Store ambience isn’t just about pretty lights, installing the flashiest technology trend, or lighting a few perfumed candles. To create a truly evocative experience to rival the likes of Burberry, Colette Paris, or Apple, retailers need to take their brand to all of the shopper’s senses.
This is about giving customers a familiarity with your brand in five different, but connected ways: smell, taste, sound, touch, and sight.
Inside Retail Magazine has compiled the latest trends, and considerations for these areas after speaking to key industry experts.
Custom scents are a newer consideration, with best practice examples including Peter Alexander, Shoes of Prey, and Lush.
“Smell is still not widespread in Australian retail so it has a lot of impact,” says Matt Newell, strategy partner of retail agency, The General Store.
Newell says this underused sense was a top priority for the agency when it designed the first bricks and mortar store for e-tailer, Shoes of Prey.
This brand’s custom scent aims to subtly relax customers, and features notes of citrus and floral in keeping with its feminine audience.
Shoes of Prey is now looking to extend this fragrance to its packaging, so shoppers will be reminded of the brand even after they leave the store.
“The great thing about scent is that its very closely linked to memory,” says Newell.
“Scented packaging means that when a pair of shoes arrives in the mail four weeks later, the customer will get that brand reminder.”
Dick Smith’s new female-friendly technology chain, Move, is another retailer that debuted this year with a custom scent.
Its perfume was designed by local scent marketing company, Air Aroma, to a brief of youthfulness and luxury.
The result is a scent with citrus top notes for invigoration and floral notes of magnolia and rose for a touch of elegance.
Fragrant candles and oil burners are still proving popular with fashion boutiques, such as Sydney-based fashion chain, Incu.
“We’ve really worked on adding candles and a scent to the store,” says Brian Wu, co-founder of Incu.
“This is about trying to get customers to have a familiarity with the store through their senses.”
Others, like Sydney Airport, are opting for fragrance spray machines or automated fragrance diffusers.
Sydney Airport’s Bambini Wine Bar features a spray machine that emanates the inviting smell of coffee to both customers and passing foot traffic.
Ben Edwards, co-founder of Melbourne-based retail design agency, Edwards Moore, says retailers should be mindful of the “hit and miss” nature of artificial scents.
“Bad potpourri is one that immediately springs to mind. Smells need to be sophisticated and highly considered, as they linger in our memories.”
“Think shoe shops and that lingering smell of new leather in contrast to the hideous smell of Subway’s oven baked bread. I cross the street to avoid going near that.”
Taste testing is an old favourite for retailers in the grocery space, but now things are really starting to heat up in the kitchen.
Christie Nicholas, director of Kids Business, which samples products in the kids and mum space, says retailers and brands are becoming more experimental.
“We have noticed sampling trends towards more gourmet meal options and experimenting with new ingredients and products to recreate classic, family favourite dishes,” according to Nicholas.
She says theatrics, drama, and live cooking demonstrations are becoming more important, as supermarkets seek to bring an element of Masterchef to their grocery sections.
Nicki Anderson, MD of instore sampling agency, Demoplus, says the major trends for retail taste testing are flexibility and customisation.
“The major trends we’re seeing are tailor made programs to match brands to customers, and flexibility in days of the week, times of the week, and locations both in and out of store.”
“The best taste testing experiences are where our team dispel myths, like our recent work on [the vegetable juice] V8.
“Our objective was to break through the myth about the product’s taste and the results speak for themselves: conversion to purchase of 21 per cent.”
Kirsty Dollison, GM of marketing and commercial at retail agency, TorchMedia, has noticed retailers are becoming more likely to sample foods across various categories at once.
“Retailers are definitely putting together more elements in their taste testing, such as looking for all the solutions for one pasta dish.
“I’ve noticed Woolworths is doing lots of this sort of execution and so is Coles. It works because it is about making things easy for the customer and putting together elements.”
Another taste testing trend is bringing together rival brands for sampling, so that customers can decide which one suits their taste buds best.
This was implemented for cheese manufacturers King Island Dairy, South Cape, and Tasmanian Heritage in Australian supermarkets this year.
This campaign allowed grocery shoppers to sample different cheese varieties at a large stand inspired by produce markets.
While tastebuds are an underdeveloped consideration for retailers outside the food department, some brands are experimenting.
For instance, the beauty brand, Lancôme, launched a Beauty Centre in Myer Sydney City store in July featuring a special tea blend for customers.
Disc jockeys had a busy time in 2013, with brands and retailers as diverse as Lancôme, Dick Smith’s Move, and Shoes of Prey commissioning custom music.
Lancôme’s Beauty Centre at Myer Sydney City features an especially tailored soundtrack, as does Shoes Of Prey’s flagship concession in David Jones’ Elizabeth St Sydney store.
Newell says Shoes of Prey’s “jungle theme” music aims to lower shopper heart rates and increase dwell time instore.
“We created a soundtrack based on a dream sequence that seamlessly morphs from party scenes to classical music,” he says.
Shoes of Prey opted for instrumental music over vocal tracks, as the latter can distract customers, with original samples also important.
“We have one song featuring a sample of a woman walking on concrete in high heels, and even sounds of [the founder of Shoes of Prey’s] cat purring away.”
Newell says retailers should be mindful of competing sounds when implementing audio instore, because too much sound “can really drive people away”.
“Because Shoes of Prey is inside David Jones, which has its own music, we had to make sure the store’s audio was happening in a zone.
“This means the music only kicks in when people sit at the product table, but they can’t really hear it when they’re at the shoe bar.
