– The Shopping Experience and the Impact of In-store Ambience
Providing the perfect customer shopping experience is something that every retail business owner, large or small, strives to deliver every day. It’s no surprise when we say that the customer journey has evolved drastically over the last 10 years, as has the way that customers actually experience shopping. According to Think with Google, 63% of shopping journeys start digitally before moving on to an e-commerce store or a physical store. The trend of online and mobile shopping continues to rise but it’s said that of the world’s population only 21.5% buy from e-commerce sites (Sleeknote), indicating that the high street is alive and well.
It's true that physical stores still command the retail market share, that’s not to say that drawing buyers inside and getting them to stay is easy. There are numerous factors that can make or break the shopping experience, so understanding how to leverage them to your advantage is key. That is why generating the optimal in-store ambience is vital as it plays such an important role in crafting the backbone to the perfect customer shopping experience.
For example, did you know that cortisol levels, the hormone that causes stress, increases as the temperature rises? This can happen on a hot summer’s day and also inside shops if the heat is too high.
This is just one of the ways poor management of in-store ambience and climate risks turning potential customers away.
In this article you will:
- Learn why the shopping experience is important
- Read which factors affect the experience and get an overview of how they influence buying decisions
- Understand what ambience consists of in the retail environment
Why is the shopping experience important?
Customers have more choice than ever and the sheer amount of information they have access to (product descriptions, comparisons, social media, reviews, adverts, blogs) all vie to earn consumer attention. This has led to an increasingly demanding customer that is looking to buy from brands that offer more than just attractive pricing. They want an experience, whether online or offline.
A report released by PWC found that 73% of consumers feel that customer experience is one of the most influential points when making their buying decisions, and that 42% would pay more for a welcoming experience, including in the store itself. Which is why it’s important that the factors which affect and influence buying behaviour are addressed correctly.
What Factors Influence Buying Behaviour?
Customers are generally unaware of the lengths that brands go to deliver an enjoyable shopping experience. When stepping into a retail clothing store, for example, it is likely that the following elements will have been tailored to attract and retain their attention:
- Design and layout of the space
- Social aspects like customer service
- Ambient factors, elements that create the background
It’s these ambient factors that we’re investigating today and the impact they have on the customer subconscious and influence our mood in subtle yet notable ways.
What is In-Store Ambience?
In the context of a retail store, ambience includes air quality, temperature, humidity, scent, cleanliness and noise, each of which has an impact on the way customers perceive the experience the brand wants to communicate. These ‘background’ factors actually have the power to shape the whole customer experience from entering to exiting a shop.
Just as rising temperatures can increase the level of stress, humid indoor climates affect concentration and motivation, making customers less patient with decision making and product consideration.
We take a look at each of these ambience factors and the implications they have on the shopping experience in relation to clothing stores.
When entering a store, customers expect to walk into an environment that compliments the climate conditions outside, so that the air inside is as comfortable as possible. Air quality will be one of the first characteristics that they’ll notice and with which they will judge the potential time that they will spend in-store.
When air is charged with air pollutants like C02, it can cause fatigue, headaches, chest discomfort and irritation to the eyes, nose and throat. But it isn’t just C02 affecting air quality, temperature and humidity also reflect negatively on the shopping experience.
We’ve established that as temperatures rise so do levels of cortisol, but don’t make the mistake of increasing the thermostat in winter as this could cause the buyer more stress than during summer months. Why? Well, shoppers might be entering the store from colder temperatures in the streets, wearing winter garments and extra layers. If they step into an overly warm shop environment, body temperature will rise and it’s possible that they will become quickly uncomfortable. This will promote stress and cause them to exit your store sooner than expected.
That’s why it is suggested to keep store temperatures at the lower end of the 20s, especially in winter. In fact, the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) suggest that the temperature during winter should be kept between 20°C and 24°C and from 23°C to 27°C in summer. Just as people will be wearing heavier materials in Winter, it is highly likely that prospective customers will be sporting lighter clothing in Summer. So, being able to adapt in-store temperatures in response to changes in weather conditions means customers are more comfortable.
Depending on the size of your store and climate control needs, creating the optimal temperature can be achieved via manual control or via smart sensors. For larger stores, a remote sensor that communicates with the air conditioning system can be included on the store floor and automatically adapts the in-store temperature in realtime. Learn more about Hitachi Cooling & Heating solutions for in-store climates.
Whilst the customer comes first, the needs of the employees running the shop floor will also have to be taken into consideration. Customers will be entering the store for relatively short periods of time whereas employees will be there all day. By creating zoning, you will be able to provide temperatures adequate for the customers and for the employees (think cash desks and changing rooms), ensuring that everyone on the shop floor is able to remain comfortable no matter how long they stay in the store.
