top of page

5 Retail Design Tips to Stimulate the 5 Senses… and Sales

To make retail a winning experience, retail spaces must be both practical and enjoyable for customers. There are still many benefits to “try before you buy” shopping — such as not dealing with the hassle of returns — which means that retail stores will continue to serve consumers.

There are many ways to design retail space to help drive additional sales by making your store appealing to the five senses. Here are four easy-to-implement sensory tips to help improve your customers’ in-store brand experience.

1. Visual: Add mirrors.

Mirrors can make your footprint seem larger and more spacious to your customers. Taller mirrors can draw customers’ eyes upward, which makes rooms feel more spacious. If it turns out that your retail space lacks windows or natural light, you can use mirrors to increase the perception of how big your space really is. In such an instance, you can use small square mirrors to create a tiling effect.

Keeping mirrors in comfortable fitting rooms may be a great way to improve your sales. A study by consumer scientists Maryke Vermaak and Helena de Klerk indicated that use of fitting rooms, and how shoppers felt about a store’s fitting rooms, heavily influenced a consumer’s decision to buy.

Get ready for the future: Soon stores will be trying out interactive mirrors. These mirrors use technology to allow people to virtually try on clothing by scanning barcodes.

2. Visual: Be smart about your use of colors.

Color has a powerful psychological impact on customers’ behavior and decisions. Color can often be the sole reason, or one of the major reasons, why someone purchases a product. Retail consultant Anand Kumar says, “Different colors tend to evoke different feelings in people, which can affect how they perceive products. For instance, red – when used effectively – can highlight passion and power.”

Be cognizant of the colors used in your displays, signage and advertising.

Color and light play combined roles in retail environments, as a Journal of Business Research report suggests, “For fashion-oriented stores, blue interiors are associated with more favorable evaluations, marginally greater excitement, higher store patronage intentions, and higher purchase intentions.” However, consumers react differently when stores use softer lighting. For example, an orange interior with soft lighting generally, “Produces the highest level of perceived price fairness.”

Get ready for the future: Enable your customers to select their own product colors or suggest new ones. Some companies are already experimenting with augmented reality apps to enable customers to test their own colors in-store.

3. Sound: Choose music based on customer behavior.

Customer behavior is greatly influenced by the rhythm and genre of music that plays. The music inside a store helps customers create their perception of your store’s identity and the brands you sell.

It’s important that music for retail spaces reflects both the personality of your store and an awareness of customer perception in each track that plays. For example, one study found that classical music performed better than Top 40 hits for wine shops, influencing buyers to spend on more expensive wines. While popular music may be a good fit for mainstream stores, the complexity of classical music seems more suited for considered purchases like high-end wines.

Get ready for the future: While there are many companies that license music for retail use, automated music selections will soon be able to determine the ages of shoppers, the density of people in your retail business, and more. Soon, the music decisions will be left to computers and be updated depending on your current customer profiles.

4. Smell: Use scent to attract customers to your brand.

“Well-received ambient scents can positively influence purchase behavior if the scent seems to match the products in the store,” according to Shopify. The opposite is also true. If the scent doesn’t seem to match the context of the shop, consumers may turn away from the retail space. This is why it is so important to pick a scent that will help grow your brand. Interestingly, “Gender-designed scents seem to matter as well. A ‘feminine’ scent in a women’s clothing store helps create positive purchase intent.”

At Starbucks, the scent of fresh coffee, without the scent of food is intentional, yet subtle at the same time. Think “New car smell” is natural? It isn’t! Car manufacturers go to great lengths to treat leather with special aromas.

Get ready for the future: As the authors of the book Whiff! The Revolution of Scent Communication in the Information Age state, brands are quite bullish on scent marketing. This may be the single-most underutilized resource in the brand game.  Yet, big brands are learning how to use scent more effectively.

5. Touch: Digital touch points are everywhere.

By the year 2020, most of McDonalds’ 14,000 locations will have kiosks installed to enable you to order your food without dealing with a human being. Simply press which menu items you’d like to eat on a full-color screen and within a couple of minutes your food will be waiting for you. This means shorter lines and less of a chance that someone may mishear your order. McDonalds will add 1,000 kiosks at its stores every quarter for the next two years, according to CNBC. And if this experiment succeeds, expect other retail and food brands to follow suit.

Get ready for the future: With devices like the Amazon Echo, Google Home, and Apple’s Siri ubiquitous in the Western world, customers now have direct access to AI. In the future, when you walk into a retail store, you may be able to say precisely what you’re looking for and then either a human or machine will find that product and bring it to you or bring you to it immediately.


There are many ways to appeal to the five senses to stimulate more retail purchases. But, ultimately, the goal should be to improve the overall customer and shopping experience. Creating an in-store sensory experience that customers can’t get online is a key differentiator for brick-and-mortar stores.

Stores that use sensory design techniques may find themselves better equipped to compete with online retailers. When designing your retail store, be aware how sight, sound, touch, smell, and in some cases, taste can improve your customers’ experience.


bottom of page