Adapting Your Sensory Experience for the New Retail Landscape

Posted on July 2, 2020 by Bud Morris

Adapting Your Sensory Experience for the New Retail Landscape

Posted on July 2, 2020 by Bud Morris

From restaurants and grocery to beauty and beyond, retailers must capitalize on the senses to provide their customers with a new in-store experience they’ll remember weeks, sometimes even years later.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, 35% of customers admitted that an enjoyable in-store experience made them more likely to shop with a retailer, while 30% said they were more likely to make more or larger purchases with a retailer with a defined multisensory experience.  

In-store experiences still carry a lot of weight with customers, even though their needs and expectations have changed. Customers not only want a pleasant shopping experience, but also one that’s safe, puts their health first, and ensures they get what they came for in a single trip. 

But shifting the in-store experience to continue catering to these new expectations presents a challenge for retailers looking to use their multisensory in-store experiences to drive sales.

Multisensory experiences post-COVID

Multisensory experiences create moments where customers can immerse themselves in your brand and products by seeing how products work through touch, feel, smell and overall testing the products for themselves. 

Both D2C and traditional retailers can use physical retail spaces to create these multisensory experiences that help customers remember their brand and their experience with their products. 

However, in the post-COVID retail landscape, retailers have been presented with new challenges when it comes to offering a multisensory in-store experience. Customers no longer interact with products in the same manner they used to, and retailers have to take into account the safety and health of both staff and customers. 

How can retailers connect with in-store shoppers on a sensory level without the need for close interaction with products or salespeople? 

Let’s look at some of the ways you can use your physical store design to create sensory moments that cater to the new “normal” of retail, post-COVID.

Demos via digital displays

For many retailers, in-person product demos are a big draw for in-store shoppers. Buyers have the benefit of seeing how gadgets or products work in person, as well as the added benefit of person-to-salesperson interactions to ask questions or get clarification before committing to buy. In fact, 73% of customers who are able to watch a video or “live demo” of a product are more likely to buy.  

This can still be the case in the post-COVID retail environment, where the use of digital displays can help further the cause. Retailers can use digital screens to highlight product videos and “live” demos for shoppers that unveil interesting features and benefits that shoppers wouldn’t otherwise be privy to. You can choose to play pre-recorded product demo videos or do a live stream to in-store shoppers just as you’d do a real product demo face to face with your customers.

Pre-packaged food samples

Food sampling is a major marketing tool for grocery retailers and small specialty retailers. Research shows that when done correctly, sampling can increase shopping basket size by as much as 10%. Many retailers also say that sampling gives them the opportunity to get on-the-ground feedback and build affinity with their customers.

Retailers that market products through in-store sampling don’t have to scrap the idea completely to comply with new COVID-19 restrictions. Making the switch to pre-packaged food samples can be a helpful alternative that doesn’t sacrifice the experiential side of shopping. You can also include a coupon or discount with each sample that encourages a buy-now mentality.

Another option is to add sample options to online ordering channels. If you currently accept online orders, include a few free samples to ship along with the order. Or better yet, take a Boxed approach and let your customers choose their free samples. 

Try at-home beauty sampling

Beauty retailers that rely on in-store sampling and product testing are also feeling the COVID-19 crunch. notes that selling beauty “has always been about personal touch, experimenting with a tester, taking home a product sample or receiving one in the mail.” But in the aftermath of COVID-19, in-store product testers are disappearing from retail store shelves. 

Similar to the pre-packaged food sampling approach, beauty brands can shift to single-use samples that are safer and more hygienic. In fact, they’re also a perfect fit in a world of curbside pickup. Customers who are opting to order online and pick up in-store or otherwise reluctant to travel into the store environment wouldn’t have the benefit of using traditional product samples, but retailers that switch to single-use samples can drop a few in the customer’s shopping bag to continue winning over their customers.

Include scent in the in-store experience

Post-COVID shopping is all about touchless experiences, and scent marketing is shaping up to cater to this growing need. 

Of all the five senses (sight, touch, sound, taste, and smell), it’s the sense of smell that has the most influence over purchasing decisions. People often “taste” food through their nose first to see whether something will appeal to their appetite, or prefer products based on how they smell. 

Studies show that 35% of what we smell stays in our memories, which is why it’s such a powerful selling tool for retailers to use in-store. 

It’s because of this connection to our memories that scent is a prime tool in crafting an emotional experience in-store. If you can use scent to evoke positive feelings or memories, you’ll earn star status in the eyes of your customers. 

LUSH cosmetics is a great example of scent done well. Customers can smell different products and test them, all without needing to interact with a salesperson, other customers, or touch other products. Speaking of touch…

Try touchless shopping

COVID has made customers increasingly particular about where and how often they visit stores in person. Now that the initial surge of panic buying has mostly subsided, consumers are still hesitant to venture into public places like retail stores if not absolutely necessary. This is one of many precautions consumers are taking to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. And when in-store visits are needed, many shoppers are opting to do as little touching as possible.

For retailers, this in itself is a major challenge, as touch is a large part of the multisensory experience. Customers who are able to touch products for themselves may be more likely to make a purchase, and removing this aspect can make for a tougher sell. 

However, retailers should lean into the opportunity to create the touch-free shopping experience customers want. Delivering on customers’ current needs is an impactful way to be remembered for all the right reasons. Touchless checkout, QR codes to get product information, local delivery, or curbside pickup are all viable and long-term solutions retailers can use to prioritize health and safety.

And, if you want to up the ante of a touchless shopping experience, consider using your e-commerce platform or marketing (like social media and newsletters) to share product catalogues, demo videos, and Q&As about your new retail experiences.


There’s no question that the design of your physical retail spaces plays a significant role in getting customers through the door, and coming back for more. But what happens when your retail design works against you? At CBSF, we’ve put our decades of experience to work, helping both large and small retailers optimize their physical stores to gain traction with their customers.  Get in touch with us today so we can show you why so many retailers trust us with their retail design goals.