We Are Sunshine

Appealing to the Senses

Friday, April 28th, 2023

By Scott Nichols, salon GM and consultant

Sight, smell, hearing, touch and taste – five of the most common senses. Senses are used to feed our minds with information and that information helps us make everyday decisions. If these senses can help create decisions, can we use the customer’s senses to help guide them in their decision-making?

This is sounding kind of Sci-Fi, isn’t it? But what if it’s not? What if we could use senses to help create a better experience for someone? Or better yet, can these senses help us retain customers and increase the ability for them to spend more money? If you’re still not with me on this, it’s okay, but it’s happening all around us. Why do lotions smell so good?  A smell doesn’t make a lotion any better or worse, but it does put a customer in an emotional buying state.

I stumbled upon this concept by accident a few months ago. I would say I reverse engineered the idea of using the senses to increase sales. I started by asking, “What is your business identity” in Google. I wanted to know what other companies were doing to create identity, and that lead me down a massive rabbit hole. I was going in every direction, looking for an answer, and I was more confused about business identity than before I started. I literally sat back in my chair and thought of the stores I shop at and started to ask the question, “Why?” Why do I shop at this place, versus that place? Some items I could order online, but instead I would wait to get it at a store. But, why? I might even wait five days before I had a chance to stop at a store when I can order it online and have it in two days. When I really thought about the reasons, it was simple: It was the experience.

My goal in this series of articles is to help you consider three of the five senses that can help create a great customer experience in your stores.

As I was pondering all of this and asking myself question after question, I started moving forward when I asked myself this: “What do our customer think when they first walk into our store?” I want to know that first thought! Now, there’s probably no way to know without asking them, and I didn’t want to go down that road (I’m not a scientist, and I probably would screw up the questionnaire or results somehow). If asking the customer is out, then I need to start somewhere. I started with my own experiences when walking into a store.  The first thing I thought about was the smell.

After realizing this, I started to notice that a lot of places I went to had a great smell. My kids and I love going to the bookstore. There is a well-known bookstore that does it right… with their smell that is!  When we open the front doors and take the first few steps in, we stop, take a deep breath and let the smell of coffee and books take over our noses. Our goal is for each of us to find a book, go to the café and read.

Research has shown having a smell that customers like can put them in a mood to buy. According to an article from Shopify, using scent marketing in retail stores “increased intent to purchase by 80%” and a gas station saw an increase of 300% in coffee sales when customers could smell the fresh brew. Check out that article for more facts and advice:

Next time you go to the grocery store, pay attention when you first walk in. What is it that you smell?  The pumped in air from the bakery! All of those breads, donuts and cookies being made sure does set the mood when you start your shopping.

Coffee, bakery and books are great smells, but are they right for your store? Probably not. You need to find the smell that works best for your store. If you have multiple stores, I would recommend that you keep the smells consistent between all locations. If you have customers that use multiple locations, having a sense a smell they are familiar with can bring an additional comfort.

The second item that I want to use is sight. The tanning industry is somewhat Amazon-proof.  Yes, there are sites out there that allow your customers to buy the same lotion you are selling at an extremely low price (I doubt it’s the actual product). As much as that is true, technology has not evolved yet so you can buy UV light for 10 minutes from a website! There is a need for our tanning stores but that doesn’t give us an excuse to feel safe and do nothing. We need to adapt to the changing times. Just because you can’t buy a tan online doesn’t mean you can’t buy everything else.  Since you can buy everything else, customers are now under the impression they shouldn’t wait for anything. Fifteen minutes is eternity and having to drive somewhere for something vs. someone driving it to you is just crazy. So, how do we adapt to this?

When a customer walks into your store, they need more than just the customer service rep behind the desk. They want comfort and information. When the customer walks into the store, what is the first thing they see? A few lotion shelves, an employee behind the desk (ready to ask for their last name), “blah” walls and some black chairs lined up (that are similar to a supper club you ate at with your grandparents) that’s called a seating area? All of these things are just too boring, but yet, the majority of stores are like this. Too many of us are victims of what I call “retail blindness.” We are busy with the issues of the day, so we don’t pay attention or see customer wants. How many of us are guilty of having a lobby that has stayed the same for the last five years? Ten years? More? I know I have been, and that is why it’s important to turn off the blindness and start looking at what the customers are seeing.

