How Retailers Influence Buyer Behavior and Increase Impulse Buys

The Science Behind Why We Buy More

Zoran Milich/Getty Images

Retailers, including supermarkets, use various strategies to get you to spend more money. Retailers used to invest in clever advertising agencies to come up with catchy slogans and signs that would encourage shoppers to buy. But since the 1970s, retailers stopped constructing stores that were merely attractive and instead began building environments designed with atmospherics that would encourage their customers to buy.

Atmospherics Entice You to Buy

In 1971, Philip Kotler was the first to use the term atmospherics and apply it as a marketing tool. The basic principal was then (as it remains today) that the atmosphere of an establishment is noticed through one's senses. Kotler wrote, "The visual; the sense of sight (color, brightness, size, shape), aural; the sense of sound (volume, pitch), olfactory; the sense of smell (scent, freshness), and tactile, the sense of touch (softness, smoothness, temperature)."

The atmospherics of an establishment can be created in a way that has the greatest influence on buying behavior. From the moment you enter a store you become like a mouse in an atmospheric maze designed with one major goal — to increase your spending. 

The Power of Background Music

Music is one of the most powerful influences on how buyers behave. Through the years studies have shown that slow music encourages shoppers to slow down and linger more.

It is also the music tempo that has the most positive effect on customer spending. Slower music increases sales.

The volume of the music also affects shoppers. Loud music sends customers out of the door faster, despite the age group. Loud music also seems to skew the perception of time. Some customers think that they have spent less time shopping than they have.

The music genre also influences customer behavior. For example, Top 40 pop music has a positive effect on how much money is spent by teen girls and young women. When holiday music is played, more holiday merchandise is sold. In stores that sell outdoor clothing and gear, country music encourages spending.

Because of the major impact music has on buyer behavior, when retailers find the music that best fits the store's brand and the customer demographics, they can get you to spend more.

The Power of Smell

The same part of our brain (inside the limbic lobe) which controls emotions controls smell. The power of smell can turn you from being sad to being happy, increase or slow down your heart rate, and also make you spend more money.

When stores have a pleasant aroma, customers tend to have a more favorable opinion of the store and the merchandise and ultimately buy more. It also influences how customers perceive time. The more pleasant the aroma, the less they noticed the amount of time that has passed.

The Power of Color

Part of building an environment that encourages customer spending is to create one that is consistent and that the customer can logically understand.

Color has a huge impact on the coherence of stores.

While we all react a similar way to colors, how we react is defined by our culture. For example, white represents purity in our culture, while in China it is associated with death.

Retailers will use color to enhance the atmosphere of the environment based on their customer base. Different age groups prefer different color palettes. A store that is targeted to teens will likely retain their attention by having a bold and bright palette. Middle-aged and older are more comfortable surrounded by colors that are softer and more peaceful.

Retail stores often used red on sale signs in the windows because when people look at the color red the first message that is sent to them is to stop. When people look at red for any length of time, it creates a sense of urgency. With those responses, the color red is a good choice for retailers to use to attract customers into the stores.

While color is an essential element in connecting with customers, it will not guarantee success. However, when retailers get it right, it usually results creating brand attachment and increase spending.

The Power of Touch

Retailers have embraced the idea that touch influences the overall customer experience. Studies have shown that when customers touch and hold merchandise, there is a psychological sense of ownership that is experienced.

As a result, more stores now make merchandise within reach of their customers and encourage them to pick it up, feel it, try it on, and try it out. This applies in particular in electronics stores when in the past, much of the hand-held merchandise was locked under display counters. Today's electronics departments are alive. Customers play the instruments, use the computers, and adjust the volumes.

Warmth tends to bring a feeling of trust and security in people. Automobile dealerships always have a pot of fresh coffee brewing. Placing a warm cup of coffee into a potential buyer's hands could seal the deal.

The quality of an item is often judged by its weight. When deciding on the purchase of a camera, the weight influences the overall opinion of the shopper. If it is made of heavy plastic rather than a light-weight plastic the customer will relate to the quality of the camera, despite many of the other selling features. The light-weight camera could be a superior product, but most customers will assume the opposite.

On busy Saturdays, many supermarkets will have taste stations set up around the stores. Shoppers can stop and not only touch the food but also look at it, smell it and taste it. Combining all of the senses can cause shoppers to connect with the product (feeling ownership), but there is also the desire to reciprocate the kind deed shown by the store associate when they gave them the sample of food. People cannot help it when  they feel indebted and want to give back. Inevitably the shopper will buy the product that the employee is selling, even though they had not intended on doing so when they walked up to the taste station.

Still an Unexplored Territory

Although many retailers utilize the power of touch to encourage customers to embrace their brand, it is an area that has not been deeply explored. A touch is a powerful tool that will influence buyer behavior. So far, retailers have only touched the tip of the iceberg.

Today's shoppers are challenged by being able to keep control of their senses when shopping in retail stores. A massive effort is made by companies to create the perfect environment that will connect their brand to their customers through atmospherics and other powerful marketing tools that strengthen their retail strategies and ultimately increase sales