Sensory Marketing in Retail


Here’s an interesting little video that highlights what supermarkets and other retailers are doing to engage all the senses of their shoppers:

The camera crew visited a redesigned Coles supermarket as well as a tea shop and Air Aroma, a scent marketing firm. A few of the sensory appeal techniques the video illustrates:

Sight: Open store layouts to allow viewing other departments. Well-lit, very attractive displays of produce. Customers can see bakers, butchers, etc. at work.
Touch: Placing products in close proximity to the shopper with no barriers to allow handling.
Sound: Fishmongers, bakes, and butchers are encouraged to be noisy in hawking their wares.
Smell: Aromatic products are out in the open. In addition, “designed” scents are pumped into the air ducts.
Taste: Product sampling is encouraged by staff, and easy access is provided.

The strategy is based on the idea that a customer whose senses are fully engaged will stay longer and buy more. In the tea shop the camera crew visited, there’s also a reciprocity effect at work: a customer who spends 15 minutes sampling teas often feels obligated to make a purchase.

Retail environments like supermarkets, coffee and tea shops, restaurants, etc. are clearly well-positioned to appeal to all five senses. But all too many businesses don’t even make an attempt to get beyond visual appeal – are you doing all you can to maximize sensory engagement? Do people know what your brand smells or sounds like?

  1. Gabriele Maidecchi says

    It’s a good tactic to try and emulate the looks and feel of the classic open-road marketplace to buy vegetables and groceries, ’cause the sensation of something traditional, fresh, tasty and healthy is the best way to encourage sales.
    Even just watching one of those open markets in movies – I can think about Rocky Balboa, when Rocky goes out to the market to buy groceries for his restaurant – instantly make you feel fuzzy and warm inside.

  2. Verilliance says

    It’s always ironic when science discovers that the “old ways” were “ways” in the first place for good reason. In this case, we went from sensory rich open markets to sterile stores with awful lighting and often foods we couldn’t actually SEE except through a picture on the outside of the packaging.

    While there have been safety benefits to these closed store and food processing systems, I’m glad to see that research in sensory marketing is bringing us closer to having the best of both worlds.

    Do you have Big Y where you are? They boast the “World Market” section that is similar to what you describe. Very open layout for the produce, and on three sides the produce section is touched by other sensory rich sections – wine, flowers/plants, and the bakery.

    I’ll admit, it’s appealing and draws me to shop there. But context counting for a lot, I choose not to shop there because I’m pretty dedicated to buying organic and local. In this case, if I have to choose a chain, Price Chopper wins because they offer both in an organized way.

  3. Tony says

    As the Air Aroma representative in my country I am really chuffed that this report has made it to your blog.
    As you say, “a customer whose senses are fully engaged will stay longer and buy more”. Often it seems that there is not much opportunity to engage more than 2 senses, sight and sound, but generally there is also the opportunity to engage the sense of smell.

    We rely far more on our sense of smell that we realise, smell plays a significant role in our emotional state. Something that looks good, sounds good AND smells good will really get our attention and we now have the technology to make this happen.

    Using aroma marketing seems like common scents to me. (Sorry)

  4. Mary says

    When I approach a store and the chemical cocktail of fragrances assault my nose, I don’t go in. Who wants to walk around all day with those smells in their hair and clothes?

    When I get near a restaurant, it’s the aroma of delicious food that draws me in; if that awful smell of bathroom air freshener hits me in the face first, I leave.

    Whatever happened to air? Real air? Someone needs to find out how many customers they drive away with these ideas.

  5. Michele Price says

    Tony, as one of the first certified aromatherapist in Texas I stated 20 years ago when stores get savvy and use smells then hey will have won ways to fully engage their customers.

  6. Guillaume says

    I find amazing what can be done with some imagination and new technologies. I am pretty sure that marketing and communication on points of sale will tend to insert such systems to appeal more customers. Actually it may be the only alternative to catch the attention of customers, who are now passive to all traditionnal advertising tools.
    It reminds me of a start-up called Zamensis, which is doing reactive marketing. They have developed a technology that makes it possible to implement glance-detection on a product or a store window. So you can activate an event only when a person is looking at it. To follow :

  7. shoppernews says

    Thx Roger for the intro to Sensory Marketing! Very helpful…

    I also just published a post on innovative ways for retailers and manufacturers to stimulate our senses:

    Looking forward to hearing from you!



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