Analog, digital and the subconscious.
Think of the last time you smelled freshly baked bread in the supermarket. Did you feel more or less compelled to buy it? Senses are powerful levers in the sensory-filled shopping experience, and smart retailers are catching on.
Don’t Fall Into The Trap
When you’re in the business of selling commodity products, it’s easy to fall into the trap of selling your audio or visual system from a strict features/benefits or “tech specs” perspective. Therein lies the challenge: Retail is in the midst of an unalterable evolution, and purchase decisions are now influenced by very adept, empathetic people. The risk these new players seek to mitigate is not functional: It’s experiential.
In the study, Retailing 2020: Winning in a Polarized World, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) lays out the reality of “the end of the middle,” where retailers must win by being in the ‘low price/low experience’ or ‘high price/high experience’ space. If not willing to win on price, brands are urged to up their game experientially with a renewed focus on customer experience.
Other research has emerged to justify why the physical store experience is critical to this approach. Stats from a May 2015 report by TimeTrade:
• 87% of respondents plan to shop in stores at least as often as they did in 2014
• 85% said that they like store shopping because they like to “touch and feel” products before they decide what to buy
• 70% said that they’d prefer to shop at an Amazon store versus Amazon.com.
As a digital experience firm that creates massive amounts of screen content in stores, we find none of this surprising. We repeatedly witness the power of creating positive emotional connections with busy store shoppers. Over the years, we’ve been asking ourselves what really is driving a person to respond in a positive or negative manner to something that we digitally design in a store. What we found backs up the PwC study on every level.
Deconstructing An Experience
What is an experience? In its simplest form, an experience is a collection of perceived sensory inputs. Most of a shopper’s knowledge and insight is gathered through the senses, and the emotions and feelings that are expressed using them. But how the brain processes sensory inputs—and what people do in response—happens deep inside the subconscious.
When creating a shopping experience, this is a hugely important point, because our neuroscience friends have proven that buying decisions are 95% driven by the subconscious. If you are in the business of selling technology that can stimulate people’s senses as they shop, it’s critical to understand sensory marketing across sight, smell, taste, sound and touch, and how a shopper’s brain processes stimuli to deeply connect with products and brands. For our purpose here, we will focus on the significance of sight and sound to the retail atmosphere.
• Sight: 70% of the body’s sense receptors are in our eyes, and more than 25% of our brain is involved in visual processing, more real estate than any other sense. We quickly analyze what we see, and make decisions on whether it needs our attention and how we should feel. When we see something new, our mind pauses and checks it out further within a split second. If you haven’t grabbed the attention of your shoppers from that initial subconscious appraisal, it is unlikely you will at all without another prompt. The screens you install and the content on them should complement what naturally grabs people’s attention, and encourage the sentiment you want around your brand or product.
Strong Emotional Associations
• Sound: Sound also carries very strong emotional associations, many of them tied to behavior and habit cues. Internally, we call these “subconscious conversations,” and they are powerful weapons for retail experience if used correctly. Think about how an ice cream truck jingle makes your mouth water; this is something Chili’s emulated by creating a signature fajita sizzle.
In 1984, Mustang got on the bus by recognizing and preserving its signature muffler sound. And things like a soda fizzing or a song with key memory associations can become critical to providing context, meaning and shopper desire. There’s a wonderful new book, Sonic Boom, that dives into this topic in depth and discusses how sound can be used more strategically for emotional c onnections.
Whether we realize it or not, we “sound and communication” people are very much in the sensory business. However, a key takeaway here is that we are also in the sensory stimulus and integration business.
Sensory Integration For Success
Clearly, people today have preconditioned responses to certain things based on their unique experiences and subconscious behaviors. Each sense carries its own powerful drivers, but when we know what they are and what unconscious motivations are behind them, we start to learn how to combine them effectively with specific sensory stimuli to get the results we are looking for. Some examples of successful retail integrations involving Maxmedia include:
• Chipotle: Mick McConnell, Chipotle’s Director of Architecture, had a problem when the Indie, upbeat music playing from the wooden speaker box mounted directly across from a restaurant’s entrance started bouncing off the opposing wall. A horrible reverberation with a loud, brittle twinge resulted that made customers avoid sitting in the center of the dining room: catastrophic to the “not a fast food chain” intention that they had. In response, they designed a solution utilizing perforated metal backed by a sound-dampening material on the wall opposite the speaker box. It looked like an art piece and resolved the problem immediately. Customers again sat center in the dining area, increasing the average sales, dwell time and overall vibe of the restaurant.
• The Chobani Store: Chobani yogurt created the ultimate in multi-sensory with its bright, happy, little snack shop in SoHo. Digital imagery displays tantalizing options broken into two categories (sweet vs. savory), while hip, laid-back music beckons patrons to relax and linger. Fresh fruits and spices scent the air, and textured items such as nuts and coffee beans are embedded into the various tables.
As retailers come under more pressure to provide more meaningful store experiences, and as shoppers become more digitally conditioned, our industry simply must help them understand emotional retailing and how our tools can help them win…not via features and functions, but by feelings and actions.