“We look at the brand, not as a piece of advertising, but everything we do communicates who Starbucks is. The place, the physical environment, really has become an extension of the brand, and it’s very important to the success of the company.” – Howard Schultz.
Attracting customers and creating an engaging customer experience are essential elements of a successful marketing campaign. Thus, decision-makers must ensure that all content or brand messaging matches a business’s values and identity in order to make a strong impression on the target audience. One practical approach to achieve this is incorporating atmospherics into all areas of your campaigns, including visuals, messaging, product design, and packaging. This blog explores effective ways retail marketers can utilize marketing atmospherics to maximize consumer engagement.
What Are (Marketing) Atmospherics?
Atmospherics are the controllable characteristics of a retail environment that persuades shoppers to enter the store, feel good and spend money. Philip Kotler first identified design atmospherics as a marketing device in 1973 (Investopedia). In the retail store context, the semantic elements of a retail outlet, such as lighting, ambient sound, merchandise layout, and other store fixtures, can be designed to elicit a particular mood.
What does the retail environment Include?
The retail store environment includes all the physical, visual, and semantic elements that attract customers to a retail store and connect with them emotionally. Everything detail has a purpose, from floor layout to music, product packaging, displays, scent, and signage, and it all adds to the shopping experience.
Features of the Retail Environments
The retail environment is essential in enhancing the perception of a product or brand name. Here are the features of a retail store atmosphere that contribute to a customer’s perception and experience:
- The use of the store layout, aisle space, and the location and design of self-check-out kiosks.
- The application of the merchandising mix to support the atmospheric and brand strategy.
- The use of Scents or aromas designed to elicit a particular response.
- The placement of signage, price information, decorations, and displays, employee uniforms.
- Music that both contributes to and enhances the shopping experience.
- The temperature and lighting of the aisles, kiosks, and other shopping spaces.
These features influence mood, increase potential retail sales conversion, and improve customer services, experience, and retention.
How does atmospherics Impact the Retail Environment?
Many successful retailers use atmospherics to improve their retail outlets’ look, feel, and consumer appeal. There are several ways to achieve the desired goal, such as giving the store a warm vibe. For example, a cafe can make comfortable furniture available for customers to lounge in, a fireplace to sit around, and jazz music playing in the background. Their aim may be to create a relaxing mood wherein customers can enjoy their beverages.
In contrast, some stores may use modern art, popular music, and bright or colorful lights to attract a specific demographic. Again, the setting depends on the style, feel, and theme the organization intends to create.
Note: Sensory triggers impact The online shopping environment less than the physical store environment. This blog focuses on the brick-and-mortar retail experience.
Store layouts, Space usage, and Visual Merchandising
Retailers use store layouts to influence customers’ behavior, such as traffic flow, merchandise placement, and ambiance. Salesfloor designs, for instance, make retailers aware of how much revenue per square foot they earn. This information allows for accurate assessments of the strengths and weaknesses in their merchandising mix and atmospheric strategy.
Retail Salesfloor Floor Strategy
A vital function of the sales floor plan is to facilitate efficient traffic circulation. Circulation directly influences traffic flow based on the research of consumer movement patterns within a retail space. Circulation is crucial because it ensures that the consumer moves through the store from front to back, guiding them to essential displays and, ultimately, to the cashier.
Once the space planning, such as layout and circulation, has been determined, the atmosphere and semantic enhancements can be added, including lighting, sound, materials, and visual branding. These environmental characteristics will facilitate the desired impact on the consumer.
Case Study: Walmart Floor Plan, Layout, and Design
“Customers may not be as familiar with the store they’re in, especially when traveling, so they can use our app to help them find the things they need.” – Paul Kilsch, Senior Manager, Digital Acceleration, Walmart
Walmart introduced its airport-inspired navigational “wayfinding systems” and app. The combination of app and layout design efficiently directs large groups of people quickly through stores in a simple yet organized manner. In addition, Walmart optimized its product layout, showcasing critical items throughout the store, including dedicated in-store sections for electronics, toys, baby products, etc.
Visual Merchandising and the retail environment
In-store visual merchandising captures consumers’ attention as they traverse the store and are an essential component of the purchase decision-making process. In the retail industry, visual merchandising is critical to presenting products in a way that highlights their features and benefits. Four key elements of visual merchandising involving atmospherics are as follows:
- Store exterior
- Store layout
- Store interior
- Interior display
These elements influence the shopping atmosphere and buying behavior in physical stores.
