Small Business Retail: Tips for the Five Senses

By Emily Suess

We fuss a lot over ecommerce sites and virtual shopping carts, but for some small business owners, the store website is supplemental to the brick-and-mortar shop. For those business owners, it’s important to make sure that shopping in real life is not a chore but an experience for the customer—one that keeps drawing them back.

Retailers can accomplish this by appealing to as many of the five senses as possible: sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch.

Appealing to the Sense of Sight

Of course, a nicely designed store with the right color scheme will go a long way, but don’t forget that lighting and open space can make or break a store’s ambience. Customers are more likely to have negative feelings while shopping in cramped or poorly lit spaces. If you have the option, make the most of natural lighting.

Clothing and apparel retailers need to be particularly aware of these issues in fitting rooms. Ample space gives shoppers room to try things on without being crowded, and proper lighting in dressing rooms can be the difference between off-putting and flattering.

Appealing to the Sense of Hearing

If it’s done right, music can enhance a shopper’s experience, too. While most small business owners won’t be able to commission custom music for their stores, ambient music services make it relatively simple to customize a playlist that is appealing and familiar. And, if you don’t turn it up too loud, it won’t be intrusive.

Appealing to the Sense of Taste

Appealing to the sense of taste is obviously easier for restaurants, bakeries, and stores selling home and kitchen goods. It’s easy for them to offer samples. 

Still other stores can find ways to include the sense of taste in marketing campaigns. For example, an athletic clothing store might be able to offer samples of nutritional bars or energy gels for trying on a pair of running shoes. Or a day spa owner might give away dark chocolate samples at the register.

Appealing to the Sense of Smell

Fragrant candles and scented oils are often used in retail shops, and they are particularly noticeable around the holidays. You’ve probably heard that the sense of smell is closely tied to our memories, so it makes sense that retailers use our fond memories and sense of nostalgia to encourage us to make purchases at holiday time. But there are a lot of fragrances out there. Don’t limit yourself to the scents of cinnamon and pine.

Appealing to the Sense of Touch

Lastly, could those “you break it, you bought it” signs actually hinder sales in a retail store? Maybe. Customers like to pick up items, feel fabrics, test the weight of an object, and check grocery items for freshness when they shop.

Touching an item helps shoppers determine whether a purchase is worth the price and reduces their risk of buying something that’s a dud. Encourage your customers to test your merchandise for quality, and you’ll increase their confidence in your products.

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Emily Suess
Emily Suess is a full-time technical marketing writer in the software industry and a part-time freelance copywriter. To learn more about marketing your small business online, check out her copywriting blog, Say It With Me.

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