The customer needs to walk in and see a Feng Shui type of store. Use different colors, heights, shapes and items found in nature. This gives the customer instant comfort and a sense of belonging – a place were a customer doesn’t mind waiting.

Whenever I go shopping with my wife, we will walk into a store, and I will look at “my side” for about 5-10 minutes, then usually look for a place to sit while she continues to shop. Some stores feel inviting and others don’t. The stores that don’t, I walk out and find something else to do. The stores that feel inviting have furniture that is comfortable, décor that is appealing and a staff that is friendly. It’s a vibe or frequency that the store throws off that keeps me in there.

At the Mall of America in Minnesota, there is a higher-end athletic retail store that gets us every time. We sometimes spend an hour or two shopping just at this store. Now, when I say an hour or two, I spend about 25 minutes at the most, and my wife spends the rest of the time looking for herself, but I don’t mind. The smell of the store is great, due to multiple diffusers. They have an area where you can test random smells you would find in nature, such as lemon, oranges, tea tree and many more. The lighting is bright and the colors are inviting. They just added a café, and I love it!  The smell of coffee and the sight of live plants and décor make it relaxing. It’s somewhere I can just hang out and enjoy the next hour or so by myself. The store is more about the customer and getting them to be part of the brand vs. just trying to sell them a pair of shorts.

I wanted to tell you about this experience because if we spend money there, I feel it is well worth it.  It ends up being a place where we want to spend our money. I want to wear their clothes, because I am 100% about their brand. To be honest, before visiting this store, I couldn’t have cared less if I wore their clothing or not. But, as a matter of fact, as I write this article, I am wearing one of their long-sleeve shirts.

One last thing that customers need to see when they walk into a store is information – especially in the tanning industry. If you are offering more than one service, one level of tanning or more than one bottle of lotion, your lobby needs to explain to the customer why they should try a different service or a different product. How can this be done? I would recommend working with a professional graphic artist. Work with the graphic artist to create the theme and message. A good graphic artist will help your thoughts come alive. They can also help you find a productive way to display your message in your lobby. If you have a seating area, what do you want the customers doing or reading during their wait time? If customers use one hallway more frequently than others, what do you want them to see when they are walking to their tanning room? Think of the message you want to say and work on well-placed locations to share that message.

I understand that a lot of salon owners move away from printing in-store because they feel it’s expensive. Most graphic artist will have a good relationship with a printing company. Once you establish a good relationship with a printing company, you will find that the price of printing becomes more affordable.

The last item that you need to create is a sound. One of the most frustrating sounds walking into any retail store is the sound of nothing, or the sound of the HVAC system pushing heat or air-conditioned air. Finding a sound can help a customer increase their intention to purchase. According to a study from The Association for Consumer Research, customers who go out to eat will spend more money when slower music is being played. Customers also spent a significant amount of time eating when listening to slower music vs. faster, upbeat tempo music. This meant more drinks and food was consumed.

But, then why do some companies play loud, fast and upbeat music? According to an article in the New York Times, Abercrombie and Fitch plays their music just below the decibel that would require employees to wear ear protection. They believe that younger people can withstand the loud music longer. It helps maintain a younger clientele and keeps the parents out of the store.

Music can play a role in your stores, but what is the right music? Is it the Top 40, rap, pop, country, or what? I believe to find the right answer you need to do some digging. You need to look at the demographics of your customers and what time each demographic comes in. It’s pretty common for an older demographic to come tan in the morning, a mix of ages to come in after school and work, while a younger generation comes in after 7pm. Maybe the music changes throughout the day.

The last point I will make on music is you need to follow the numbers. When experimenting with what music to play, document the type of music, when it was played, and the volume level. Then, compare it to the sales at that time. I believe, over a short period, you will be able to find the correct music to play at the right time.

Changing your customer experience should be a must! There are small items such as signage and lotion displays that can be changed on a weekly or monthly basis. There are items such as painting and lighting that might be changed every few years. Whatever your process may be, it’s important to look at your store though the eyes of our customers. You might be an employee, manager or owner of the store you are at, and you might not even see what’s right in front of you. Just remember, you are a customer too. You go shopping for groceries, clothing and other essentials, right? What did those stores do to get you to shop there? Start incorporating these ideas, pay attention to what works and what doesn’t, and if done properly, you should see a happy customer.