Sensory Experience in Retail

Retail in the United States is much different than retail here in Spain. And better. There I said it. Of course the key is the superior customer service found in The States which all my international classmates, from Delhi to Buenos Aires, agree is the best in the world. But American retailers also understand the subtle cues that are affecting their customer’s senses, particularly sight and sound, and use this information to their benefit.  What are some of the ways retailers can sell to the way people see and hear?

Seeing Is Believing

Humans experience the world most obviously through their eyes so it’s no wonder that what we see influences our behavior. Scientists know that bright light can lead to feelings of happiness and that happiness makes people feel more secure so they have a propensity to take greater risks. If you sell luxury products, you want to decrease risk aversion in order to make the sale. This can be done with the right lights, big windows, or maybe just more technologically advanced windows. A new window film from Fraunhofer increases the amount of light that passes through it. This is potentially an interesting tool for retailers selling luxury products, or in regions where Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is more pervasive due to weather conditions. But even shops in Los Angeles or Phoenix may find increasing the amount of light entering their stores can benefit their bottom line.

Colors have also been shown to affect emotions and behavior although, due to the power of association, it less precise  Still, color theory is a good place start when setting a pleasant experience in stores. Color theory suggests that blue elicits trust (nice move, Best Buy) while green makes people feel confident and subsequently moves them towards purchase.  At the very least, retailers want to stay away from colors that make people in their market feel anxious.

And seeing a smile impacts people’s emotions. Happy faces trigger happy emotions and we often smile back, even unconsciously. How many times have I caught myself smiling at a Crest toothpaste commercial even though I was not even aware of what I was watching? More times than I’d like to admit. So putting smiles on the faces of employees and fellow shoppers is more than just good Karma, it makes business sense.

 The Sound of Music

Music has been shown to have powerful effects on the way people think and their behavior.  It can change our perception of time so if you want people to stay in your store longer, which increases purchases, using the right music is a key ingredient. And this music isn’t just for the primary purchasers but also the people she brings with her. Making time fly for an impatient husband dragged into a Macy’s “just for a second” will surely reduce the pressure he puts on her to leave before she has had a chance to buy the perfect LBD. Music can also increase the incidence of “flow” through synchronicity, something athletes and desk workers know well, which also helps time fly.

And music can help reinforce pricing decisions, using classical music in an exclusive wine store, for example, reinforces the upscale positioning and premium pricing.

Since music affects the arousal level of people, based on how the tempo is linked to the rhythms of the nervous system, some retailers use sound branding to help reinforce a brand’s character. So long as this doesn’t include discordant sounds that freak people out, it’s an interesting way to further influence pre and post purchase behavior.

Music, like colors, is subject to powerful associative influences that are out of the hands of marketers and retailers. While some people may find that they enjoy shopping while listening to Mariah Carey, others, like me, leave the store immediately. And using music effectively when you have a diverse target group, like department stores, may also find sound branding impossible.

But understanding what triggers the emotions and behaviors that you desire in your customers may be as simple as using your eyes and ears.

PS – People adapt and can quickly and block these environmental influences or easily override them with their second, thinking brain so traditional marketing decisions; price, product, positioning, customer service level, etc, continue to be the biggest influencers. But retailers can reinforce these decisions by also “talking” to their customers senses.


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