The all-important fourth quarter is rapidly approaching. The holidays may seem months and months away, but we all know time flies and it can fly fast! Now is the time to start thinking about how you can elevate sales through visual presentation. Delivering the ultimate customer experience is vital to the overall success of any small business. With so much competition from fellow brick and mortar shops, to the ease of shopping online, small business owners need to focus on what pulls the consumer into their shop and ultimately keeps them coming back and buying.
Today, small business owners are under enormous pressure to provide better shopping experiences while remaining profitable. That has meant evaluating different approaches to the customer experience while providing unique on-trend products. Customers want to feel supported and appreciated and many times it’s how a company makes a customer feel that is more valuable than what they are selling. Any consumer can login from the comfort of their couch and place an order for just about anything. It takes a bit more energy and determination to physically visit a brick and mortar – so why not make it an experience they not only enjoy but share with others? But how do you make the ultimate experience for your customers? Through visual presentation! Maybe you’ve heard the expression, “we eat with our eyes first” or have gotten the advice to choose your interview outfit carefully. There’s logic beyond both statements. Research shows this sensory engagement carries over to shopping – but in retail shopping – we use all our senses.
Chain grocery stores have done an enormous amount of research on how people shop. Think about it, in a grocery store setting, marketing is primarily transactional. That means there is little personal communication between the customer and the store’s staff. Location, lighting, display, and packaging take the place of the majority of person-to-person interaction.
So how do these huge stores entice customers to spend money? According to Small Business Trends, they use psychology and engage all our senses making for a great customer experience. And they are masters at it. “They put the milk in the back of the store forcing the shopper to maneuver his or her way through all manner of enticing goodies before getting to the milk, which is why he or she came to the store in the first place. But that’s just the beginning. The vast majority of people entering any store look left and turn right. Grocery stores put the bakery on the right, somewhere near the front, so it’s one of the first things people visit. Why? It smells good. Smell is purely emotional, not intellectual. Once past the bakery and deli, the shopper comes upon the fresh produce section. This area has mirrors, spritzed water, and bright-colored fruits and vegetables. Special lighting may be used to enhance the vibrant colors. The shopper’s sense of sight is now fully engaged. By this time, the customer is salivating! Right about now, the shopper is ready to go up and down the aisles on a shopping spree.
Now, let’s take a look at how a non-grocery store can use these brilliant sensory cues and get shoppers not only engaged, but spending.
Engage the Sense of Smell
Did you know there is an entire science to what’s referred to as “scent marketing?” Science has proven there is a fast-track to the system in your brain that controls both emotion and memory – two very prominent factors when making purchasing decisions. According to Air Aroma International, a leader in scent marketing research and product development, “Smell is the most powerful and emotional of all the senses. By using scent, brands are able to connect with consumers on a deeper emotional level, resulting in a more memorable experience. Scent can attract new customers, increase sales, heighten value perception, and expand brand recognition and customer satisfaction.”
Ambient scents can positively influence purchasing behavior if the scent seems to “match” the products in the store. Studies show gender-designed scents matter, a “feminine” scent in a women’s clothing boutique helps create purchasing intent. The reverse is true if the scent doesn’t seem to match the store products. So, consider your scents carefully. Keep in mind the seasons as well. While Christmas music is playing in the background, add some scents to the shop which remind consumers of the holiday season.
The Monell Research Center has done extensive studies on how scent affects us. Our brains process scents subconsciously first, so low-key scents are actually high impact. After you’ve chosen a scent, think of its placement in your retail space as a background element. A subtle scent will reduce customer friction, improve their perception of quality, and align nicely with how human brains process smells. Candles, coffee, perfumes, and colognes are just a few of the items that will alert the sense of smell. Placing items out for customers to pick up and smell or sample, set a pleasing experience upon entering the store. But please don’t overdo it, overpowering smells can cause a negative effect.
Engage the Sense of Taste
Engaging the sense of taste can work pure magic in your shop. Giving your customers the ability to taste and sample products before purchasing can lead to an instant sale. Don’t sell food or drink? No worries! You can offer a free beverage such as a local coffee or tea brand or place a bowl of hard candy on the counter.
Go local! Celebrate the food and drink in your area by hosting an event. Local wines, beers, coffee, and tea combined with local bakeries can create a sensory delight for your customers. The sense of taste is intimately combined with the sense of smell. When engaging the sense of taste, combine it with the sense of smell and create the ultimate in-store experience.
Engage the Sense of Sight
In a retail setting, there is an endless array of visual cues to stimulate the sense of sight. Your products alone can stimulate and engage the consumer. Combined with color and lighting you can create symmetry, balance, contrast, and the right focus to direct and control where a customer looks. The sense of sight is one of the most fascinating components of creating the ultimate visual presentation in a retail setting.
Color has a powerful psychological impact on customers’ behavior and decisions. Retail consultant Anand Kumar says, “color can often be the sole reason, or one of the major reasons, why someone purchases a product. Different colors tend to evoke different feelings in people, which can affect how they perceive products. For instance, red – when used effectively – can highlight passion and power. Be cognizant of the colors used in your displays, signage and advertising.”
