Sensory Experiences in Retail Locations: Trends, Uses, Case Studies

When you think about the places you shop or buy from, are there things about the environment that stand out to you? Is it the way the products are displayed that are appealing, the fresh smells from the products they use or sell, or the music that keeps your spirits uplifted or relaxed that secretly makes you want to come back for more? Retailers understand that catering to consumers’ senses and emotions are important, and many have had much success with this scientific concept that encourages people to enjoy their brands.
starbucks For example, Starbucks–even for those who are not enjoying the coffee find it a suitable environment to hangout, conduct small meet-ups, or do work. Chances are, at some point, they’ll most likely buy something while they are spending time in the shop, even if they’re not coffee drinkers; that in itself says something about Starbucks shops. Starbucks understands sensory branding. The pleasant aroma of coffee is a great selling tool. The experience of feeling comfortable while enjoying coffee, snacks, etc. is just as important as the taste; it keeps customers coming back for more. Starbucks has even decided that they should discontinue serving breakfast foods in order to maintain their coffee shop appeal, because the smell of preparing these foods interfere with the coffee aroma that the shop is so known for.

In 2007, when McDonalds was looking to take on Starbucks by adding coffee to the menu, Starbucks was presented a possible threat. While McDonalds could appeal to consumers by presenting cheaper prices, a full menu of (familiar) and fast foods, and taste tests to sway consumer opinions, it was unlikely that McDonalds could fully win over Starbucks because they have the sensory marketing advantage. Research from <a href=”” target=”_blank”>Sensory Marketing to Jolt Espresso Sales</a> suggests that the gratifying experience of drinking coffee is largely attributed to the environments in which they’ve enjoyed or purchased them. When one thinks about the sensory experience in McDonalds, chances are you may think of strong oily smells, uncomfortable seats, and interior design that looks as if it were an after-thought. Cheap, fast, decent tasting coffee may appeal to some, but definitely not all–especially those who are already avid drinkers of, or loyal visitors to Starbucks coffee shops.

Another successful fast food retailer with persuasive sensory experiences would be Chipotle. In comparison to other Mexican-based or fast food chains, its stores appeal to consumers not simply by the taste of their burritos and burrito dishes, or even the fast preparation, but also by the sensory experience the shops provide. Most of the stores are contain red walls and cool contemporary industrial furniture in a cozy, but adequately lit environment.

“When I created Chipotle in 1993, I had a very simple idea: Offer a simple menu of great food prepared fresh each day, using many of the same cooking techniques as gourmet restaurants. Then serve the food quickly, in a cool atmosphere. It was food that I wanted, and thought others would like too. We’ve never strayed from that original idea. The critics raved and customers began lining up at my tiny burrito joint. Since then, we’ve opened a few more.” – Steve Ells, founder and CEO

Color has an effect on a person’s mood, perception, and preferences. It taps into our base instincts, which by nature help us determine when things are good or bad, safe or dangerous. Warm colors like red are proven to raise blood pressure, increase breathing, heart rate, and central nervous system functions. You can’t help but get excited about all those toppings and satisfy your hunger with a loaded burrito after a trip into Chipotle!

While great marketing, affordable prices, and convenience are all important to consumers, pandering to human senses with sights, smells, sound, etc. can be equally as important. Retail environments tap into human emotions, and keep consumers coming back for more. Businesses invest millions on obtaining and using this type of information to stimulate consumers to not only enjoy the products in themselves, but being in the environment as a whole.


Starbucks vs. McDonald’s: Coffee War Heating Up –
Starbucks Admits Sensory Mistake –
How Colors May Affect Your Productivity and Success –
Business Insider: How Chipotle became the Gold Standard for Mexican Fast-Food Restaurants –

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