The Future of Retail: Appeal to the Senses

The artist Jasper Johns said “When something is new to us, we treat it as an experience. We feel that our senses are awake and clear. We are alive.” Scent and sound may just be that cue to make brands alive and revitalize that connection with the consumer.

Now, some savvy marketing gurus are suggesting that these techniques can be taken further, exploring the effect of the scent and sound and advocating promotional techniques that appeal to a total sensory experience. In one study, a wine shop experimented with the effect of music on wine purchasing patterns. They alternated between playing jazz and classical music in the store. While the total amount of wine purchased didn’t vary, they did find that when classical music was played in the background, people tended to buy more expensive wines.

Studies have also been conducted on the effect of music on supermarket shoppers. Light and easy selections have been found to make shoppers relax, move slower and spend more time browsing through aisles. Up-beat pop-type music on the other hand, tends to work better in clothing retail stores, making people feel more adventurous and inclined to take fashion risks. It is no coincidence that in some Carrefour outlets soft ice-cream cone-sellers ring a bell to announce the presence of their product, yes, the same kind of bell wandering ice-cream men used to use, as they peddled through neighbourhoods, eliciting an almost Pavlovian reaction in children and no doubt triggering a similar response in shoppers seeking a moment of indulgence in a busy day.

Use of scent is a practice some brands have used to great effect. After all who can resist the aroma of freshly baked cookies or freshly brewed coffee? And how many times have you pulled over lured by the whiff of durian? And yet, to date, our hypermarkets remain pretty much sterile in terms of olfactory stimulation. Are we depriving ourselves of a fundamental promotional tool by ignoring scent and sound in in-store promotions?

Today, with advances in the use of sensors, and other motion sensitive devises it is possible to target consumers within a small field. In a retail environment that is already cluttered with visual imagery, maybe it’s time media buyers also gave a thought to alternative forms of stimulation. While scent remains one of the least utilized of our senses it might be time to take a cue from coffee purveyors, cookie makers or when it comes right down to it, the durian seller!