Creative Kickstarts: Soul Searching

How to trigger an emotional connection with your shoppers.
Posted November 23, 2010

The view of the shopping landscape these days is depressing: an unemotional mass-market approach where stores are overloaded with products and price, and discounts are more important than quality and value. Shopping spaces look increasingly the same. When retailers do invest in a window display, the theme isn’t continued inside the store interior, leaving customers disappointed. Where’s the theater and excitement?

While retailers are all striving toward the same goal – to maximize revenue and profit – most stores are trying to achieve this by decreasing spending in order to increase profit. But this is only a short-term solution. Instead, you should be investing in the creation of a shopping experience that engages consumers emotionally to create a competitive edge that ensures long-term financial success.

The secret is to involve as many senses as possible – sight, hearing, smell and touch – in a very holistic and coordinated approach. Then you create an experience that converts a potential shopper into a loyal customer, while your brand distinguishes itself from the masses of ordinary retail operations without a soul.

Here are some ideas for engaging those senses:

To begin, consider the store as the stage, the visual merchandising as the scenery and the product as the star. The customer should feel like an actor diving into an inspiring and exciting experience that he or she wishes to repeat regularly. By staging the merchandise in your store using marketing or product related themes, the fixtures fade into the background and give way to a visual campaign that really triggers the sense of sight. The more often this campaign changes and the better it’s connected to the product inspiration, the more successful you’ll be in this approach.

For example, Esprit changes out its outdated decoration elements or window designs numerous times per year, each requiring only one night to complete, which gives the entire store a completely new set-up and feel. When the customer walks in, the store feels renewed and fresh without the undertaking of a massive remodel.

Another effective way to trigger the sense of sight is to deliver the unexpected. Gap Vancouver made use of this exciting effect by turning its entire store upside-down. All the mannequins, displays and even the logo sign were flipped, as well as some cars and a hotdog stand outside the store. Pure surprise and visual delight to passersby.

It’s important to make sure that the sounds you use enforce your overall store theme. Remember that ambient sounds work best to attract a broader customer base and keep the volume in consideration. Fashion accessories boutique Hermès planted several silver birch trees around its flagship store, as well as in the windows and inside the shop on New Bond Street in London, then added the sound of birds and galloping horses to the environment. The result of this unusual concept was an increase in sales and publicity for the store.

When considering scents, remember they should add a certain note to your store without being too dominant. Less is more. And choose a scent that enhances your overall store theme. For instance, when decorating your store for Christmas you might want to think about scents that your customer associates with winter and celebration, keeping in mind that those associations are different in every country.

Children aren’t the only ones who enjoy experiencing their surroundings through touch – especially when the experience is fun, inspiring and memorable. Australian botanical skincare company Aesop has a tradition of conceiving and designing each store to reflect and celebrate its location. While this greatly engages the customer’s sense of sight, the brand takes it a step further by engaging the smell and touch senses by encouraging customers to test the products more than most other cosmetic brands.

Washbowls and mirrors throughout each store promote product trial and let customers experience the lotions and skincare items on their own skin.

Fresh, handmade cosmetics company Lush also aims to encourage interaction with the product by creating a service concept that’s all about product experience. Items are merchandised throughout the store in a way that makes the customer simply want to touch, try and play. The sales staff is trained to give advice and demonstrate how products can be used. The result is the Lush store experience feels more like entertainment than shopping.

Even if you don’t have the time or budget to stimulate all your customers’ senses at once, be sure to try to bring some emotional excitement into your store. By tapping into the senses, customers will perceive your store environment as relaxing rather than hectic and they’ll remain in-store longer, which leads to increased impulse purchases.

Nicola Metzger works for the brand retail company Liganova (Stuttgart, Germany) as an international client relationship director.