How to tap into your customers’ five senses

You could be a mile away from a Lush store and you’d be able to smell it before you saw it. Even managing director Peta Granger has described it as “the smelly soap store”. Love it or hate it, its signature heady blend of fragrant bath bombs has become synonymous with the brand – such is the power of in-store fragrance.  

Until recently, Country Road also lured customers in-store with the same smell for 10 years, but the brand has just changed tack and released two new scents inspired by the Australian landscape – driftwood and linen – which were handcrafted in Melbourne and took 12 months to carefully develop with celebrated Sydney prefurmer Ainslie Walker. According to CEO Elle Roseby, the aim of the fragrance was to “evoke a feeling of warmth, similar to when you visit someone’s home”. 

The new fragrances are also now available for purchase in-store through the locally made candles and hand and body range.

“It adds to the sensory experience for our customer. And with our new flagships, including Chadstone Shopping Centre and Westfield Newmarket in Auckland, the scents really shine in our fitting rooms which have become a space to relax, with soft furnishings, mood lighting and a private point-of-sale area for seamless transactions,” says Roseby.

“We’ve worked very hard to get the scent right, making sure it’s not overpowering. Our scents have been developed to be subtle and yet distinctive to Country Road. When you add scent to your in-store experience, the process requires a lot of research and testing to get it right, ultimately adding to the overall customer experience.”

According to business consultant and former Supré international brand manager Catherine van der Meulen, not enough Australian businesses consider tapping into their customers’ senses in-store, especially compared with their overseas counterparts. 

“I have seen more of this complete sensory experience in retail in Europe or Asia, but there’s not a huge amount of commitment to the five senses in Australian retail. For me, it’s really about a holistic experience. Different people engage with a brand in different ways, so retailers really need to connect in a meaningful way to all types of customers and in the way they want to be communicated from a sensory perspective,” she says.

“One store that really has nailed the complete experience on so many levels is Harrolds. I have visited both the Sydney and Melbourne locations and still rave about it. Whether it was the energy, the smell of coffee, the flowing champagne, amazing and upbeat tunes or the knowledge of the team, all of the elements combined made me feel a part of the brand.”

The business benefit

The battle between online and bricks-and-mortar continues, as some retailers are still questioning whether physical stores are worth the investment. But what’s clear is to be successful, omnichannel retailers need to offer customers an in-store experience that just can’t be replicated online – cue the need for brands to appeal to all five senses.

“If the high street is to continue to entice shoppers away from online, it must always put the customer first and consider what it is offering the consumer, not just the products it is selling,” explains Steve Hughes from Mood Media.

“Consumers aren’t just buying a product when in-store; they’re buying an experience and they are increasingly demanding it through their foot traffic. For many, shopping is a form of entertainment and bricks-and-mortar stores have a real advantage. Done right, shops can attract more new customers, a higher number of repeat visits, longer in-store dwell times and more recommendations.”

Indeed, a new report from Mood Media, Quantifying the Impact of Sensory Marketing, has found that shoppers are more likely to purchase more items and more expensive products when brands invest in appealing to all the senses. 

Shoppers are more likely to buy 4 per cent more products and spend 6 per cent more on each item. Meanwhile, consumers will spend up to six minutes longer in-store. Last year’s report from Mood Media found that 90 per cent of shoppers said that they were more likely to revisit a physical store if the music, visuals and scent create an enjoyable atmosphere.

Visually, retailers may choose to use digital screens to capture and retain their customers’ attention. The report actually found that customers respond to well-placed mirrors around the store. Meanwhile, the right soundtrack can get shoppers in the mood to spend more time in-store and giving them the ability to easily interact with products’ appeals to their sense of touch. Also, homewares and appliances retailers could offer customers delicious hors d’oeuvres to show them the kinds of dishes that can be whipped up using their products. 

“Even if you are in the business of fashion, customers still want a whole experience, so creating that ambience with having treats, drinks, water, coffee, champers are always things to surprise and delight,” says van der Meuelen. 

“We used to have big bowls of green apples with branded stickers on them at Supré and we promoted a healthy lifestyle and encouraged teenagers to eat well. This was a natural fit for where the brand was at and the values we were promoting. Each brand needs to get to the essence of who they are, what they stand for to ensure the right messages are being portrayed.” 

Understanding the customer

Of course, creating an in-store sensory experience certainly goes beyond turning on a Spotify playlist, lighting a few cheap candles and hoping for the best. According to van der Meulen, you need to understand what your brand stands for, then consider what makes your customers tick. 

“Firstly, you need to understand the essence of your brand, why it exists, what you create, who you create it for and its reason for being. By understanding these key elements, you can start to do some research into your customers’ worlds and what entertains them, what they love, what they loathe, and how they want to be communicated to. By getting to know your customers, you can then create a completely sensory experience that they will enjoy,” she says.

“In a practical sense, this comes in the form of a brand strategy, so for brands they can tap into their marketing or brand manager for these elements or engage an external brand specialist to support to define these elements.”


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