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Enhancing In-store Customer Experience Starts with the Atmosphere

Editor's Note: Take a look at our featured best practice, Omni-channel Retail Strategy (44-slide PowerPoint presentation). The e-commerce market continues to grow exponentially. More consumers are opting for the convenience of online shopping. This trend has been accelerated by COVID-19. The future of e-commerce is Omni-channel Retailing. A single channel is no longer enough. The challenge is to find a seamless [read more]

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Numerous things — from prices to the friendliness of sales associates — combine to determine people’s experiences when they shop in stores. But a store’s atmosphere is arguably the factor that affects all others.

Here is how to make yours contribute to a positive customer experience.

Focus on the Layout and Lighting

A store’s layout and lighting are two critical factors for setting the stage for an outstanding customer experience. Keep in mind that many people may look through the store’s window before deciding to come inside. They may continue on their way rather than stopping if it looks cluttered or poorly lit.

Layout Considerations

Think about aisle width and the placement of supplementary storage or display furniture, such as baskets, shelves and tables. Consider the needs of various groups — such as people using mobility aids or pushing strollers — and make sure to provide plenty of room.

Take the time to create a strategic layout by grouping merchandise into intuitive categories. That is the best way to increase the chances of people finding what they need without asking someone. When people have streamlined store experiences, the atmosphere is often a significant reason why.

Lighting Tips

When you assess how to handle the store’s lighting needs, aim for functional and aesthetically pleasing results. Sometimes low lighting is appropriate, such as to create a meditative or romantic environment.

However, if you sell things such as makeup, paint or homewares, having brighter lighting is essential to give people the most accurate impressions of what they are considering buying. Use bright lighting to create a calm and open atmosphere. Pay attention to the room’s corners, ensuring they are adequately illuminated

Be practical about the lighting level, as well. You might have dim lighting in most of the store to set the mood. However, increasing illumination near the checkout makes sense, so employees are less likely to make mistakes while ringing up customers’ items.

Alternatively, if your store gets lots of natural light from large windows, you might want to install adjustable lighting that you can tweak. This way, you can make it more powerful on rainy days and less intense on sunny ones.

Reflect Shoppers’ Expectations with the Atmosphere

Even if a customer is coming into your store for the first time, they probably have some idea of their anticipated experience. For example, an apparel brand catering to teens is likelier to have top music hits booming from the sound system than a medical supplies store.

That is because the former case aims to create excitement and give the impression that the retailer understands what is trendy — in clothing and otherwise. If young shoppers like a store’s soundtrack, they may spend more time there and bring their friends. Having the music playing a little louder than necessary is also a great way to catch the attention of easily distracted people.

On the other hand, the average person visiting a medical supply store does not care whether the store plays the latest hits. However, they may appreciate a soothing instrumental track played at a low volume. Such an addition to the atmosphere could provide much-needed stress relief for someone shopping for mobility aids to help an aging parent or getting diabetes management supplies after a recent diagnosis.

Put yourself in your target audience’s position and ask yourself what atmosphere you expect and prefer for a great customer experience. The aspects go beyond music to include everything a shopper will perceive while in your establishment.

Leverage the Expertise of Store Associates

A 2022 Mood Media survey explored what keeps people returning to physical stores. One takeaway was 84% of respondents would return to those with a pleasant atmosphere. Additionally, staff availability was a strong theme throughout the survey.

Those polled cited friendly and knowledgeable workers as the top factor that created a pleasant atmosphere for them. At the same time, overbearing or unhelpful staff members were most likely to encourage people to leave stores. Another critical finding revealed in the study was having friendly and knowledgeable staff was much more important in creating a positive atmosphere in smaller or local stores than in large, flagship ones.

These findings reinforce the importance of having well-trained, engaging employees ready to help when necessary. However, pay attention to the fact that the desired customer experience is highly individualized. Some people just want to browse a store independently and could find staff interactions overwhelming or unwanted. Those things are particularly true for people who visit specific stores frequently and already know what they want or need on each trip.

A simple workaround is a visual system to identify those who wish to shop without an employee engaging with them. For example, a store might have two groups of shopping baskets — one regular and one with a blue ribbon tied around the handle. If a consumer chooses one with the ribbons they do not want staff members to approach them.

Train staff on how to use and enjoy the store’s products, and encourage them to give individualized anecdotes when telling shoppers how they use the items. It is also essential that store associates know how to offer tailored recommendations. For example, if a customer says they have sensitive skin, which face wash is the best option for them?

Create a Fantastic Customer Experience with a Great Atmosphere

The atmosphere can influence whether a person loves or strongly dislikes your store. Apply these best practices creating a setting everyone will appreciate, but remain flexible. Even after you design the store’s atmosphere to your liking, people may bring things to your attention you had not previously considered. Noting what you learn during the process will help you determine the most appropriate things to do to get the best results.

103-slide PowerPoint presentation
This presentation is a report for a global electronics firm which was executing a digital growth strategy in the US. Although it had great products and a rejuvenated brand, the firm lacked a good understanding of the retail channel and thus lacked a channel strategy and relevant capabilities to [read more]

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About Eleanor Hecks

Eleanor Hecks is the editor-in-chief of Designerly Magazine. She’s also a web design consultant with a focus on customer experience and UI. She lives in Philadelphia with her husband and pups, Bear and Lucy. Connect with her about marketing, design and/or tea on LinkedIn.

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