Case Study: Walmart 2018-22 Redesign
Walmart demonstrates how an effective atmospheric strategy enhances the shopping environment and entices customers to purchase. For example, based on consumer studies and trends (pandemic 2019-2021), Walmart updated its interior and exterior signage to reflect the Walmart “app icon.” The redesign aims to facilitate an instant Omni shopping customer experience.
Colorful icon imagery greets customers at the store entrance, and an airport-inspired directory board encourages customers to download and use the Walmart app as they shop.
Merchandising Mix and Environment Strategy
The marketing mix are controllable tools that companies exploit to produce a desired consumer response. It consists of everything a company can do to promote the sale of its products. Moreover, it is also supporting marketing, planning, and execution:
- Product: fulfills demand in the market opportunity and meets customer needs.
- Price: is the cost the customer is willing and able to pay to purchase as reflected in the pricing strategy.
- Place: the placement caters to the target market and is made accessible and visibly appealing to that market.
- Promotion: this includes all the strategies used to communicate the product’s value and attract a customer to purchase it.
Case Study: Shoppers Drug Mart (Pharmacy) and the Marketing Mix
An effective atmospheric strategy must utilize the marketing mix’s four Ps (Product, Price, Place, Promotion) to meet the overall campaign’s objectives. For instance, each constituent or “P” has a complementary effect that serves to achieve the desired atmospheric goal:
A study of 5,000 customers conducted by Shoppers Home Health Care found that shoppers:
- Deal with aging differently than previous generations?
- Prefer to feel young and are looking for solutions to control aging.
- Attitudes toward aging are reflected in their shopping behavior.
As part of their Wellwise pilot project, Shoppers’ Drug Mart pharmacies shifted their approach from illness to wellness at brick-and-mortar pharmacy locations.
As a result, the shopping atmosphere, including light, colors, and décor, has made shopping aisles appear brighter, unclutter, and more accessible. In addition, product samples are unpackaged and placed to make them easier to touch and try. Lastly, the product mix focuses on six key categories: wellness, mobility, active living, tools and gadgets, personal care, and home comfort. Each constituent is complementary to the atmospheric “wellness” strategy.
Scents or Aromas Designed to Elicit a Particular Response
Unique aromas can differentiate the brand experience and shopping environments. For example, when customers smell certain scents outside the store, they act brand-remind and trigger memories of products. Odors can also impact emotional responses and behaviors.
Case Study: Cinnabon Scent Marketing
The Cinnabon bakery chain attracts customers with smell tactics. The cinnamon scent is deliberately planned to convince potential customers to buy cinnamon rolls. Ovens are placed near the front of each store so that the smell “escapes” when employees open the oven doors.
“When you smell it out of the bottle, it smells like cream cheese frosting, which our cinnamon rolls smell like.” – Consumer Marketing
The stores are located in malls and airports on purpose so that the “smells can linger,” cinnamon rolls are baked every 30 minutes at a minimum, and to keep the scent in the air, some stores even warm-up sheets of cinnamon and brown sugar (the Wall Street Journal).
Signage, Price, Decorations, Merchandising Displays, employee uniforms
A retail outlet can change its shopping environment by changing “atmospheric cues,” consisting of thematic and social elements. For instance, using different types of signage, graphics, and merchandising displays to increase the persuasiveness of sales associates, including:
- Graphics and visuals in window displays effectively communicate information to potential customers.
- The introduction of signage communicates brief messages consistent with a brand’s marketing and promotional model.
- The store visually should be appealing to consumers and easy to read. (i.e., signs, promotion posters, promotions, etc.)
Apple’s open concept, for example, portrays an elegant and modern store atmosphere that communicates an intended image. This can be seen via its in-store product displays, color, furniture selections, and decor, contributing to the brand’s chic and high-tech appearance.
Uniforms Enhance Customer Engagement
Uniforms support visual business advertising, brand promotion, and customer engagement. Customers feel more connected to the company when the faces represent it. Additionally, uniforms make it easy for customers to identify who works at the business, their department, and their role.
As part of an atmospheric strategy, uniform color styles and themes must be congruent with the retail store environment and company objectives.
Using TimeWellScheduled time and attendance software also ensures you have enough friendly faces to welcome customers and enhance the retail experience. And it’s free for up to 10 employees. Click here to learn more!
