Industry News: The Five Senses of Retail

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Imagine you’re visiting Walt Disney World in sunny Orlando, Florida. As you approach the entrance to the Magic Kingdom you are welcomed by just the right mixture of sights, sounds, and smells all geared to add to your good mood. Everything here is about creating and controlling the guest experience, and each new land you enter is designed to engage your senses differently. It’s so well done that you don’t even notice the change as you leave one and enter the next.

Whether you realize it or not, Disney creates then controls every move you make inside its parks. You can do much the same in your own store by engaging the shoppers five senses. Here’s how: 

1. Sight

Your sales floor is a wonderland of all things visual. Everywhere customers look they should be drawn to something intriguing. 

o Where you place fixtures creates a path for shoppers to follow as they peruse your sales floor. The reason 50 percent of a store’s floor is never seen by shoppers in many stores is because the layout is left to chance. Grocers don’t let this happen, that’s why milk is always at the back of the store. The goal is to get you to walk past promotional goods you didn’t realize you needed first. 

Your sales floor should be set to lead shoppers somewhere. To do this make a schematic of your current layout, then determine if your fixture placement is doing its job or there are control changes to be made. 

o Look for “desire paths”, shortcuts customers make to get through your store faster. Check your flooring for heavier wear in certain areas or spend a day watching how customers navigate the sales floor. If you find a desire path, place a display directly in the center of it. 

o Make your displays visually interesting. Add props, different textures, and signing to catch the customers’ eye. 

o Create a strong sight line by placing shorter fixtures up front and taller fixtures towards the rear of the store. This allows shoppers to see both in and through your store, seeing things they may have otherwise missed. 

o Lighting is critical to the customer experience. If you have customers aged 50+ there’s a strong chance they can’t see all the details of your fabulous product. This is because someone in their 60s receives only about 40% of the available light as someone in their 20s. So, if your sales floor is dark, or has shadows, you lose. 

When was the last time you relamped your store or had your illumination levels checked? Track lighting is an easy fix to light dark spaces, highlight merchandise, or direct attention to certain areas of the floor. 

2. Hearing 

Music plays a role in encouraging sales, so every store needs a unique soundtrack that puts shoppers’ in the right mood. We say soundtrack because the music you choose provides a background that entices shoppers to stay longer and spend more while they are there. Music also adds to how you want your store to be perceived. So, unless heavy metal is part of your schtick, Metallica cranked to 11 probably isn’t ideal for most stores. Your soundtrack should give shoppers a psychological lift. 

A recent study of over 2000 U.S. adults, conducted by The Harris Poll on behalf of Spotify, found that more than 70% of respondents said they’re more likely to shop at stores that play music they enjoy, 63% are more likely to come back to local stores that play music, while 67% of respondents said background music incentivizes them to make purchases. The survey also found that the type of music also matters: women shoppers prefer oldies, pop, and R&B, while men prefer to shop while listening to rock, Blues and bluegrass. Both enjoy country and classical. 

Whatever music you choose to play, it’s your responsibility to ensure you are doing it legally. Listening to a CD you purchased or playing the radio doesn’t mean you are covered. The American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP) protects the rights of artists, authors, composers, and publishers for their musical works, and playing music in your store without the proper license can result in heavy fines. You can learn more about licensing on the ASCAP website or go with a service such as Cloud CoverMusic, Pandora for Business, Rockbot or Jukeboxy to play music in-store worry free. Bonus: Most of these services have a free trial.

3. Touch 

If your displays are too intricate shoppers will be afraid to touch them for fear of messing them up. If you have ever been followed by an associate who immediately fluffs and refolds everything you pick up then you know what we mean. That’s no way to shop, displays should encourage customers to touch the merchandise. 

Set your displays so customers interact with the items, and employ cross-merchandising so they pick up product hadn’t originally intended to buy. Place merchandise outpost displays that feature product from one department in another or in an unexpected area, top off displays with signing that inspires interaction, merchandise different textures together – do anything you can do to engage shoppers to try something new. 

4. Smell 

What do you think of when you smell popcorn? Sharing a big bowl on family movie night, a visit to the theater, or your local hardware store that offers free bags, freshly popped from a machine located near the front entrance? If you said the hardware store we’re on the same page. Yes, it’s nice to feed customers, but it’s also nice when customers think of that store every time they smell popcorn. 

Olfaction – our sense of smell – is the sense most closely linked to memory. A single sniff of a familiar scent can bring you back directly to where you first smelled it. According to ScentAir, the world’s largest scent marketing firm, different scents can affect the moods of those who smell them. Lavender and vanilla are calming scents, while peppermint and grapefruit are said to be energizing. Disney’s “Smellitizers” pump out the scent of candy, freshly baked pastries, and popcorn in various places on Main Street, USA. Look closely to find artfully hidden Smellitizers in every shop and attraction in the park. 

Simply stated, scent marketing works. There are many scent marketing companies that help you choose a unique scent for what you sell, or you can pick up scent diffusers locally. But please do not burn candles in your store. It’s just not worth the risk. 

5. Taste 

One of our favorite research things to do is watching shoppers at grocery stores sample the free food. It’s interesting to note that many make a beeline for whatever is offered and toss it in their cart. Grocers will tell you that there is solid evidence that sampling sells more product, so even if you don’t include food items as part of your assortment that doesn’t mean you can’t cash in on the trend. 

It’s easy to make food part of your customer experience. Every event you hold should include food – you know our motto: Food is good! It’s always best to go with treats from a caterer, rather than do it yourself. You don’t need the added hassle on event days, and with Covid still a threat you are safer going with professionally prepared or pre-packaged food and drink. 

Offer shoppers bottles of water adorned with your logo, partner with a local restaurant to provide refreshments during your in-store events or host a wine tasting. And sell candy – especially chocolate – at the cashwrap. It’s a no-brainer way to increase impulse purchases that add up. The industry big box retailers all do it, so there is already a precedent. 

You don’t need to go as far as Disney to control the in-store experience but utilizing sensory marketing to engage all five shopper senses will put you far ahead of your competition. Another perk? Not one of these ideas can be implemented by an e-commerce retailer. Score five for brick and mortar retail!





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