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Retail customer experience

Managing In-Store Ambience to Support Good CX

Environmental Factors Like Temperature, Humidity, Scent, and More Affect Shoppers and Employees

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In late June, a Bank of America analyst report accused homewares retailer Bed, Bath & Beyond of turning off the air conditioning in its stores to help cut utility costs as the retailer grapples with a significant drop in sales. Bank of America analysts reported the efforts to reduce spending on utilities after visiting several stores, but Bed, Bath & Beyond denied that stores were directed to adjust their air conditioning, and told the New York Post that “there have been no corporate policy changes in regard to utilities usage.”

Regardless of whether the stores’ temperature controls were changed by corporate directive or not, it is clear that the overall in-store ambience must be considered as a driver of good CX. Customers have many online shopping options available, and if they choose to venture to a physical retail location, it is imperative to make sure the physical environment is inviting and comfortable.

There are several factors that influence the overall in-store ambience within a retail store, of which temperature, air quality and humidity, scent, cleanliness, organization, and noise are the most noticeable and controllable. When these factors are set to optimal levels, customers may not even notice them, but if anything is out of balance, it can significantly impact the customer experience, as well as impact sales and future visits.  

Temperature

The American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) suggests that operators keep their stores between 68.5 degrees F to 75 degrees F in the winter, and from 75 degrees F to 80.5 degrees F in the summer, with the key differentiating factor being occupant clothing selection. It is also important to consider the impact of adjusting the temperature too far in one direction: if the store is too hot or too cold, customers likely will not browse items for as long and will leave sooner than they had planned.

Depending on the size of the store, creating the optimal temperature can be achieved via manual control or smart sensors, which can communicate with the air conditioning system and then automatically adapt the in-store temperature in real time, based on occupancy levels, outdoor air temperature, sunlight, or other factors.

Humidity

Along with temperature, high humidity can lead to highly unpleasant shopping conditions, which will make people less likely to spend time in your store, especially a clothing store, where customers may want to try on garments. High humidity makes the air feel “sticky,” which is not conducive to trying on clothing, and may make staffers less willing to deliver excellent customer service.

ASHRAE recommends that relative humidity within indoor environments should be limited to no higher than 65%, but dropping relative humidity levels to below 40% can make the environment too dry. The result could not only be uncomfortable for shoppers, but could also introduce static shock if customers inadvertently are touching metal surfaces, such as doorknobs, railings, or equipment (such as televisions or stereos on display).

Air Quality

Like temperature, customers expect to walk into a store environment that complements the climate conditions outside, so that the air inside is as comfortable as possible. Air that is musty, damp, or charged with pollutants such as carbon dioxide, can easily mar the shopping experience, causing customers to shorten their experience and time in the store. Moreover, dangerous air pollutants, such as carbon monoxide, can be extremely dangerous, and can endanger not only customers, but employees. That’s why it is important to have quality air filtration and air renewal/exchange systems in place, which can also serve as additional barriers against airborne viruses.

Scent

Another ambience factor that can drastically impact CX is scent: no one wants to shop or work in a store where there is an unpleasant odor. Sometimes, neighboring store activities (such as restaurants, smoke shops or hookah lounges, or other businesses) will generate unpleasant odors, so it is important to utilize proper ventilation, and actively monitor the space to ensure the ventilation systems and air filters are operating properly.

On the other hand, attractive, welcoming shop scents can not only draw customers inside, but also make them feel at ease and most likely stay for longer. Depending on the type of store, it may make sense to accentuate the odors of the product that is sold, or simply create a pleasing scent that is not overwhelming, to lure customers in and entice them to spend time in the store.

Cleanliness

Store cleanliness is crucial, as it has an impact on scent, air quality and health. Moreover, a clean store demonstrates that the retailer cares about the business, its employees, and its customers, both in terms of health and safety, as well as aesthetically. 

Noise and Background Music

Noise, whether intentional or not, can also impact the customer’s overall experience within the store. Ambient noise, such as the noise from a parking lot, street, or other shops, should be mitigated via the use of soundproofing, so that the customer is not distracted by outside activities.

For intentional noise, such as music, it is important to consider the volume and position of speakers, so that customers are not distracted when trying to make purchasing decisions, conduct transactions, or speak with others in their party or a staffer. Additionally, it is important to match the type of music to the tone and feel of the store and your customers; playing heavy metal music or rap in an organic tea shop may not be conducive to attracting and retaining potential shoppers. It is also important to consider variety, as shoppers (and employees) that hear the same songs ad nauseum may simply choose to shop or work elsewhere.

Organization

Ambience can also extend to how the store is organized. If the flow of the store makes it difficult to locate items, or hard to navigate between various sections, it can make the shopping experience far more time-consuming and stressful than necessary. Consider using anonymized video to periodically track how shoppers are moving throughout the store, and then organize items to ensure a balance between encouraging spending on high-value items and supporting customer convenience.

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 a better overall experience for customers, increasing revenue and creating more goodwill for future in-store visits.

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