory Marketing at Matelec 2012: Effective Lighting in Shops Increases Competitiveness and Reduces Costs"
2“The Effect of Ambient Scents on Consumer Responses: Consumer Type and His Accompaniment State as Moderating Variables”, by Rym Bouzaabiam, International Journal of Marketing Studies, October 2.2013
3"Please Touch the Merchandise" by Lawrence Williams and Joshua Ackerman, Harvard Business Review Forum, The Future of Retail, December 15, 2011
4"Sensory marketing: Research on the sensuality of products" by Aradhna Krishna, 2010.
5"Sound and Consumer Buying Behaviour: Do Apparel Retailers Take Note of the Effect of Sound on Buying Behaviour" By C.E. Nell and M.C. Cant, Corporate Ownership & Control, Volume 11, Issue 1, 2013

Jennifer Dublino is the vice president of development for ScentWorld Events, LLC, which educates retail, hospitality, consumer goods and other companies about the power of scent and sensory marketing to increase sales, improve product evaluations, create customer loyalty, strengthen brands and improve the overall customer experience.

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