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Multi-sensory selling: How retailers entice you to spend your hard-earned money

Retailers manipulate your senses to get you to spend more time in-store and to spend more money.

With the growth in online retail, physical retailers are searching for more effective tools to increase consumer traffic and boost sales. While most retailers tend to focus on visual marketing to entice customers into their stores, some companies have found that marketing cocktails that engage with all five of our sense can be effective in increasing sales.

Using marketing tools that are not available to online retailers, brick and mortar retailers are creating in-store, 3D shopping experiences that appeal to a carefully mixed combination of smell, touch, sight, sound and taste in the hopes of generating greater spend. This multi-sensory approach is designed to create a stronger desire to spend before the conscious, cognitive and rational parts of our brain kick in.

With the rise in the experience economy, retailers who offer strong multi-sensory shopping experiences are becoming more appealing to customers. In fact, research shows that where consumers are offered congruent cues that impact all five senses, their behaviour changes, they spend longer in the shop, spend more and are more likely to return.

While tapping into our visual senses through clever combinations of design, colour, style and lighting can be used by both online and physical retailers, providing a tactile shopping experience is not something that can be achieved online. In fact, about 50% of people prefer not to shop online because it lacks a tactile function.

The inability to touch and feel products when buying online is also believed to drive a large number of e-commerce returns. Being able to try on, gauge the size of a product and feel its texture is important, especially when shopping for clothes, shoes and linen. Marketing research reveals that the ability to touch a product plays to a retailer’s advantage as a result of what is known as the ‘endowment effect’. Touching a product gives people a sense of ownership and they are more likely to buy the product for themselves.

In-store sound – or sonic branding – is another common tool used to attract and retain customers. Music can influence memory, emotion and movement, and be cleverly used to slow customers down or speed them up. A takeaway shop, for instance, would use music that encourages customers to transact quicker whereas a sit-down restaurant would use slower music to encourage clientele to dine for longer. Music can also be effectively used to regulate emotions and mood, reduce stress, and create a sense of nostalgia.

Scent marketing – also referred to as nebulisation technology – is used by many retailers, hotels, restaurants and tech companies to create a welcoming environment that makes people feel better about shopping and spending. The sense of smell has one of the strongest impacts because it is not filtered by the brain. Whereas we need to make a conscious decision to look or touch an item, the sense of smell is involuntary.

Our sense of smell is the only sense that has a direct link to our brain’s Limbic system which deals with long-term memory and emotion. In fact, human beings can remember about 10 000 distinct odours that can trigger important memories that can take us all the way back to our childhood. The basis of scent marketing is an odour is connected with an emotional experience which can elicit that emotion later, which in turn can affect behaviour. By using a scent that appeals to its customer base, a company can essentially add a scent to its logo.

However, according to research, getting the cocktail of all five sense right can be difficult, and involves a bit of trial and error. If a brand gets it right, they can cement the brand in a customer’s memory and enter their emotional space.

For instance, Abercrombie & Fitch – which sells high-quality clothes to teenagers – has a very strong and overpowering scent in their shops, and they’re not the only retailer using scent marketing for their benefit. Starbucks also uses a unique coffee scent in their stores to ensure that the odour of their food doesn’t overpower the smell of their famous coffee. Pandora, the jewellery brand, uses ambient scents in their stores to create a relaxed and comfortable shopping experience. Samsung, on the other hand, uses a gender-neutral scent in some of its global flagship stores which is ‘crisp, sharp and evocative’ to appeal to a wide range of customers.

Similarly, Cinnabon uses the smell of baked vanilla and brown sugar to lure customers in with the smell. Strategically placed in shopping malls and airports, fresh cinnamon buns are baked every 30 minutes to keep the aroma circulating.

As we increasingly engage in our digital spaces, physical retailers are finding new and innovative ways to connect with us in-store by creating unique, multi-sensory experiences that keep us spending and coming back for more. Creating emotional connections with us through clever sensory marketing is part of their strategy to create a ‘need’ where one never existed. Being able to identify these tactics -and exercise our all-important common sense – is key to keeping our wits about us this festive season.


Eric Jordaan

Crue Invest (Pty) Ltd

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