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Retailers are preparing for a holiday season of more online shopping and less in-store shopping. According to a recent Radial survey, as many as 60% of consumers plan to shop less in stores this season due to COVID-19 related fears. To make up for the lost foot traffic and sales, many businesses are working hard to ensure they offer online experiences that deliver the kinds of engaging sensory connections shoppers would expect in stores.

Sensory marketing is a powerful tactic that targets at least one of the five senses to elicit meaningful responses. According to research commissioned by brand consultant and author Martin Lindstrom, brand impact improves 30% when more than one sense is engaged.

Retailers have proven successful in playing to shoppers’ senses in store. For example, the smell of a Starbucks store evokes a memorable and consistent aroma. Costco brings out sampling stations so customers can taste featured items before they buy.

Before COVID-19, a Retail Dive survey found that more than half of shoppers visit a brick-and-mortar store to touch or see a product firsthand that they may end up buying online.

How can brands evoke these same senses on their ecommerce channel? The answer is by learning how to successfully mimic in-store sensory experiences to fully engage customers and make them feel more confident about the quality and accuracy of the items they purchase online.

Ecommerce That Appeals to the Senses

Even though touch isn’t replicable online, there are a number of ways to engage the other senses to creatively appeal to consumers and enhance the online shopping experience.


Highly visual cues are especially important for online retailers. Consumers largely rely on what they can see on screen to make their purchasing decisions, trusting that what arrives at the door is the same as what they saw online.

To give shoppers an accurate view of products, brands can use high-quality dynamic images that show the right color and texture of fabric. Detailed zooming and 360-degree functionalities are a huge benefit to shoppers who want to get a deeper feel for the item before they buy. Similarly, videos that display multiple product views or action shots provide a snapshot of what the item looks like in the real world, causing the prospective buyer to begin formulating their own storylines for using and enjoying the product.

Product reviews that allow users to upload their own images and videos are also extremely helpful, letting shoppers get a sense of how the product looks outside of the showroom — not just replicating the store experience, but advancing it. They’re also highly important to provide independent and unbiased evaluation of the product. According to Bazaarvoice, 56% of shoppers said reviews were the ecommerce feature they relied on most to make informed purchase decisions faster.


Sound and music should convey the right mood of a brand’s unique brand image, taking into account characteristics like genre and the right tempo. This shouldn’t be an auto-play soundtrack when people visit the website. Instead, sound should be used strategically as an additive, but not disruptive, feature.

A good example is Visa, which uses a suite of digital elements — including a combination of animation, sound and haptic vibration when customers complete a transaction — to create a sense of security and consistency. The company’s research shows that 81% of consumers have a more positive perception of merchants who use either sound or animation cues to indicate online actions took effect.

Smell and Taste

According to Mood Media, scent can lead to a 28% emotional level increase in customers. Since consumers are yet to have access to pined-for smell-o-vision or taste-o-vision capabilities, brands must use descriptive words and images that simulate the smell or flavor of the product.

For example, NEST Fragrances, a well-known brand of fragranced home, perfume and body care collections, describes each scent with the fragrance family, scent type, key notes and mood. These details make it easy for consumers to imagine what a fragrance may smell like, similar to how a wine lover selects the right blend to take to a dinner party based on a label’s described flavor profiles.

Digital Sensory Marketing Technology

The technology is out there for brands to capitalize on digital sensory marketing and make the most of their ecommerce channel. Here are the latest tools and capabilities that can deliver sensory marketing in a digital context.

Shoppable Video

In today’s hyper visual, digital-driven world, video is a powerful and increasingly popular vehicle across online channels. Brands can take this asset a step further by making videos shoppable, where brands can display clips alongside a series of product images. Clickable videos bring products to life while keeping the experience interactive and fun.

Artificial Intelligence (AI)

AI is a must-have technology that can be used for a variety of ecommerce use cases, such as customer chatbot services and providing personalized services to online shoppers. It can also automate a website’s media assets, such as image and video tagging and transcription, so brands can automate the optimization of visual content to appeal best to a shopper’s sense of sight. By removing manual processes and replacing it with AI, marketers can deliver visual experiences much faster and more accurately than before.

Augmented Reality (AR)

AR creates a new digital experience that allows users to experience brands in real-time through their personal devices. For example, Amazon gives shoppers the ability to visualize furniture in their own space, Sephora allows users to upload a selfie and “virtually try on” various products that could be purchased from the store, and Quay Australia allows users to try on glasses/sunglasses to see what matches their face shape.

Virtual Reality (VR)

Another advanced sensory technology is VR, which gives customers an immersive experience with the product, making online shopping easier and more accessible, even appealing to multiple senses at one time. Many brands are using VR to create virtual tours, such as Diesel, which now offers shoppers 3-D inspired experiences with its HypeRoom, where shoppers can view, rotate, and interact with products online with 360-degree displays. North Face created a 360-degree virtual tour of Yosemite National Park using Google Cardboard glasses.

Good Sense for Online Brands

Brands shouldn’t feel restricted by the minimized influence of physical shopping spaces during the pandemic. They can still bring multi-sensory cues to life through consumers’ smartphones or laptops with innovative use of technology. By appealing to the senses with these capabilities, ecommerce retailers have an opportunity to use digital sensory marketing to drive strong engaging online experiences this holiday season and beyond.

About the Author

Sanjay Sarathy is VP of marketing at Cloudinary, a provider of end-to-end digital media management solutions. With more than twenty years experience in leading global marketing programs, his work spans tech startups and established market leaders in SaaS, Big Data, analytics and e-commerce.

Source: How to Use Sensory Marketing Online