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Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Feasting The Senses

My latest article from the July 23/30, 2007 issue of Floor Covering Weekly.

Feast (fēst) v. tr.: 1. To experience something with gratification or delight.

Idiom: To be delighted or gratified by the sight of.

What do Barnes & Noble, Starbucks, The Apple Store and Anthropologie share? They have each created havens of relaxation – environments that call out, invite visitors in and exude welcomeness. Despite that they sell relative commodities [books, electronics, coffee, clothing], they connect emotionally and sensually with consumers. They feast our senses, charging us a premium in the process, and we pay willingly.

What comes to mind with a Barnes & Noble experience? Big leather club chairs, the smell of books melded with the aroma of coffee from within? Do you hear music playing? It’s in the background, but it’s always intriguing… maybe a Samba or some Baroque?

You can always count on the children’s area. Lots of kid-sized chairs beckon, inviting young ones to discover worlds of magic and adventure in the pages of books.

And, if books aren’t totally your thing, then consider the amazing selection of book-related products: book lights, pencil pouches, greeting cards, organizing tools. The juxtapositions enchant and take ‘books’ to new levels!

Look at how Barnes & Noble then builds a community with visitors interested and passionate about books. They invite authors for book readings and signings. They host book discussion groups. They offer activities for children.

Starbucks has successfully created a place that is neither home nor work, a ‘third place’ where all are welcome, java lover or not. Notice the wonderful coffee-related artwork gracing the walls: black and white photos of coffee beans and whimsical, colorful wallpaper. Music represents such an important part of the experience that Starbucks has even formed a relationship with Hear Music, thereby extending the "music of Starbucks: to your car. Friendly baristas produce your java fix, and regardless of your purchase, you can hang out with or without your computer for as long as you’d like while the smell of coffee envelops you.

The Apple Store captures the essence of simplicity. Have you ever appreciated how totally Spartan, simple, and severe the actual stores are? And yet, there is nothing boring about these places where product and user come together. The simplicity of the setting lets the product shine. It beckons to users saying “Come, play with me. Try me. See how easy I am to interact with! Take me home!” Look at the visual cues. Listen to the buzz of people excitedly interacting with the product or with others. It’s infectious!

Anthropologie [part of the Urban Outfitters and Free People family] openly disavows the hard sell. Imagine! Even if you aren’t in the market for women’s apparel, door knobs, plates or soaps, do visit and absorb it all. The eclectic mix of products makes for eye-catching juxtapositions. No two stores are laid out the same way, leading to unexpected journeys of discovery every time. The store scents tantalize, the music relaxes, the product range enchants and the end result is a store environment that welcomes consumers and encourages them to make purchases.

What have these four distinct retail organizations created? A memorable shopping experience that people want to talk about beyond the actual physical visit.

A place where they enjoy spending time because careful attention has been paid to engaging the consumer other than through a hard, antagonistic sales approach.

A place where employees share the passion and the strong brand image extends beyond the store, to the website, printed materials, etc.

Think about your experiences with stores that connect with you. What do you see as you walk by those stores, open their doors and enter within? Are you intrigued, delighted, enchanted? What do you smell? Is it so compelling that it draws you into the store before your brain realizes your actions? What about the sounds within? Are they soothing? Energizingly toe-tapping? Or irritating?

Is there anything to taste? Maybe a few tools of hospitality like just-baked chocolate chip cookies and freshly squeezed orange juice? How do you react to these sensory delights? Does the store take on a larger-than-life dimension the minute you walk it, or does it recede from blandness and boredom?

Create a retail environment that feasts the senses and you will have a store that connects emotionally with your consumers.

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