Going hand in hand with temperature, high humidity can lead to highly unpleasant shopping conditions. This will make people less likely to spend time in your store, especially a clothing store. Shoppers looking to try on garments won’t want to if the in-store conditions leave them feeling hot and sweaty, and the staff won’t be comfortable to deliver excellent customer service either.
ASHRAE recommends that relative humidity within indoor environments should be limited to 60% and below, but going below 40% could make the environment too dry. Also, this is beneficial to the products that you have in your store, especially clothing or food items. By keeping within this range, you’ll be able to find a balance that is fit for generating a positive shopping experience and workspace.
Ventilation and Air Circulation
For many stores, regular ventilation of the premises will be performed as customers enter and exit, but shops within commercial centres will have to ensure that they have the technology to ventilate the space as well as control the climate effectively. Air renewal is a vital element, as it is a means to ensure that the air circulating within the store isn’t overly charged with C02 or other impurities, which can create unpleasant environments that can affect health, as mentioned above.
What’s more, the interest in the proper ventilation of spaces and air renewal has surged in lieu of the CoronaVirus pandemic and the need to minimize the risk of transmission of diseases in enclosed spaces is essential. Read about the recommendations of climate control and ventilation here.
Another ambience factor that makes or breaks the experience of your store is the scent: No one, customer or employee, wants to stay within a space in which the odour is unpleasant or ‘thick’, no matter what type of products are for sale. Sometimes the source of these odours are not your store alone; retailers located inside commercial centres will be ‘polluted’ by neighbouring stores, food courts and general poor air. This is why ventilation is essential in spaces where fresh air isn’t easily accessible.
On the other hand, attractive, welcoming shop scents not only draw customers inside but also make them feel at ease and most likely stay for a longer period of time. A famous study conducted by Alan Hirsch, a Chicago-based neurologist who founded the Smell and Taste Research Foundation, found that customers were 84% more likely to buy Nike shoes in a store that was scented. In fact, since the mid-1990s, scent marketing has become a booming industry and is fully integrated in sales strategies. Customer engagement marketing company Spectrio highlights that, “Customers are willing to pay 10% to 15% more for the same product in a store that uses scent”.
So, depending on the segment of the retail industry your brand is part of, as well as providing effective climate control and well-ventilated shopping spaces, avoiding lingering odours and implementing scent marketing tactics is another sure-fire way to make the shopping experience in your store a winning one.
At Hitachi Cooling & Heating, we’ve developed innovative technology that benefits in-store ambience. Take FrostWash for example, a component designed to help keep the interior of air conditioners cleaner, so that homeowners and small businesses can avoid unpleasant odors. This is thanks to its patented system that collects and freezes impurities on the heat exchanger when the air conditioner is being used, removing dust and mold particles so that they don’t build up inside and lead to odors.
It should come as no surprise that store cleanliness is crucial, even during closing hours. It is something that has an impact on scent, air quality and health, and also something that each country has their own health and safety regulations that outline what needs to be done to promote the safest space possible. With the proper application of these regulations, customers are much more likely to spend more time in your store and return in the future. After all, no one wants to invest in a shop, let alone a clothing store, where the products are surrounded by disorder and grime.
Noise and Background Music
The final ambient factor that requires attention is noise, whether intentional or not. When considering in-store music, it’s much easier than you think to get it wrong and drive away customers. One of the first things to consider when setting up the sound in your store is the volume and position of speakers, this is so that essential areas where interactions take place (cash desk, changing rooms and new ranges for example) are not overwhelmed with noise.
Another point to consider is the type of music you’re playing. Heavy metal music playing in a boutique lingerie store perhaps isn’t the best match, and so considering the brand, its product, the target market will dictate what type of music you play in-store. Rockwell Group highlighted that “the revenue of retail shops can go up by 5-10% when the acoustic environment is optimised”. By understanding your customer and target audience, you’ll be able to select the music that pleases shoppers and potentially increase sales.
By paying attention to the different elements that ambience consists of and making sure that they are tailored to your target audience, retailers can create an extremely strong basis for providing the ultimate shopping experience.
Of course, ambience is just one of the many factors that determine how customers perceive a brand’s store but it is also where many of their opinions will start.
If you’re interested in learning more about the Hitachi Cooling & Heating solutions that can help you create and maintain optimal indoor ambience and air quality, then explore our range dedicated to businesses, here.
For any questions about what our products can do for you, please feel free to contact us and we’ll be happy to help.
Johnson Controls-Hitachi Air Conditioning