Market Insights

The 5 senses of retail

Shopping is a sensory pursuit; the main reason many customers prefer to shop in-person to online is the ability to touch, feel and see what they are buying. It may be a common mantra that ‘retail is detail’, but very few business owners are using sensory perception to influence the customer experience they offer.

20 Jun 2018

This presents a real opportunity for businesses; if they pay real attention to every sensory element of the customer journey, they can make shopping easier for customers and can even subtly influence their spending decisions.


Shopping is becoming increasingly tactile, with customers expecting to be able to test drive their product before they buy it. This is especially important for electronic devices, where customers will want to see whether it meets their usability requirements.

Whatever your product or service, tester products or free samples offer a brilliant way to win over new customers and encourage loyalty from existing ones. For example, if you own a hair salon that offers manicures, you can give your client a free hand massage while their hair colour is developing.


Customers can quickly sense when a store is not being maintained; retailers should make sure that product displays look attractive and that all items are properly ‘faced up’. Gaps on shelves can frustrate customers and make a store look poorly maintained; make sure any empty displays direct customers to where they can find an alternative.

Store layout is hugely important; it should feel intuitive, but also welcoming to those with wheelchairs, buggies or walking aids. Signage should also be clear and only used where necessary so that customers are not overwhelmed. Lighting can be used to make products more attractive, especially fresh produce, where appearance is often critical for customers.

The height of displays is also an important factor to consider. Traditionally, retailers have believed that ‘eye level is buy level’; with customers more likely to buy products within their direct line of sight. Make sure you observe where your customers are looking during their shopping trips and be prepared to adjust your displays accordingly.


Smell is another important sense; there is a reason that some supermarkets display flowers near the store entrance and pipe the bakery smell throughout the store. An enticing smell can provide a welcome first impression to customers, however make sure that your scents are well distributed so that they enhance rather than conflict with each other. Some specialist skin care retailers have even invested in creating a signature scent!


Finally, taste is a powerful sense, whether you are a food and drink business or not. If you sell food then free samples will give a treat to your customers. Customer feedback is essential to a successful business; tasting events can help you develop new products and get a sense for what your shoppers enjoy. Even if you do not sell food, then taste can still be used to enhance the customer experience, whether it is a festive glass of wine during a haircut or a mini Easter egg at the till.


Sound can also play an important part in setting the atmosphere that you are looking to create in your store.

Colleagues  gossiping with each other can make shopping less pleasurable for customers. Some shoppers, such as those in bookshops, might prefer no noise at all; it is important to listen to your customers and never assume that you know best!

Whether you want a modern and edgy vibe or to give some authenticity to your themed restaurant, a well-crafted music playlist can set the scene.

Using till systems like My Business Hub which comes with a tablet offers a great opportunity to create different music play lists for different audiences and occasions such as Christmas and Valentine’s day.

Through paying attention to the five senses, businesses both big and small can turn shopping trips from a chore to a pleasure.