We shop with our senses - here’s how.

You may think that the size of your customers' wallets determines what they buy. And, to some extent, it does. But what you may not know is that their sense of touch and their sense of hearing play a decisive part when they buy something. Read on to learn why.

Picture yourself entering a big modern clothing retailer like Uniqlo. As you step into the store, you face an onslaught of sensory inputs, from the colors in the storefront to the seemingly casually arranged sweaters by the counters. Without really knowing why you feel a sudden urge to pick up that angora wool sweater. As you trace the seams of the fabric with your fingers, the music from the speakers reinforces the Uniqlo brand. But this reinforcement occurs below the threshold of consciousness. You may not even hear that music is playing. Scents, lighting, and colors all conspire to get you to make that purchase.

Welcome to the world of sensory marketing. It's a concept you may already have heard about. The big retailers certainly have, because it has such enormous implications for sales. Harvard Business School professor Gerald Zaltman says that up toward 95% of our buying decisions are made subconsciously. As a consumer, you're exposed to the dark magic of sensory marketing as soon as you enter a shop.

And there's no reason you cannot apply the same methods to reach your customers. Mostly, customers only buy a few items during a store visit. But if you spend time thinking about how you can use sensory marketing to get your customers to buy just one more thing, it can have a significant impact on your sales and profits.

”As a consumer yourself, you’ve most likely already interacted with several forms of sensory marketing without even knowing it. After all, 95% of our buying decisions are made subconsciously.”

Harvard Business School professor Gerald Zaltman


The first thing that potential shoppers see as they pass your store is the storefront. Make sure you design your storefront to encourage impulse sales and to trigger curiosity. You should appeal to the casual shoppers, the ones that walk into a store in the mood to buy a sweater but who leave with three pairs of jeans.

You obviously want to sell your brand and your products, but today you also want to make sure you sell your customers an experience. By creating a context that your clients can picture themselves in, you'll increase the chance they'll buy more. Furniture stores such as Ikea do this by showcasing their products in a home environment. Fashion brands conjure up the experience of a complete outfit by hanging different pieces of clothing next to each other.

Another important part of visual sensory marketing is color. Different colors represent different feelings, a fact that many brands use to their advantage. For instance, retailers and grocery stores often use colors of high visibility such as red and yellow to make customers pay extra attention. Why? Yellow is the first color that the human eye can detect. And we associate red with alarms and stop signs. Use red and yellow to get shoppers to stop and look closer.

Colors can also be an effective way to tell stories. By using light and bright colors in a swimming wear section, you'll create associations with summer in your customers' brains. With some luck, they'll forget that it’s cold and rainy outside and get into a summery shopping mode.


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Volume and tempo play a significant role in sensory marketing. Loud volume makes people move faster while quieter music makes them stay longer. Low tempo music makes people spend more money while uptempo music is a mood booster. As a business owner, you can use this to trigger different behavioral responses throughout the day. A fast-food restaurant might want to increase the customer flow during lunch hours by playing uptempo music at a higher volume level. But during the afternoon the same restaurant ought to play mid-to-low tempo music at a lower volume to make customers stay longer and spend more money.

The music you’re playing when and where is also important in creating emotional connections that trigger the desired behavior. Playing Christmas songs during late November and December isn’t just a way for retailers to get you into a festive spirit, it’s also a way of making consumers want to spend more money on their loved ones.


Did you ever buy something in a grocery store just because you received a free sample? Yes, that’s also sensory marketing. If you offer customers a sample of the product before they buy it, you hook them on the quick dopamine rush from the taste and create trust between your brand and your consumer.

Another example of taste in sensory marketing is how business owners will offer sweets by the cash register as a reward for waiting patiently in line or for buying their products. More exclusive brands might offer their customers a glass of champagne when entering the stores, to make the brand experience feels more "luxurious" and "exclusive."


Smell is our most delicate and precise sense. This makes our sense of smell a powerful tool you can exploit to create deeper emotional bonds with customers and to strengthen associations to your product.

Customers perceive products that smell good as being of higher quality. This means they'll be more likely to buy them. Car manufacturers exploit this by spraying cars with "new car" fragrances to boost sales.

Pay attention next time you visit a chocolatier or a convenience store. Notice that distinct smell of chocolate or cinnamon buns. But is the chocolate packaged? Is there no stove in the store? You've been sensory marketed!


The longer shoppers hold a particular item, the more likely they are to buy it. Take advantage of this psychological quirk, by getting people to touch and interact with your products. People are more likely to grab something within convenient reach, such as a product showcased on a table or hanging at eye level. People also prefer picking up products that aren't in perfect order since they don’t want to mess it up the arrangement.

Another example of touch as sensory marketing is weight and material. Expensive restaurants often use thick menu covers made of expensive materials to make guests think that the price of the dishes is more reasonable while less expensive restaurants use menus of a lighter material without a cover.

And don’t forget the names. They evoke emotions just like colors do. Inventing good names for your products is paramount if you want your customers to interact with them. For instance, the iPod Touch emphasizes the feature of the product while beauty products bearing names such as “silky smooth” describe the feeling you get when you use it. Do your products have the right name?


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