Ambience: Why Sense Appeal Matters in Retail

With online shopping only continuing to increase in popularity, physical stores need to offer an experience like no other to entice customers into visiting. This is where ambience kicks into gear.

Ambience is about transforming what would otherwise be a routine, forgettable experience, into a sensory, memorable one. Ambience is a whole lot more than how a store looks- it’s about how the store, and your brand, makes the customer feel. The feel of your store comes down to the senses. What senses do you want your customers to associate with your store? How do you want to make them feel? How do you want them to remember your store?

Once you can confidently answer these questions, creating the optimal atmosphere for your customer becomes much easier.

To demonstrate just how effective ambience is for customer experience, we’ve put together our top 5 pick of retailers who know how to stimulate the senses.

1. Sight: LEGO Store

Often when people hear the word ambience in relation to retail, they will automatically picture lighting. This is fine, because lighting is a key part of appealing to a customer’s sight, however it is not the only factor. LEGO store is a great example of how the physical space can be pleasing to the eye before the customer even sets foot into the store. LEGO understand their target customers are children, and so the store is extremely bright, vibrant and fun. The yellow dominates and stands out against its surrounding stores, and the bright lighting works together with the bright colour scheme to create this atmosphere. The layout is clear, organised, and the product becomes a part of the store space, i.e. LEGO figurines around the store. Even though LEGO have a very well-known and trusted product, it is how they present this product in this welcoming atmosphere that transforms how the customer feels based on what they see.

2. Sound: Hard Rock Café  

We’ve all seen the t-shirts- Hard Rock Café is familiar for many customers around the world. One of the main factors that influences the familiar Hard Rock Café experience is sound. A customer knows that if they choose to dine there, they will hear rock song after rock song. As rock is such a huge part of the brand’s personality, rock music has become a huge part of the dining experience. If they were to play any other genre of music, it just wouldn’t be right. The atmosphere created would be a false one, and this is something that customers won’t stay for. Hard Rock Café is an example of how creating an authentic sensory experience, in this case through sound, becomes a clear association that a customer can remember whenever they think about that brand.

3. Smell: Lush

Smell and memory are closely intertwined, which is why smell is a tool often used by retailers so that when a customer smells a scent in store, they associate that smell with the brand. An obvious example here is Lush. Once you enter a Lush store, or even walk within a few metres of a Lush store, you’ll never forget it. Why? Because it is a defining aspect of the store’s experience. Customers go to Lush not only so they can see the products in front of them, but so they can touch and smell them. This hands-on, or rather, nose-on, experience cannot be replicated online, which is why this sense is so highly valued for Lush. Even if a retailer doesn’t sell products that are scent driven, smell can still be used effectively. Take Peter Alexander, for example. If you’ve ever been into a Peter Alexander store, you know that you will instantly be met with the sweet combination of vanilla and caramel when you return. They use smell to relax the customer, and to create a comforting atmosphere. Smell heavily influences the mood of the customer, which is why it is used readily by retailers.

4. Taste: Costco

If your product is edible, odds are your customers are going to want to taste it. Or they’ll be thinking about tasting it at least. When taste can become a part of the routine grocery shop, this adds flavour (pun intended) to the experience. Costco is a food retailer who knows their stuff when it comes to the taste experience. People love free food, and Costco know this, which is why they offer free samples throughout the grocery shop. By Costco appealing to this sense, they forge an emotional connection with the customer. If a customer associates a positive experience with a store, they are more likely to return. Free food samples provide this positive experience, and it is experiences like this that will encourage a customer to shop where they know they have this experience over another food grocer where they may not be able to.

5.    Touch: Apple

It’s not just kids who like to go around touching everything in store; adults like to play too. Customers like to get a real feel for the product they are about to purchase, whether that’s a clothing item, utensil or food product. Touch is particularly important when it comes to devices. Apple recognises this need for tactile interaction, which is why their store is presented in a way in which touch is encouraged and allowed. Customers can make their way around the store and trial all the touch screens. Whilst Apple is not the only tech retailer doing this, they are still worth mentioning because of their lack of shelf stock. Majority of the stock taking up the selling floor is display stock, meaning that this tactile experience dominates their time spent instore. This direct engagement with the product cannot be experienced online, which is why appealing to this sense is particularly valuable when instore.

If there’s one thing to take away from this, it’s that senses matter. More importantly, it’s about knowing which senses matter to your customer in relation to your product. Whilst we’ve shown examples of how stores can appeal to one sense extremely effectively, this doesn’t mean you should stop there. Who says your store can’t sound and smell good?

It comes down to what your customer wants and needs. There’s no point bombarding your customer with a sensory overload. It’s about tailoring your store atmosphere to combine the best sensory appeals required to make your customers feel how you want them to feel.

A customer may initially visit your store for the product, but it’s the ambience that will make them want to stay. Makes sense, right?

Until next time,

Disrupt Retail