In the business of shops and selling, times are tough. Retail sales are are struggling to persuade customers to part with their cash.
But there are some innovative methods which retailers are using to address the challenge of enticing and engaging consumers. And it’s not just about slashing prices and Black Fridays. Many well-known businesses make use of psychology to connect with customers and increase sales.
Here are some of the tricks they have up their shop sleeves.
Sniffing out a sale
A nice smell can make retail experiences more pleasurable. A scent can also have a strong association, some of which are shared, like the smell of a hospital or the seaside. It therefore makes sense to use smells that evoke positive emotions to improve sales.
This is the reason why branches of Starbucks are filled with the aroma of “Pumpkin Spice Lattes” during autumn, and gingerbread flavours over Christmas. The pumpkin fragrance is strong and can arouse positive seasonal memories related to “trick or treating” or Thanksgiving celebrations. But it is not just about memories. Using sweet smells can simply enhance the shopping experience in cosmetics stores such as Lush, or lingerie specialist Victoria’s Secret.
A hands on approach
A retailer that is precious about their products and prevents customers getting their hands on the goods, will miss out. Touch is vital for influencing consumer perception, and a lack of it can be frustrating.
Apple understand this better than anyone. Their stores are laid out specially to invite people to explore the products with their hands, in plenty of clean space. Tactile interaction not only increases the likelihood of purchase, it also increases perceived pleasure as touch is closely associated with emotions.
Connecting emotionally with consumers is the holy grail of retail. Consumers subconsciously search their feelings when trying to work out what they think about a product.
Selling “self-assembly” products may seem like a simple cost cutting exercise, but for the company it also encourages engagement and increased emotional value. When consumers put “labour” into a product (such as putting together flat-pack Ikea furniture or getting to grips with Build-a-Bear) they end up valuing them more. These values are transferred onto the brand itself and can encourage repeat purchases.
Another way of getting consumers on board emotionally is by telling them they are valued. Again, Ikea has been good at this. One innovative solution involved identifying the most common internet searches for relationship problems, and suggesting a solution through their products. A set of champagne glasses was thus labelled: “When children leave home” and a spotlight lamp named “My brother gets all the attention”. The company has used humour to show that they identity with modern life.
Engaging the subconscious
Our brains have a need to make sense of the information we see. If the information is incomplete, we automatically attempt to fill in the gaps. Effectively, by leaving out information, businesses can make consumers engage in a mental process which means they recall the brand later on.
For example, when the Audi A3 was launched, the advertising campaign featured headlines with gaps in the word lettering. Consumers were forced to engage in an Audi-related thought process which meant the brand stuck in their minds. Are subtle cues praying on our subconscious the reason why Audi has its reputation? Perhaps not entirely, but the company has made clever use of perception techniques to ensure we think about it.
Successful selling involves attracting buyers by any means possible. Appealing to the senses, the subconscious and our emotions are clever business tools. It is unlikely that one method alone is the key to a successful brand – but if retailers want to have a chance in today’s competitive market, they need to be in the market for innovative ideas.
Cathrine Jansson-Boyd does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.