How Is the Sensory Atmosphere In-Store Affecting Your Shoppers?

grocery store

Your customers use all five senses in-store. But what happens when only one or two of these senses is appealed to — or even worse, when the other senses are putting them off?

Sensory sensitivity can be tapped into positively, leading customers to buy products because they look or smell appealing. On the other hand, customers can also be put off of products they were planning to buy for the same reasons. While appealing to sight, smell, hearing, taste, and touch might seem a juggling act, doing so can increase your sales and ensure that customers return.

Why Are Senses Important for the In-Store Experience?

Many stores don’t consider how the sensory atmosphere might be affecting customers and staff. Practical elements of the store are catered to, so you can alert staff members, give instructions at the checkout, or keep food cool. Less consideration is given to how these processes affect the senses.

One aspect that is often overlooked is the store’s effect on your staff. If your store is a pleasant place to work, it ensures your staff are able to be cheerful, helpful, and focused on their roles. If they are contending with an atmosphere that leaves them irritable and struggling to concentrate, they will be less helpful to customers, as well as increasing staff turnover.

Shoppers need little persuasion to go elsewhere, especially with a high concentration of available supermarkets, and anything could cause them to change their loyalty.

So what elements need to be considered in-store?

Lighting and Colour Are Crucial to Establishing the Right Atmosphere

The first thing that customers are going to notice about your store is how it looks. There are two key elements to optimising the visual aspect of your store: Lighting and colour.

Lighting can make a big difference, but it can be difficult to perfect. Having lighting that is too bright makes your store a painful place to shop or work, as bright light frequently triggers headaches. By contrast, lighting that is too dim can make your store a depressing place to shop, and make it harder to see product labels. Dim lighting can even make your store seem dirty and unhygienic.

It is crucial to replace flickering lights as soon as possible. As well as a trigger for headaches, flickering lights make people feel uneasy. There’s a reason that flickering lights are often present in horror films.

While colours play a big role in which labels and sections shoppers are drawn to, too many colours can overwhelm consumers, causing them to struggle to negotiate the store. By giving brightly-coloured labels a neutral background to stand out against, you give shoppers a clearer idea of where to focus.

Optimising Your Soundscape to Create Ideal Shopping Conditions

Sound is an element that needs to be carefully curated, as shoppers are subconsciously influenced by what they hear around them. Fast music will make shoppers speed up, while calmer, slower music will slow them down.

When used incorrectly, however, It can be a tool that drives shoppers away, and makes life hellish for staff. We all know the stereotype of stores driving staff and shoppers mad over Christmas with the same three carols, but have you thought about the effect of repetition in other areas? The loud beeps and recorded speech at checkouts can both detract from the soundscape of your store. While both are necessary, especially for accessibility, to make your store a more pleasant place to be, you may want to think about making changes to them.

The recorded speech played on self-service checkouts can often sound unpleasant. This effect is amplified if several are playing at the same time, as self-service points are often grouped together. If they are all running at a high volume, it can often be hard to hear anything they say. By adjusting the volume, reducing the amount of speech, or even investing in directional speakers, the self-service checkout can be made a much more accessible unit to use.

The Way Your Store Smells Is More Important Than You Might Think

It might not be high up on your list of priorities, but the way that your store smells is important.

Smells need to be appropriate to the area, and cross-over smells will cause issues. We expect a clothing area to not smell of much, but a fish stand to smell strongly. If the smell from the fish stand leaks into the clothing area, customers will be put off of potential purchases.

As our sense of smell isn’t that developed, we often need to rely on context to know whether a smell is appropriate or not. Shoppers may expect the cheese aisle to smell a certain way, but the same smell in a fresh produce aisle is liable to make the customer assume that something is decaying.

It is also worth thinking about cleaning fluids; many have strong, off-putting artificial scents, and these can affect the produce around them. Cleaning aisles with a strongly-scented cleaning fluid can confuse shoppers, or even make them give up on that product.

The Way That Samples Taste Can Control How Well a Product Sells Long-Term

Although this is only relevant to specific products, the way that samples are presented and given out to shoppers can have a marked effect on sales — increasing them by up to 57% long-term. Shoppers are reluctant to try new products, so samples are the perfect way to introduce them.

The major pitfalls of sampling are to do with serving. Presenting the product at a temperature that is too high or low won’t show it at its best, and may put off a customer who was on the verge of buying. Similarly, samples that have been left sitting for some time may taste stale or dry, giving the customer the wrong impression.

By appealing to the sense of taste, stores can increase purchases of specific products both long and short-term.

Why Making Sure the Product Feels Right Is Important

Something that is often overlooked in-store is the final sense of our guide: touch. It is common sense that shoppers buy things by picking them up and putting them in their basket — but this means that the final barrier between the product and the customer can be the texture of the packaging.

Obviously, this is not a problem for some products. Cardboard packaging feels fairly generic and will not present any major sensory stimulation. But for some more organic products, such as vegetables, the texture is important, as is whether the product is, for example, wet from being sprayed. Although spraying helps to cool vegetables down and keep them fresh, it can put customers off. A wet product may make other perishables wet. If it seeps through cardboard packaging, for example, it could cause mould. Products that are at risk of becoming slimy when damaged, such as mangoes, may need extra checks to ensure that one damaged product doesn’t prevent customers from buying any in that particular carton.

By ensuring that the five senses are catered to in-store, you can keep your staff and customers happy, and make sure your products keep selling.

Phillip Adcock HeadshotAbout the Author

Phillip Adcock is the founder and Managing director of the shopper research agency Shopping Behaviour Xplained Ltd, an organisation using psychological consumer insight and retail technology to explain and predict customer behaviour. SBXL operates in 17 countries for hundreds of clients including Mars, Tesco and B&Q.

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