Melanie McIntosh

Article Summary:

Using Scent, Sound, and Taste to Create Value

Customers can perceive value through their senses. When we appeal to as many of those senses as possible in the retail environment and through the products we are selling, we improve our customers' shopping experience and their enjoyment of the product. We have discussed two of the most obvious senses that customers use when shopping, the senses of sight and touch. Perhaps less obvious, but very powerful motivators, are scent, sound and taste.

The use of strong scents in stores has become a rather touchy issue, and one that requires that each retailer be attuned to the needs of their target market.

Stores like the Body Shop have been very successful with their wonderfully scented stores and products that you can sample. Department stores traditionally sampled perfumes at the entrance to increase sales of those products. Grocery stores owners know that the smell of fresh bread will entice hungry shoppers to buy.

However, many customers find strongly scented products not only unappealing, but can cause allergic reactions that make it nearly impossible to shop in certain stores.

A pleasing scent can create a wonderful ambience and add to the customers' shopping experience, particularly if it is a sample of one of the products you are selling. In some cases, the best scent may be the absence of any noticeable scent at all, adding to the impression that the store and environment are clean.

When considering whether special touches like scented candles would be appropriate in your store, make sure you consider the preferences and sensitivities of your target market. As with many other issues, if you are unsure, ask your customers.

Scent can also be a major factor in determining which product to buy. Everything from hand lotion to cleaning products are purchased with scent in mind. Many of these products work equally well, so the scent may determine which one is purchased.

I can't remember the last time I was in a store that did not have any music playing. Most retailers understand that music adds to the environment of their stores. Most people would expect to find classical music in an art gallery or museum shop, enhancing the belief that the shop is filled with merchandise that is high quality, tasteful, elegant and artistic.

In stores that are trendy and have a young target market, music can be a major focal point. In most other cases, music provides a pleasant background. It is important that employees understand that the music is a part of the marketing and is intended to appeal to, or at least not offend, the customers.

My personal belief is that in most cases, music should add to the ambience of the store, but not be so loud to be immediately noticeable. It should cover up the sounds of customers moving about the store, employees working or the conversations of people across the room.

Music stores have found that sound can be sampled, which is a great way to add value for the customer. Any time the customer has a chance to try out a product, they are more likely to buy. How many people buy a CD without sampling it on a headset first?

People are usually afraid of the unknown. Sampling a product before buying helps us overcome this fear, without making a commitment.

Many retailers don't have the opportunity to offer customers the chance to taste their product. But those in the food industry certainly know the power of free samples.

I can be very thrifty when need be, and pass over many unnecessary luxuries, but when it comes to food, I am easily swayed. My children beg me to take them shopping at Costco just to try all the samples. And of course, the marketing gurus know that my entire shopping excursion will be punctuated with cries of, "Mom! We need to buy this! Please! Can we go by that table again?"

I know many people who are now addicted to those little frozen cream puffs that they innocently tasted at a sample table.

Even if you are not primarily a food retailer, but carry gourmet chocolates at the sales counter, you might try offering small samples occasionally. Perhaps you might host a special event where you offer refreshments to your customers.

Appealing to your customers' senses is about enhancing their experience. The more the customer is actively involved in the experience, the more likely they are to buy from you, and to remember their experience. For this experience to be perceived as added value, it needs to be in tune with the needs and values of your customer, and it needs to relate directly to your product.

Think about your business: Write down at least one thing that you could do to enhance the senses of scent, sound and taste.

Melanie McIntosh is a Retail Consultant and the founder of Inspire Retail Solutions, a British Columbia firm that helps retailers create strong, professional business images that attract customers.

Melanie is currently offering a free consultation for interested retailers. She can be reached by email.

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