Intangible Tactics for Successful Retailers

Originally published on Think Marketing Magazine

When it comes to retail, nothing supersedes experience, especially in fostering a relationship with customers.

What differentiates successful retailers from the rest is their ability to achieve a deep understanding of the role perception plays in every visit and every purchase decision made.

Luckily, the science of consumer behavior offers some simple tricks that will ensure the enhancement of the customer experience, here are the most famous three:

Music and Shopping 

Studies have shown that in-store background music directly affects the browsing style of customers. When the music is loud and fast (180-beats/minute), customers tend to move faster and spend less time shopping.

On the other hand, customers who shopped when quieter relaxing music (60 beats/minute) was playing spent more time shopping at the store. While many studies have shown the same response to store music, only one study by Miller C.* showed that people who shopped in quiet music generated 38% more revenue than those who did in faster music.

Despite the study proving quieter music to be the logical choice, fast music could still be of significant benefit. Fast-food chains are one obvious example.

Cart or Basket 

With the exception of supermarkets and mega markets, most stores tend to prefer shopping baskets. However, as a retailer, you may need to reconsider shopping carts.

Shoppers have been shown to make better decisions with a cart rather than a basket. Researchers found that the tension and strain of carrying a basket is likely to induce the shopper to seek immediate gratification and make wasteful and quick purchases. While some retailers might argue that this tactic mostly affects the customer’s welfare and has little to do with the store’s sales levels, the same studies have shown that wasteful purchases when regretted are subconsciously associated with the store.

It may not be fair, but consumers won’t logically know why they shop in some places better than they do others.

The Scent Effect

Smell subconsciously affects the perception of quality; a famous and old experiment* explains it best: a group of 250 women were asked to rank 6 pairs of stockings according to quality, while they were identical in brand and color, a floral scent was added to one of them.

The results were astounding, most of the women ranked the scented stockings as the highest in quality and when asked to explain their choice, all of them noted the quality of the fabric, elasticity, or degree of color. Non connected their choice to the smell. More importantly, none believed that the chosen one was, in fact, identical to the rest.

When it comes to retail always remember: retail is a true art that requires a deep understanding of the role perception, personal culture, past experiences, and consumers’ expectations.


Studies by:

  • Miller C. “The effect of songs on retail sales” – published in the Journal of Applied Psychology.
  • Milliman R. “Using background music to affect the behavior of supermarket shoppers” – published in the Journal of Marketing.
  • Bram Van den Bergh -Erasmus University, Netherlands; Julien Schmitt, Loughborough School of Business and Economics, United-Kingdom; Luk Warlop, Faculty of Business and Economics- Belgium and at the Norwegian School of Management, Norway – Published in the Journal of Marketing Research.
  • Experiment by: Psychologist Dr. Larid D.A – Published in Journal of Psychology. Repeated in recent years by many universities and generating the same results.