You’re in the chilled food aisle. You spot a rather indulgent, tasty offering. Not your usual choice but hey, you feel like treating yourself.

Random choice? No.

It’s been proven that colder temperatures can lead to more emotional decision-making and increased preference for pleasurable, indulgent products.

It’s also been shown that adding sound to a digital retail or subscription experience leads consumers to spend over 30% longer interacting with products and pay nearly 15% more overall.

The power of the senses

Every sensory element (including sound, temperature, aroma, colour, shape and form) is having a profound influence on our choices, actions and feelings - and we just don’t realise it.

The retail world is undergoing an enormous shift. Online players are opening bricks-and-mortar stores, high street brands are re-inventing themselves as ‘destinations’ and there’s been a staggering rise in digital and subscription retail sales. The focus is now firmly on an omnichannel retail experience.

These hybrid retail experiences that blend the digital with the real-world customer journey are where sensory branding and design can really play a role.

Real places, sensory spaces

In-store environments and physical products provide an obvious opportunity to enhance the customer experience. Not least because we can design for all the senses, it also allows us to control every element of the multisensory experience. At base level, this means using sound and aroma more effectively. 

For example, when an aroma and soundscape designed to evoke ‘softness’ was used in a chain of lingerie stores, average customer dwell time increased by 25%. Average spend also increased by 30%.

This is just the tip of the iceberg.

retail experience dwell time

Every element of the journey and every physical touchpoint (mail order, home delivery, etc.) should be designed based on sensory science.

Such an approach can help to improve the overall experience, increase dwell time, encourage product interaction, slow people down, speed people up, even alter their perception of time! Did you know that we perceive time to pass more slowly in a red room, and faster in a blue room…?

Staff behaviour and customer interaction also play a central role in our retail projects. Every word used when staff communicate with customers, every action and gesture, the way that customers are guided and assisted throughout… it all communicates to shoppers on a deep, visceral level. We work to ensure all interactions communicate the right things at the right time, both psychologically and sensorially in a coherent and natural way.

The digital sensory retail experience

OK, so real-world retail might make sense, but what about multisensory design online?

Surely, on a platform that only allows you to control sound and visuals, you can’t fully embrace the benefits of a sensory approach?

In fact, digital or subscription experiences are a perfect channel for sensory marketing and design.

All our senses are fundamentally interlinked. What we experience through one sense affects how we perceive the world through another.

For example, in a collaborative study with Oxford University, we found that smell is influenced by sound. Sniff a perfume while listening to a particular sensorially-designed soundscape and you’ll say it’s sweet. Repeat it with a different soundscape and you’ll say the fragrance is dry. These universal, mainly cross-cultural links also exist for taste, touch, sound and visual perception, and these cross-sensory links are two-way.

This means that, using sensory science, we can create digital or subscription experiences where the sound and visuals can effectively communicate and illicit perceptions of actual smells, tastes and textures.

Touching, tasting, smelling products through your eyes and ears only.

Bittersweet Symphony

The best way to understand just how strong these cross-sensory linkages are is to experience it for yourself. So grab a drink, maybe a cup of coffee, and listen (best with headphones) to these five soundscapes whilst you imbibe…

Bringing it all together

The critical component to an omnichannel approach is connecting the dots – ensuring a seamless sensorial journey between reality and the digital world.

We approach this by first creating a Sensory Map. This details the customer experience at every touchpoint – be it real-world or digital – from a multisensory perspective. In-store, website, on an app, mail order packaging, home delivery service, events, pop-ups, comms… literally everything.

We begin by looking at how we want our audience to think, feel and behave at each stage in the journey and which senses are the most pertinent to achieving this.

We then research and overlay the sensory elements that need to be designed and integrated to deliver on the desired thoughts, feelings and behaviours.

These could be soundscapes used consistently in-store and online, right down to the sounds that the buttons make in a digital retail app. It could be an ownable branded aroma used consistently across touchpoints - for example, the aroma diffused in-store, in shopping bags and imbued into the packaging of subscription or mail order items.

This approach then creates a harmony across digital and real worlds - they are no longer separate channels. Science proves that an aroma can bring back emotions from our first encounter with a product or brand. Ideally positive memories from a store visit and excitement from a subscription purchase. This positive feeling will reoccur when the same aroma is deployed across further touchpoints.

It becomes the perfect sensorial hybrid experience; all senses are finely tuned in one direction, regardless of channel or technology.

Research shows the upsides are undeniable – customers interact and engage more, experiences are more memorable, and perceived quality and value is increased. This is the next frontier for omnichannel retail and subscription services, and it’s all done through a multisensory design approach based on hard science.

Feeling intrigued and want your retail or subscription brand to benefit from the power of a Sensory Marketing approach? Contact us at