Before the internet changed retail, it was enough for many business owners to find a great location, stock items people needed or that would appeal to impulse purchases, and make it easy to buy additional items on the way to the cash register.
Brick-and-mortar shopping has not decreased much since online shopping became easy, safe, and convenient, but the reasons people go into stores have changed a lot. Now, many people browse items online, then go into a store to try the product before they buy it. They want to see what other options they have. They want to take the item home immediately.
Many people still shop for fun, browsing luxury or accent items in novelty shops or gift-focused stores. These customers are more interested in the full experience of shopping than they are in convenience because they do not have a specific goal. They may want places to sit, two-for-one specials, and access to staff who can guide them through a selection process.
Both convenience-focused and fun-focused customers want stores with good atmosphere. While almost everyone has a general understanding of what atmosphere or ambiance entails, what does it mean in practical terms? How can you, a business owner, create the best atmosphere for your customers so they enjoy the experience and recommend your brand?
Determining Your Brand Personality
Before you decide how to create an atmosphere in your retail store, what is your brand’s personality? A brand personality is an industry term describing the human characteristics attributed to a brand based on the product, marketing images, retail atmosphere, online presence, and more. It is a framework that helps a company understand and subsequently shape how potential customers feel about the product.
The five main types of brand personality are:
People are more likely to purchase a brand they believe reflects their personality. For example, men tend to purchase items that invoke ruggedness and competence while women may be more likely to aim for items reflecting sincerity or sophistication.
Once you have landed on what your brand’s personality should be, you can begin to design your store’s layout. Some general rules for a good store layout include maintaining a high degree of cleanliness, including reducing visual clutter; keeping a clear path that winds through different areas of similar products, encouraging people to dwell over related items they may wish to purchase; and making sure that the checkout counter and knowledgeable sales staff are easy to find and well trained.
These are very general elements that impact the atmosphere of your store, but they also reflect general competence and convenience. Details on these design features can help you create an atmosphere that your customers will enjoy because they identify with it.
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What Elements Do You Need to Create the Perfect Atmosphere?
However, if managed inappropriately, they can work against you.
- Displays: Putting your products on display is the number one reason anyone should start a retail store. Doing so in an artful way – placing them in a path that allows customers to see everything you have and arranging them so groups of items are near other, similar or related items – is the foundation to making a good in-store display. However, minimalism is important. Too many items on a shelf can lead to clutter, a sense of disorganization, and even a feeling like your store is unclean or unkempt. This doesn’t work for anyone’s brand personality.Displays that incorporate interactive elements are becoming trendy, but these too can be too busy. If you offer homemade soaps, for example, a bright screen from a large tablet with information about your product may be visually intrusive while a screen in a store that sells video games is not out of place.
- Furniture and fixtures: Shelves, display stools, counters, light fixtures, and furniture can all enhance or detract from your store’s atmosphere. For example, if your brand’s personality is rugged, then you can use dark wood and metal furniture throughout the store to enhance that image. In contrast, if you use a lot of glass and gold accents, your store may be perceived as sophisticated while your brand is perceived as rugged, and that dissonance may not work for shoppers.
- Lighting: Of course, it is important for customers to see the products, but lighting can have a deeper psychological impact than just keeping everything visible. Bright lights can make people feel more energized, but if they’re too bright, it can hurt customers’ eyes. Dimmer light can create a feeling of calm, like a home, but it can also make people sleepy and make it harder to see details on products. Good lighting can make your store feel larger if you have a small retail space; bad lighting can make your store feel dirty, grim, or exhausting.
- Colors and textures: Color preference is largely individual, but there is some psychology to color and texture that works across the board. Yellow may be a happy color, but too much of it or the wrong shade can turn off your customer base even though they expect your brand personality to be excited. Textured metal can enhance your brand personality for ruggedness, but textures that go literally against the grain of your brand can feel like mental static.
- Scent:This is a tough one for many people. Although it is a great way to bring up emotional connection to a store, there may be shoppers who are allergic to the scent or who are sensitive to scents in general.
- Service and staff: Knowledgeable and friendly staff members are crucial to an enjoyable shopping experience, especially in stores with complicated items like electronics that can be expensive. It is important to make sure staff members are easy to find and well trained, but that they do not loom over customers or appear too intrusive when asking if customers need help. There should also not be too many or too few of them. Service should be quick and friendly, as wait times are typically perceived in a negative light.
- Music: This is another great sensory way to create atmosphere and ambiance in your store, but it is important to remember to keep any sound at a reasonable level. Some demographic groups prefer instrumental music in the background while others prefer more intense music in the foreground. Some people want to relax into the shopping experience, so slower-tempo music works well for them; others want to move quickly through the store, find what they need, and get out in 5 minutes or less, so they want faster music. Finding music that is associated with your brand personality is key, and understanding your customer base’s musical preferences will help you create the perfect sonic experience for them.
Music Is the Easiest Way to Create an Excellent Atmosphere
However you choose to create the perfect ambiance for customers, music is a great start. Everyone enjoys listening to music because the human brain is uniquely wired to attach memories, feelings, and even physical rhythm to music. Simple background tracks can enhance your customers’ moods, pace, and positive feeling about your brand. The wrong music, though, can make them never come in again.
A 1982 study reported that background music in a supermarket could change how fast customers moved through the store without affecting how much they purchased. Classical music may lead customers to buy items that have a higher perceived value or to be more accepting of higher prices on luxury items.
A study in 2000, however, found that music that was very familiar to shoppers created a negative experience. It was distracting, so they didn’t pay attention to the products, and their perception of time changed so they felt like they spent more time in the store, leading them to feel a little rushed or stressed.
Focusing on background music that reflects your brand personality and your target demographic’s preferences can help you find songs for the perfect playlist. You need music for your store, but are you getting these songs legally? For decades, retailers had to purchase licenses from performing rights organizations (PROs) who managed licensing of the copyright for specific purposes. However, with the rise of music streaming services, more people listen to music as a way to create a soundtrack for their lives. This is an advantage for you, a business owner, but you do not get to use the same music streaming services as your customers.
Fortunately, there are several commercial and business-focused music streaming options that can help you legally license the perfect music with several PROs. You can then legally make the greatest possible playlist to enhance the atmosphere for your customers.
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- Create Atmosphere Inside Your Store. (June 10, 2014). Eliot Management Group.
- Consumers Value Stores’ Appearance and Atmosphere. (April 7, 2014). Marketing Week.
- Putting Your Customers in a Buying Mood. (September 21, 2015). Smart Retailer.
- How to Choose the Right Music for Your Retail Store. (June 3, 2016). Humanity.