Five Sense to The Dollar

Of the many consumer experts around the world, increasingly more and more argue that up to 92% of why we buy is either sub-conscious or unconscious. If we don’t know it is affecting our purchase behaviour, how can we mention it as an influencer? If it’s not mentioned, how can retailers be reasonably expected to focus on it as a way of driving dollars at the point of sale?

Yet the power of multi-sensory merchandising technique is not new. Eyes. Ears. Nose. Skin. Tongue. Wallet.

Since retail began, part of the lure of the marketplace has been its unique sights, sounds, smells, feel and tastes. This has always been part of the experience, part of what we buy even if seldom conscious mentioned and rationalised.

Driven to a new level by the great cosmetic retailers of the 1920’s, early best practice multi-sensory merchandisers understood how to seduce the five senses to achieve a productive outcome which is satisfying for all stakeholders. In recent times this has become a real retail science.

The Eyes
In the era of the nano-second attention span, first impressions today are everything.

The most powerful of all the senses for retail, the eyes are usually the first sense to engage and register an impression from over 30 metres away. Through the early warning system of their eyes, customers can be attracted or repelled by the image you project. “Beauty is skin deep” they say and at an average walking speed in a shopping centre of over 5 kilometres an hour, an initial 1.5 second visual recognition timeframe and a highly polluted visual landscape, you better be gob-smackingly attractive to catch the eye of the non-habitual customer you want to ensnare.

In busy, noisy, cluttered shopping environments today, it is bright, clean, single-minded statements – beautifully spot lit – which draw attention to you. Think of yourself as trying to attract a new partner in a crowded bar. You go to the trouble of selecting exactly the right outfit, you groom yourself to perfection and you sit in exactly the right spot, where the light is just right for you to be noticed in all your seductive splendour. You are the bait and the prize.

The reason the eyes are so important in retail is that they work at so many levels and so many distances. Understanding how to use optic recognition and visual comprehension is an oft overlooked part of retail science.

The Ears
These tiny apertures are openings direct to the brain. They can register sudden noise which causes us to focus instantly. They can physiologically change mood and comprehension. They can be pre-programmed to register triggers. Everyone knows what a siren sounds like and means – often a long time before we’ve seen the fire truck.

The Bulgarians did a great deal of research in the 1950’s and 60’s on super-learning techniques using music. Several of Bach’s Goldberg Variations have been composed at exactly the same rhythm as a perfect heartbeat to relax the body and engage the brain. Great jingles have become part of popular culture. Sounds are recognisable and great retail brands today understand the power of audio branding – in particular when consciously used as a trigger or mood enhancer. Selfridges Spirit department has a phased sound system that creates unique 3 metre pools of sound, tuned specifically for each brand of apparel, which can only be heard if you are standing within the 3 metre sound space that cannot be seen.

These sound pods immerse you in the brand – a big part of what you buy.

The Nose.
In the last ten years we have learnt more about how the brain works and it’s connection to the rest of the senses and the body than in all of the history of mankind up to that point. We now know for example that citrus smells relax the body and stimulate the mind. Anyone who has visited a spa for a massage can attest to that. Musk smells speed up the heart and have an amorous affect – which is why some nightclubs scent the air with musk.

Home-wares retailers such as Williams-Sonoma understand the direct connection for them between the nose and sales of the implements you can use to create the dish that generates the smell. And no one can walk through the ground floor of a department store without walking through a series smell zones designed to stimulate your purchase of a cosmetic brand. Businesses like Sensorama have a great deal of research on the power of signature or branded air fragrance on customers in terms of heightened experience and the productivity from space.

The Skin
The largest organ is a sensitive beast. It has the ability to sense potential touch before it actually occurs. It reacts differently to smooth or rough, hot or cold, slow or fast.

In it’s hey day, Montreal department store Les Ailes de la Mode sold more bikinis in -40 degree temperatures in winter, than the rest of Canada. It did this in part by recognising the power of the skin. It simulated a gentle summer breeze, lifted temperatures to above +26 degrees and heated the floor in the change rooms.

Cosmetics retailers find a reason for you to volunteer to succumb to the tactility of touch. Apparel retailers make sure you can feel the garment. Virgin Atlantic offers massages as part of the service in Upper Class.

Paco Underhill is often remembered for the “bum brush” test that demonstrated that women don’t like to feel their backsides brushing up against another person in the aisles. What the skin feels can affect the length of stay, your ability to concentrate, your experience and memory of the store and indeed whether you buy at all.

The Tongue
While this sense may have historically seemed limited only to food retailers or those connected with food, increasingly more and more retailers are finding the palate to be an important branding element and a stimulation to shop. Book retailers have installed cafes. Giorgio Armani’s Emporio Armani Café is now world-renowned. Smart apparel retailers have a little something to tempt the taste buds – even if it is only a lolly for the kids.

And the style and flavour of the titillation of the taste buds speaks to your personality as a retail brand.

Far from being a practice limited to the few, today multi-sensory merchandising stimulation and sensory branding is separating best practice from good. It is a science. It can be unique to your store. It can create sub-conscious and unconscious stimulation, suggestion and memory reinforcement and retrieval that is part of your brand DNA and an important driver of productive outcomes for your business.

Above all, it is accessible, affordable, practical and profitable.

It just takes one thing to make it happen – your energy to do something about it.