Successful Emotional and Sensory Merchandising

Appealing to customers’ emotions and the five senses can lead to positive memories of a shopping experience – meaning a higher bottom line.

For centuries, women have been considered to be more emotional, hysterical and unable to control their feelings. Yet, men have been proven through many scientific studies to be as emotional as women, if not more so. Just observe a man watching his favorite team losing a game. According to Alison Escalante in Forbes, “In the analysis of 184,000 people who posted about their relationships to an anonymous online forum, researchers found that men discussed their feelings of heartbreak or sadness significantly more than the women did.” This may be because men feel less comfortable talking to a friend or family member about their feelings, so the anonymity of an online experience feels safer and more comfortable.

Yet, when women show emotion, they are called “hysterical.” When men show emotion, they are “passionate.” Words often used to describe a women’s behavior include crazy, bossy, excitable, ditsy, high maintenance, temperamental and hysterical. Not exactly fair. Men are often described negatively as detailed, driven, arrogant and irresponsible.

There is no major difference in how the sexes feel emotions. There may be a difference in the work environment in how they express their feelings, but the bottom line is they all feel strong emotions.

Creativity, innovation and intelligent solutions are the result of a good balance between emotions and intellect. Intellect alone is just half the picture. When Southwest Airlines was taken over by accountants, they decided that upgrading their outdated scheduling software system was not worth the cost. That was a purely intellectual decision that cost this very popular airline their good reputation when their system shut down in late December 2022, stranding thousands of travelers with no recourse. In retail, many large retail chains have been helmed by merchants for most of their growth period. When a “money man” took the helm, many extras were cut to make the stores operations leaner and more profitable. Unfortunately, many of the promotions and visuals that created a sense of fun and interest to customers were cut, as they seemed too expensive and frivolous. Many of these stores suffered losses as their customers lost interest.

Emotional and sensory merchandising exists to appeal to people of all sexes and orientations. These are the extras that can set your location apart from your competitors, while appealing to all people.

Emotional Intelligence

In our stores, we want to create feelings of happiness, wonder, the joy of discovery and adventure, and rewarding ourselves. We don’t want to create feelings of irritation – like we feel in long lines or waiting for someone to help us. Generally, when we feel something is very unfair, its jealousy – why can other people afford this, but I can’t? Despair is another – my life will never get better; I’m doomed to never be able to afford a RV like this or will always have to buy down from what I really want. And last, embarrassment – how does the toilet work? Will I ever figure out how to plug this thing in so the septic doesn’t flood the RV park?

I interviewed a solo female RVer who drove a 22-foot Class B around the country. She only went into RV stores for parts she couldn’t buy online. I asked her about the sensory aspect of shopping, and she said most stores smelled of fresh tires. She didn’t mind the odor but would have preferred a scent that reminded her of where she was traveling – such as a woodsy/cedar scent.

Scents are memorable. Babies know and remember their mother’s and father’s scent. When we smell something familiar and appealing, our whole shopping experience is colored in a positive light.

Positive emotions are engaged through sensory merchandising. How we remember and retain information:

Just seeing = 23% retention

Seeing and hearing = 43% retention

Seeing and hearing and touching = 80% retention

Imagine adding taste and smell – you’ll be over 100%!

How do you add emotional and sensory merchandising to your RV showroom and parts department?

“Scent is our oldest and most evolved sense. Today, it’s used as a marketing tool by retailers to attract, delight and convert in-store shoppers. Research has shown that scent marketing can raise retail store sales by 11% and increase customer satisfaction scores by 20%.” – Nov. 1, 2021, Shopify.com

Appealing to the Five Senses

Food scents are more appealing to most people and are less annoying to scent-allergy prone people. Floral scents can irritate people and I’m one of those people. I stopped shopping at a favorite clothing store once they added a strong perfume scent. It permeated the merchandise and if I purchased something, it would pollute my closet and home. Their perfume saved me money.

Most important – whatever scent you choose to use – keep it light and faint. Some methods of dispersing scents include scent balls that plug in (not something you can buy at the grocery store!), electric scent diffusers for larger spaces and custom scents, and sticks in scented oil in glass bottles. For an RV shop, I recommend pine/cedar/outdoor scents year-round; citrus/lemon/grapefruit for spring and summer; and apple/cinnamon in the fall and winter.

Music is a great way to add the sense of sound. The music should relate to your customers, relate to your merchandise and relate to your advertisements. A lack of music makes for a tomb-like store. But it can’t be too loud, as that could annoy older people and make communication between people more difficult. There’s a fine balance. My friend Laura Goodrow, who was a solo RVer for two years, suggests having traveling music songs that have a traveling theme. My favorite was CCR’s “Green River” when I road tripped. You can create your store music theme on Spotify or another similar app.

Taste is another powerful sense and can easily be engaged by having a candy bowl at the service desk. This sense is the most ignored in non-food stores but goes a long way towards shopping memory retention. One piece of hard candy can create a positive memory. For higher priced goods, one chocolate kiss or small square of chocolate can cement a shopping relationship. RV dealers are working with both huge and small sales. Treat your accessories customers with the same graciousness as your mobile unit buyers. Try to avoid the looser candy – red and white mints. And give people water! Cider in the winter is a true gift and popcorn is always appreciated in certain types of stores. Many hard goods stores offer popcorn, coffee and water.

Touch relates to our largest organ – our skin. I’ve covered this in most of my columns. Dust and clean your merchandise and fixtures at least once a week so you can pass the “white glove” test that is unconsciously given by both men and women.

There are several other senses I’ll cover in another column, including the sixth sense – the vibes of your business, the seventh sense – expectations vs. reality, and our eighth sense – the memory of the shopping experience.



Linda Cahan

Linda Cahan of Cahan & Co. has a proven track record of helping retailers of all stripes to look better to sell more. She consults with retailers of all sizes and categories to improve their bottom line through creative, affordable and appropriate visual merchandising, store design and retail renovations.

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