“Shoes of Prey’s music is not about drawing people into the concession, but about keeping people in once they’re there.”
In a very different space, TorchMedia’s Kirsty Dollisson says music is becoming a more complex consideration for supermarkets. Major grocery retailers are realising
that music needs to be different depending on the time of day and shopping situation.
“We’ve been playing a lot with instore radio to make sure that it reflects the time of day,” Dollinson says.
“Morning music is about setting a positive mood and getting people excited about the day and upbeat, so there’s lots of 80s, 90s, and contemporary songs.
“Later in the day from 4pm onwards, we’ve been trying to use a mixture of unrecognisable tracks and abstract jazz to help reduce shopper anxiety.
“It all comes back to the shopping occasion. Music can be used to try and calm the shopper in the grocery space, but in fashion execution it’s more about making them stay longer.”
Less widespread concepts around audio ambience include instore radio stations, as seen at Sydney cafes, Bondi FM and Vivo Cafe.
Vivo Cafe’s Eagle Waves Radio was created on the belief that people work more creatively and productively when they have good tunes to listen to.
“There’s been a pronounced geographic shift in where corporate and entrepreneurial folk are choosing to do business,” says Angela Vithoulkas, co-founder of Eagle Waves Radio.
“Recognising this trend, it made absolute sense to me to launch Eagle Waves Radio at the hub of where my audience finds it most productive and creative to work: a busy café.”
In many ways, touch is tantamount to retail: picking up objects, feeling fabrics, squeezing produce, and other tactile experiences are central to the shopper’s experience.
Incu’s Brian Wu says his Sydney fashion boutique chain has been focusing on creating store interiors that “are tactile and people want to interact with”.
“[Store interiors] should look sophisticated without being like a gallery where no one wants to touch anything,” he says.
This can mean simple tactics, such as taking one item of jewellery, toy, or stationary out of its original packaging and encouraging customers to try it on or play with it.
Touch and comfort was also highly important to Shoes of Prey when it designed the furniture and surfaces for its flagship store.
This led to the extension of a core component of the retailer’s concept: asking customers to touch and feel different leathers so they can customise shoes.
“Rather than create a retail space where customers could just touch and feel leather swatches, we decided to design a whole store around the experience,” says Newell.
“So we made the store’s couches and table out of exactly the same soft patent or stamped leather that Shoes of Prey’s footwear is made out from.”
This reinforces the retailer’s concept of customisation, as well as proves to the customer that its shoes are made from soft yet durable materials.
Dollison says brands and retailers are having a little bit more fun with the idea of touch in the supermarket aisle.
This year TorchMedia implemented a grocery campaign for a major laundry powder that used the idea of ‘scratch and sniff’.
Supermarket shoppers were asked to rub sample cards to release the scent of the laundry powder; simultaneously targeting both the senses of touch and smell.
“Products that allow people to squeeze them and release a scent, or scratch and sniff, determine if people will buy that scent, especially in a category like laundry,” says Dollison.
Another trend affecting people’s tactile interaction with retailers is the implementation of tablets, iPads, and other touchscreen devices.
Mark Beard, national marketing manager for Sharp, which builds touchscreens and monitors for retailers, says this trend is changing the way shoppers interact with stores and their staff.
“Digital signage and touchscreen products will change the ambience of Australian stores, as customers are able to obtain detailed product information,” he says.
This allows customers to shop at their own pace in a relaxed atmosphere without the need to find retail sales staff.
Edwards Moore’s Ben Edwards says there is huge scope for technology to take an integral role in the creation and shaping of store atmosphere, as long as retailers get it right.
“Gone are the days of iPads and gimmicky touchscreens as bolt ons,” he says.
“Retailers should be thinking more about invisible, integrated technology that informs, tailors, and shapes our experience.”
Lighting is an obvious ambience consideration for retailers, especially when it comes to the sometimes confronting reality of changerooms.
Incu’s Brian Wu says the retailer has been working to make its customers’ experience more enjoyable by creating more space and light.
“One thing we’ve worked on [for] our new stores is creating an atmosphere in our changerooms where people are comfortable,” he says.
“We like to ensure they have enough space to try things on properly with good light.
“We’re also starting to better understand the difference between men’s and women’s stores and putting softer features in the latter, like rounded walls,” Wu says.
According to Edwards, an overarching trend for retail in 2014 and beyond is visual customisation.
“We are currently working on a new concept where the physical retail space changes in response to each customer’s preference.
“This will mean allowing each visitor to uniquely shape their experience instead of a one size fits all approach to retail.
“Customer behaviour and preferences can be remembered, which will allow for multiple ambiences and experiences within a singular space.”
This is a trend already seen locally to some extent by Nike, which opened a Sydney pop up store last year in the inner city suburb, Paddington.
The Nike +NINE store, which celebrated the London Olympics, featured large touchscreens on the store’s exterior that those walking by could interact with.
When an individual selected a Nike product on a touchscreen, the image would flash up in the store’s window.
The interior of the store also featured an interactive London tube map that customers could alter depending on their preferences.
Whatever experience you’re considering implementing in 2014, the number one priority is individuality, says The General Store’s Matt Newell.
“I would like to see retailers doing less looking at what other retailers are doing,” he says.
“We need more authenticity. I think retailers need to understand what they’re passionate about and innovate around that.
“The creative thinking needs to be born out of the product. I think you can overcook it when it comes to ambience.”
This article first appeared in Inside Retail Magazine’s December/January issue. To subscribe, click here.