Use the 5 Senses for a Great Customer Experience

great customer experience

Chain grocery stores have done an enormous amount of research on how people shop.

In these huge stores, marketing is primarily transactional. That means there is a minimum amount of personal communication between the customer and the store’s staff.

Location, lighting, display and packaging take the place of person-to-person interaction.

How do these huge stores entice customers to spend money? Easy. They use psychology.

They put the milk in the back of the store forcing the shopper to wend his or her way through all manner of enticing goodies before getting to the milk, which is why he or she came to the store in the first place. But that’s just the beginning.

Grocery stores also engage the five senses for a great customer experience. And they are masters at it.

The vast majority of people entering any store look left and turn right. Grocery stores put the bakery on the right, somewhere near the front, so it’s one of the first things people visit. Why? It smells good. Smell is purely emotional, not intellectual.

Often the deli is close to the bakery near the front of the store. Again, it’s about the senses. Deli food tastes good and makes your mouth water. Delis offer free samples, too.

Once past the bakery and deli, the shopper comes upon the fresh produce section. This area has mirrors, spritzed water, and bright-colored fruits and vegetables. Special lighting may be used to enhance the vibrant colors. The shopper’s sense of sight is now fully engaged.

By this time, the customer is salivating! Right about now the shopper is ready to go up and down the aisles on a shopping spree.

The next thing the shopper sees is product on the ends of shelves promoting specials. These items are easy to pick up and put in your cart. Down the aisles, items that cost more are at eye level. Ever notice how the higher priced wines are on higher shelves while bargain bottles are near the floor? And of course, impulse items like candy and magazines at the checkout counter beckon you to pick them up.

Finally, there’s sound. Some grocery stores play background music. Then there are in-store cooking demonstrations. A more recent innovation is the autoplay video display. These videos tell the advantages of a certain fruit or how to prepare seafood.

Can non-grocery stores also benefit from appealing to the senses? Sure. It works in just about any retail environment. The product lines could include hardware, clothes, books, recreational products, antiques, you name it.

Here are tips for how you can engage the five senses in your retail business:

Sense of Smell:  If you sell anything with pleasing aromas, such as coffee, put out open bins or samples for shoppers to smell. Or you might use vanilla or other pleasing scents to engage the shopper’s sense of smell. Don’t overdo it, though, as overpowering smells can backfire.

Sense of Taste:  Even if your store doesn’t sell food or drink, you can still engage the sense of taste. Offer free beverages or a bowl of hard candy on the counter. Hold a wine and cheese tasting to celebrate a new product line or a special company anniversary.

Sense of Sight: An open store layout with pleasing displays is a must, starting with the front door or window display. Bright, eye-catching digital signs or pleasing vertical banners that can be printed inexpensively add visual punch. Cleanliness is part of the visual appeal, too, so make your place of business spotless.

Sense of Touch:  Selling the silkiest hand lotion on the planet? Supply testers for customers to feel for themselves. Make things accessible for customers to touch (except for fragile things). When goods aren’t accessible, even as a sample, there’s an invisible buying barrier.

Sense of Hearing: Soothing music or even a white-noise machine to mask street sounds makes for a relaxing environment. Eliminate negative sounds, too. Don’t allow employees to talk on mobile phones, gossip, or gab in groups in front of customers.

Take advantage of what grocery stores have known for years. Use the five senses to create a great customer experience to encourage buying.

Shopping with senses Photo via Shutterstock

Anita Campbell Anita Campbell is the Founder, CEO and Publisher of Small Business Trends and has been following trends in small businesses since 2003. She is the owner of BizSugar, a social media site for small businesses.

5 Reactions
  1. For sure, financial advisors (and many service professionals) don’t have a grocery store. Yet there are many ways in which they too can make “a store” — be it on main street, in your home , on the web, in a rented office or a hybrid of a few types of “offices” — a much better experience for clients.

    I think of the first time I went to a new dentist’s office who had a coffee/tea/water bar and a receptionist that always asked me how I was doing… vs. my old dentist whose office I went into, sat in a seat and waited. Which do you think was a better experience?

    Or when I recently needed a virtual vendor (service provider) and looked on the internet there websites that made it very easy to research and others that were much more difficult. The easy sites gave me access to the page about them, a history of their firm, notes who they worked with, and gave me both their phone number, email and address.

    One of the things to do, at a quarterly or yearly reviews or when you and the client have finished a project is to ask the question “What could I have done to make your experience in working with me. This helps you see a client’s real expectation and either make changes or explain why you aren’t able to do “x”.

    By asking that question, I get insights into my clients and how they want to be treated. Their answers have also helped me offer my ideal clients different options.

    Some of what they’ve said is:
    — I would like to look at the different templates and documents you’re offering me 24/7 (I set up a Client Café or Client Vault for them with password protection)
    — Call us instead of us calling you. (The original coaching model was for clients to call us from anywhere they were and in 1998 cell phones were not the norm. Today I call (most) clients after asking how they prefer to be contacted.)
    — We’d like to meet you in person and not just work with you virtual. (I do like to travel, so I offer my clients the option of VIP consultative- coaching days where I visit them or they visit me for the day or a few days. I also conduct trainings in their office.)
    — Talk with us on Skype using the video component of Skype vs. them just seeing my photo). (I ask them which they prefer – Skype, webinar, just phone, etc.)

    Even with a “mostly” virtual business, one thing I learned early on was to NEVER meet clients or prospects in coffee shops. Too noisy, someone else’s culture and it’s not ever private enough. I’m sure that Anita would add that it’s the business I’m visiting that a prospect/client senses and not the 5 senses I want as part of my firm’s culture.

    • Sounds like you read my book “Harmony at Work”. The content describes how to author meaningful customer experiences by engaging all of the sense, especially those connected with positive memories, such as smell.

      [Edited by Editor]

  2. Very interesting dimension to influence the shop experience via a structural impact via the senses. However I think we often assume all consumers/shoppers are alike and search for a similar experience. this may be true to some extent. But when we start with deeper consumer insights, we learn that every shopper is somehow driven by an aspirational dimension. Her shopping mission is driven by the solution she is trying to get for her distinctive consumption universe ; this relates to categories…, but the products she picks are driven by an aspiration: healthy eating for my children, avoiding cancer,…,allergies,…
    setting up the senses-experience from these insights drives consumer enthusiasm and creates value beyond price…
    This is why massmarketing as a retailer capability is not only differentiating, but builds emotional bondage and strong loyalty. Shopper segmentation from this particular angle is the soul of shopper marketing in the future. This is the secret sauce manufacturers can add in the collaborative businessplans besides innovation. A consumer based category vision, landing in a perfect shop experience….no private label can touch that field maybe?

  3. The sense of hearing can also apply to your employees and their tone of voice when they communicate with the customers. That makes all the difference in the world in regards to customer experience.