Retail design today is all about creating great and unique experiences for consumers. But with so many stores, including major retail chains, employing similar tactics and strategies to lure customers, how do you make your design stand out? One approach is to incorporate layers of sensory stimuli that result in a more emotionally complex and satisfying environment for shoppers.

With the advent of the experience economy, designers began incorporating audiovisual and computer-generated entertainment, interactive technology, flexible and adaptable fixtures, and techniques derived from theme park design and pop and installation artworks (among other strategies) to transform retail spaces into immersive shopping environments.

The store or boutique becomes a go-to destination, offering a novel and unique shopping experience that is fun and exciting, hip and arty, or perhaps luxurious and exclusive. But in any case the experience is memorable, thus driving sales and brand loyalty.

As the market becomes saturated with such spaces, brick-and-mortar retailers, who now face competition from online shopping services as well, are looking for other ways to differentiate themselves in the hearts and minds of consumers.

A team of researchers from the Federal University of Pernambuco in Recife, Brazil, has proposed that retailers and designers who want to provide an extraordinary customer experience adopt a more holistic approach that goes beyond novelty, creative engagement or entertainment to tap into customers’ thoughts, feelings, attitudes and identities as they are associated with the full range of their sensory experiences. They call this approach “store atmospherics.”

Atmospherics goes beyond ambiance to provide an environment that not only is pleasant and accommodating, but specifically designed to produce certain desired emotional effects on the consumer in order to increase their likelihood of making a purchase. When combined, the sensory elements — which need to be carefully selected according to the customer profile — arouse positive memories and emotions that, by inference, will be enhanced through acquisition of a particular product, products and/or service.

In an unrelated study, a team led by Dr. John Murray of the Massey Business School of the University of New Zealand, Auckland, examined consumer responses to two store design prototypes for the same retailer in regard to brand loyalty. They found that the two factors that had the greatest impact on store design pleasure and retail brand loyalty were novelty and complexity, key elements to creating store atmosphere.

Further evidence of the emotional impact of atmospherics can be seen in a study conducted by two faculty members in the Marketing Department of the School of Business and Economics at Linneaus University in Sweden. They looked at how shoppers responded to not just one environmental stimulus but to multisensory, congruent sensory cues, such as combining appealing sights, sounds and smells.

The findings revealed that multisensory cues were more effective in creating a more positive shopping experience than was a single stimulus. In addition, in an environment that was already visually dominant, adding auditory and olfactory enhancements produced a more pleasing response than merely increasing the amount of visual stimulation.

The Brazilian researchers state that there is no formula for creating store atmospherics. A number of factors must be considered, such as the intended customer and how they respond to various sensory stimuli, the type of product and how it is marketed, and cultural associations that may come into play.

Yet, as each of these studies indicates, what seems clear is that adding emotional complexity to the retail environment through multisensory stimuli creates a richer, more satisfying experience for the shopper and a deeper connection to the product and the retailer.

Source: MultiBrief: Adding emotional complexity to retail environments

Random sensory quotes

Your experience is a dream; so is my experience. This stuff about how the frontal cortex is repressed during dreaming, lucid dreaming presents an obvious contradiction to it. The only difference is sensory input.

— Stephen Laberge