Walmart’s Uniform Policy
Walmart provides staff with uniforms consisting of a vest and a name badge. The color of the vest varies depending on the employee’s position, department, and job role. Uniforms are designed to align with the shopping atmosphere visually and serve to differentiate employees from shoppers. This ensures that customers can access the service they need.
Music and Ambient Noise
In the past several years, scientific and business research has shown that music has a powerful effect on customer psychology, altering moods and behaviors. For example, studies have found that the tempo of ambient background music influences customers’ purchases.
When retail outlets play fast-tempo-ed background music, for instance, customers walk quickly and purchase only what they planned to buy before entering the store, and less overall (Journal of Marketing). In contrast, when hearing slower music, customers tend to browse longer and spend more (Journal of Marketing).
Studies have also found that music can be used in specific ways to influence what shoppers buy and how much they’re willing to pay.
- Purchases in a wine store were higher when classical music played and lower when Top 40 hits played (Advances in Consumer Research)
- Phone-hold music keeps customers on the line longer while perceiving a slower passage of time.
- Loud music causes shoppers to exit the store more quickly than soft music, which leads to lower sales (Journal of Psychology)
Lastly, research has found that combining music with atmospheric sensory experiences such as smell influences purchasing behavior. A 2005 study reported that combining holiday-themed music and aromas increased sales. Conversely, sales were lower when music was played alone or decreased when the scent was applied by itself (Journal of Business Research).
Note: famous brands such as Red Bull, American Express, and Oreo Cookies have tied their products to music. Moreover, it is common practice in the retail industry to use music to influence shopping moods and purchasing behaviors, and the trend seems to be expanding.
Store Temperature and Lighting
Customer comfort has much to do with the temperature in most retail environments. However, some products, such as ice cream, beer, and spirit beverage retailers, require temperature considerations. Moreover, government regulations, union rules, and guidelines also influence retail store environments and, in some cases, store design.
The USA Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) states that the ideal indoor work environment is between 68- and 76 degrees Fahrenheit (19-24 degrees Celsius). At the same time, it is essential for employees and customers; to be safe and comfortable.
General Lighting and Illumination
Lighting is a critical element in all physical retail stores and businesses. For example, lighting in a retail outlet:
- Provides a source of general illumination for the retail environment
- Shapes and influences the shopping mood of customers.
- Enhances merchandise displays, visual merchandising strategy, and signage
- Supports a healthy and safe working and shopping environment
Lighting is also connected to a safe work and shopping environment for customers and staff. The level of illumination also affects a store’s mood, visual merchandising strategies, and shopping atmosphere.
Bright Lighting versus Dim Lighting
In retail stores, bright lighting has been associated with energy, positivity, and honesty. This positively impacts sales. According to research, bright lighting triggers “a higher level of engagement among customers: speeding up the pace at which customers purchase products.” (Wikipedia)
This doesn’t mean retailers always use bright lighting throughout a retail store. For example, hardware stores often have a “lighting section” that is brighter than the rest of the retail store.
Similarities to Other Atmospheric and Environmental Tactics
Similar to background music and ambient noise, customers may overlook potential product purchases if they shop too fast. Therefore, store owners need to use a balanced lighting approach.
In contrast, it could slow down the pace at which customers shop. Furthermore, dimness instills a sense of calmness and relaxation, setting the tempo of the retail outlet.
Creating a Memorable Customers Experience
In order to effectively connect with customers in retail, it is essential to understand what drives them emotionally. This includes creating a shopping environment that appeals to their senses and moods.
By creating an engaging customer experience explicitly tailored to the emotional drivers of each customer, you will be able to build deeper emotional connections with retail customers. For example, in a recent two-year survey study conducted by Motista:
- 306% Customer Retention Rate for customers who had an emotional connection with a brand versus merely satisfied customers! (Motista)
- 80% of consumers feel more emotionally connected to a brand when customer service solves their problem. (Motista)
Lastly, a Journal of Business Research study found that offline and online store atmospherics induce pleasure responses and emotional connections, impacting customers’ acceptance or avoidance behavior towards a retailer, service provider, or brand.
The application of Atmospherics offers an excellent opportunity to enhance your marketing campaigns and elevate customer engagement. By incorporating atmospheric techniques into your content, messaging, visuals, product design, and packaging, you can generate excitement and capture interest in your brand. Ensuring a seamless digital user journey or shopping experience is not only ideal but also cultivates a genuine connection and sentiment between customers and your company’s offerings. These subtle details make a significant impact in creating lasting impressions on both current and potential customers.
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