According to the Journal of Business Research, “color and light play combined roles in retail environments. For fashion-oriented stores, blue interiors are associated with more favorable evaluations, marginally greater excitement, higher store patronage intentions, and higher purchase intentions. However, consumers react differently when stores use softer lighting. For example, an orange interior with soft lighting generally produces the highest level of perceived price fairness.”
A bright and open shop layout with pleasing displays is always a must. The layout should feel intuitive and welcoming. Signage should be clear and only used where needed. Signage should work with your products by enhancing them and your store. The height of displays is important as well. Observe and make note of where your customers are looking during their visits to your shop and adjust your displays accordingly.
Engage the Sense of Touch
Shopping is becoming increasingly more tactile. With the ease of shopping online from the likes of Amazon and Walmart, consumers take pleasure in the sense of touch when visiting a brick-and-mortar shop. Appealing to the sense of touch allows the consumer to interact with the product.
According to CSA, the Business of Retail, there are two ways consumers can experience the sense of touch – literally and figuratively. “A person can physically touch different finishes in your retail environment based on surfaces that feel natural, solid, textured, soft, hard, plush, layered or comfortable. And, the way these textures look can even affect your guests’ “sense” of touch. These literal implications set the tone for the way your retail establishment may feel to the customer. A person’s figurative sense of touch may also be impacted by their perception of personal space. For example, if merchandising areas are properly spaced to fit within the store, guests would probably feel cozy and secure. However, if items are positioned cluttered among a lot of different products, consumers will likely feel overwhelmed.”
Touch is so vital to consumers that many e-commerce giants are opening flagship brick-and-mortar locations. While going from online to offline might seem like a step backwards, these e-tailers are reinventing the customer experience because they know our sense of touch is so particularly important.
“There are many categories where the ‘touch and feel’ of products and sales associates’ assistance is important in the purchase process,” says Barbara Kahn, Wharton marketing professor and director of the Jay H. Baker Retailing Center. “For example, consumers usually like to try on clothing and eyeglasses in stores and examine groceries before buying. When products need further explanation, it is best done in person. For these categories, offline experiences will continue to be valuable.” Kahn notes, “There is plenty of evidence that brick-and-mortar stores are not going away.” When setting up your next display think about how touch can come into play. Offer samples of that silky hand lotion you sell, place silk scarves on a table inviting the customer to pick up, touch, and interact.
Engage the Sense of Hearing
Sound plays an important part in setting the perfect presentation in your shop. Soothing music playing softly in the background makes for the perfect relaxing atmosphere. Keep in mind your demographic when selecting your music. Some stores need to create high-energy experiences, while others exude a more relaxed, calming feel and the sounds should reflect that. Always consider volume. A younger demographic is likely drawn in by a loud and lively environment with an older or more reserved demographic preferring a quieter atmosphere.
Sensory experiences exist almost everywhere in a retail store, whether that is deliberately planned or not. Developing and executing an experience that touches on each sense successfully can be a challenge, but should always be intentional. Take your time, introduce one at a time and work to make them cohesive. You will have a better idea of where you want to go and what you want to accomplish with each.
Group Like with Like
When approaching a new or updated visual presentation in your store, look at how your products work with each other. Group like with like, give your shoppers a reason to buy more. Think back to the grocery store example – you will find dips next to the chips, bananas in the cereal aisle, and so on. Like with like can be as basic as a color scheme, a medium or a size.
Rule of Three
The rule of three plays a powerful role in your visual presentation. When creating a product, display many merchandisers suggest grouping in sets of three. The rule of three suggests that people are more visually engaged when they see a group of three items. According to eye movement tracking studies, a group of three encourages the eye to move about and take in more detail. This also alludes to the Pyramid Principle where you have one item at the top and all other items are one step down. This grouping forces the eye to look at the focal point and then move downward.
We spoke about color when engaging our sense of sight. Color is so vital in establishing your visual presentation it deserves a deeper look. Color can impose various emotions in consumers from feeling happy, relaxed to even feeling sad or hungry. That is because human brains transform various colors into human emotions.
According to a study by Colorcom, a leader in how color and marketing co-exist, color plays a vital role in making a customer complete a purchase. The study says shoppers make a purchasing decision within 90 seconds of interacting with a product, and over 60 percent of the assessment is based on color alone. Also, it suggests that people are more likely to recall a color over an object or product making it a must-consider aspect in playing with visual merchandising. Color is by far the easiest and most effective manner to develop an emotional response from your customer.
Utilizing Blank Space
Empty space can be just as important as all of the tactics we have reviewed. Taking a balanced approach to your overall visual presentation is key to a successful outcome. Merchandisers suggest not using every inch of space and filling it with displays and products. Rather, add some blank areas to allow your customers to take a moment and relax.
Consider your decompression zone – the first five to 15 feet of your shop. This is the area the customer can take a broad, sweeping look at the full shop and it helps them transition into your shop. Consider carefully what you place there as research shows these items are often overlooked at first.
When trying to optimize your total square footage for the most sales, taking a scientific approach by determining your demographics and the psychographics of your customer, planning and executing your idea, and then testing for results will put you in a comfortable position. Soon, you will be in a routine of trying out new ideas and sticking with what works.