Stores enjoy a great advantage compared to online shopping: beside products, they sell experiences. This is the key success factor, able to tell a thriving store from less performing ones. Still, this opportunity is often missed because owners – often too busy with the daunting task of managing the store – lack perception about the “look and feel” of the place.

One should always keep in mind that everything happening in the store becomes part of the buying experience. As such, the buying experience is the brand. If there is no active strategy to define a buying experience, it will just develop by itself – and the consequences are not always positive. 

I am not talking here about furniture, colors, decorations or uniforms. That is pretty obvious and everybody does it. I still remember when some years ago my favorite backer in Berlin tried to impose uniforms on his three co-workers, erasing the familiar tone of the store (until they eventually rebelled and everything was back to normal). 

There is a first set of elements that constitute the “basic” set of elements to manage.

Lights

One could write a book about lighting in stores, bars and restaurants. I wonder why so many owners neglect such an important feature. If you shoot bright light into a restaurant, you develop a “mensa” feeling that is not really enticing. If the light comes only from above, people look fifteen years older. If the light in a dressing room comes only from one side, people will spot more wrinkles on their face. If in a clothing store the light is yellowish, all the clothes will look less bright – and all the whites will look yellow. Lights are as important as furniture and the right light tone is fundamental.

Hotel brand “Soho House” is well aware of it and pays extra attention at adopting the right light design everywhere, so that all the lounge areas look like film sets (and guests are the actors). Even in the restrooms, the light comes from both sides to make your face look stunning; and sometimes mirrors are placed above the “normal” level and are slightly bent downwards, so that people see themselves thinner. 

Light is the most difficult form of design because it requires specialized knowledge. The good thing is that there is plenty of directors of photography out there (or architects, or set designers, or photographers) that would be more than happy to help. One should choose light even before chairs and tables. 

Music

Techno at the coffee bar in the morning. Tired 1990s Spotify playlists at the clothing store. Italian music from the 1980s at the car dealerships. The problem is that musical choice is often left to those working in the store: this is good (at the end of the story, they spend their entire time in the store), but still their perception differs from that of customers. If I listen to techno while sipping my morning cappuccino all I want to do is leave the premises asap and don’t show up again. 

I once spent a wonderful night in a camp in the desert of Wadi Rum, where David Lean shot the most spectacular scenes of his 1963 epic “Lawrence of Arabia”. We were having dinner in a larger tent – tasty local dishes – and there was Bon Jovi in the background (“Always”). As anyone above the age of 35 may remember, we overdosed on Bon Jovi in the 1990s. Beyond personal taste, he is possibly not the best musical choice for an Arab dinner in the desert. Outside the tent there was a chill-out area with local tea, and the background music was Swedish house. Upon checking out, I politely suggested to the reception that the musical choice might be improved, just to receive the blunt reply that “customers don’t care”. 

I guess that customers tend to care, even if they don’t realize it. At the end of the story, it is the manager’s task to design a good experience: he cannot rely on the preferences of the customer. 

Possibly, music should be part of the branding experience within all aspects of the company: from videos, to the music in the elevator, to conferences. In a store, the approach should be scientific. One could use a website like Next Big Sound to study if certain songs meet the expectation of the customers’ demographics. Or even just create playlists, making sure that it contains enough songs not to drive sales assistants crazy due to over-repetition. 

What’s best is that music can tangibly improve sales. Take a look here for some more details about the connection between music and sales performance. 

Scent

As a matter of biology, humans tend to get used to scents they smell regularly, so you really need to ask someone else to enter the store and take a deep breath. Scent goes directly into your brain receptors of pleasure (or disgust). Proust dedicated the beginning of his “In search of lost time” to the parfume of hawthorne and how it immediately threw him into his childhood memories. 

You don’t want to go against Proust, I guess. But it is important also not to go too much with Proust. If you pass by an organic soap store, chances are good that you are immediately hit by an industrial-intensity cloud of soap smell. There is a balance, I guess. 

 

There would be many other details to present – and this is just a summary. Everything I presented here comes down to a single, simple strategy: pretend to be your customer and forget the products: think about the buying experience. Is it pleasant? Is it enticing? Is it interesting? Is it entertaining? There are great chances to create something unique: the value is in the details.