Ambient Factors: How to Deliver the Ultimate Multi-Sensory Experience

In one of my posts, How to Increase your Products' Perceived Value, I have written about the positive correlation between the level of comfort in a store and the customer's perceived value of a product.  Today I am going to focus on a few sensory variables, called ambient factors or atmospherics, that can determine comfort level and customer experience and, as a result buying behaviour and sales numbers.

Research suggests that the retail environment can have as much effect on the consumer as the quality of the products themselves.  Other studies even indicated that several ambient factors are strongly associated with inducing unplanned purchasing from consumers.  In fact, a well constructed atmosphere tends to foster browsing which in turn has been shown to lead to impulse buying. 

Moreover, retailers should take into account that over 70% of the in-store purchase decisions are made in the store at the time of purchase and realize the importance of getting the customer into their store to make that decision.  The best way to ensure that is to design a store that is all around inviting. 

However, retailers traditionally focused almost solely on visual stimulation.  Store owners need to understand the importance of appealing to all the senses.  Here I will only focus on some ambient factors briefly, noting that each of them has been the subject of a great number of studies.

Design and Cleanliness

Retailers should always keep in mind that if their store does not stand out and offer a differentiating experience, they will have a hard time to induce traffic and repeat customers.  I have already written various posts on the benefits of designing a store which is the product of a unique concept (Luxury Department Store in Brazil Delivers Unique Customer Experience and others).  These are some more points that retailers should also consider:

  • Studies show that consumers feel more comfortable in stores that are easy to navigate.  Retailers should think of customers' flow when designing the store.
  • Customers in retail stores tend to concentrate at entrances and exits. 
  • Most customers tend to turn right when met by a barrier.  Therefore, the right wall is a good location where to place impulse goods.
  • Retailers should always make sure that their floors are not cluttered and that their aisles are wide enough.  Studies conducted at supermarkets showed that customers associated wider aisles with leisure, comfort and quality.

Music

Music influences the speed at which customers shop, their willingness to buy and the experience they take out of the store.  The choice of music depends on the store's target market.  However, retailers should take into account these points:
  • Unfamiliar music seems to encourage longer shopping.
  • Background music appears to be more effective at generating impulse purchasing than vocals-based foreground music. 
  • Up-tempo music increases the speed at which customers shop versus low-tempo music.  One or the other might be more suitable to a store depending on the business model and the target market.  Retailers should always remember that studies show a simple positive correlation between time spent browsing and amount purchased.

Wall Color

When deciding on the store's color, retailers should consider selecting a specific color that would remind the shopper about the brand.  That color should then be used in accents around the store.  Walmart and Target are good examples of this strategy, as they use blue and red respectively as their brand colors throughout their stores.

When selecting their main color wall color most retailers might want to select neutral shades.  In general they should be aware that: 
  • Blue is associated with feelings of serenity and trustworthiness.
  • Green generates extreme peaceful effects.
  • Red  is representative of power and warmth.
  • Yellows, browns, and oranges can be stimulating and exciting.
  • Violet has the psychological effect of aggressive and tiring.

Lighting

Lighting is important to set the right mood and atmosphere in the store, to guide the customer through the store, and to focus their attention on the products.  An efficient store illumination would encompass a variety of intensities and fixtures.  Softer general lighting should fill the space and stronger accent lighting should highlight key displays.  In particular retailers should remember the following information:
  • Consumers prefer natural light.  Retailers should make use of all the natural light in the store.
  • To focus the consumers attention on the displays, the ratio of luminance of the display area to the aisles should 2:1.
  • Clinical studies show that excessive levels of artificial light produce annoyance and health effects in a large fraction of the population.  Brighter lights should be used only as accent lighting.
  • Colored lights can be used selectively to help establish a mood in the store that relates to the product line or customer profile.
  • A well thought lighting concept can guide the customer flow through the store enhancing navigation and comfort. 


Scent

According to the Scent Marketing Institute, “Scent, in particular, has the power to strongly influence people because the olfactory input bypasses the logical center of the brain and goes directly to the emotional seat and memory center of the brain. For companies looking to attract customers and develop a long-lasting relationship with them, emotion and memory are critical connections and should be among the top goals of their marketing campaigns and branding efforts.”

Retailers should select mild scents which do not have any negative labels attached to them.  As stated above, scents have the power to trigger memories and emotions.  Retailers should avoid any scent that they believe could be associated with negative imagery or situations.  They should opt for one consistent scent that would match their store concept, image and lifestyle.


Retailers should understand that all these ambient factors and atmospherics are just another tool that they have to differentiate the experience that they offer to their customers from the one that their competitors provide.  All of them should match the store's unique concept and reinforce it. 

I welcome your comments and examples of retailers that are particularly good at setting a comfortable mood in their stores.

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