How Visual Merchandise Can Engage All 5 Senses


What is the first thing you notice about a store when you walk into a clothing retailer? Your answer might be different depending on the store at hand. For example, if you’re thinking of a store like Nordstrom, you might notice how spread out the merchandise is or the clean lines in the displays to give the space a more luxurious feel. Or, if you’re thinking of Abercrombie & Fitch, the loud music and strong perfume scent might be the first thing to come to mind. All of these elements can be attributed to a retail management process called visual merchandising.

 What is Visual Merchandising?

 Visual merchandising is the concept of designing and arranging store displays to generate a response from a customer, typically, either have the consumer view the brand a certain way or to generate sales. This is done by accentuating the benefits of your products in store to your shoppers with the end goal of increasing revenue. The name “visual” merchandising may be a bit misleading—of course it encapsulates the “sight” sense, but did you know that visual merchandising can encompass all 5 senses?

If done correctly, visual merchandising can get customers to interact with your displays using all 5 senses, providing a full, enriching in-store experience for all of your shoppers. Effective store displays will catch and captivate the customers’ attention,

Here’s a look at the order in which we’ll discuss this topic:

  1. Sight
  2. Touch
  3. Smell
  4. Hearing
  5. Taste
  6. Conclusions

1. Sight

There are countless methods to build a visually interesting display in your retail store. You’ll want to pick and choose the right ways to organize your display set up in order to attract customers into your store. Having too plain of a store display and barren spaces might deter customers from interacting with your products, just as having too busy and over-crowded displays might. Finding the happy medium between the two extremes will give you a unique advantage by encouraging your clientele to have an enjoyable shopping experience.

The following are some of the more commonly used tactics to appeal to the sight sense:

  • Cross-Merchandising: Cross-merchandising is the practice of presenting products from different, but complimentary categories together in one display. This merchandising of strategically placing products together is effective in driving sales by targeting gaps in the customer’s needs and providing easy solutions for them. An example of cross merchandising as a fashion retailer might be displaying belts next to jeans. This way, if a customer is considering buying a pair of jeans, they might justify trying a belt on with them too.
  • Rule of Three: The rule of three is the idea that consumers are visually stimulated when items are displayed in groups of three. This is due to the asymmetrical nature of a display with odd numbers. An example of utilizing the rule of three might be arranging styles of earrings, necklaces and bracelets in one focal point. To push the rule of three further, consider arranging the styles in a triangular shape to further catch the attention of shoppers.
  • Lighting: A visual merchandising strategy that is often over-looked is the control over store lighting. The lighting in a retail space can greatly influence the consumers’ in-store experiences, and overall aesthetics of the store. A store with dim lighting can create a moody, or more mysterious environment for the shopper. However, bright lighting can omit a more energetic, invigorating experience. Also, consider adding accent lighting to displays to.
  • Window Displays: An essential part to visual merchandising is completed before shoppers even walk into your store. Creating a visually appealing window display gives customers a first impression of your brand. To do this, consider telling a story with your window display, or incorporating artwork to pique customers’ curiosity and draw their attention.

2. Touch

Engaging customers’ touch sense helps hold their attention after effective visual techniques have already caught their eye. If you push shoppers to interact with your merchandise by feeling them or even trying your products on, it is more likely that their interaction will turn into a transaction.

A way to encourage shoppers to use their sense of touch, display different textures on the same arrangement. Contrasting textures will intrigue customers and make them want to feel the materials. Or, display signage that emphasizes the value of different the different materials and encourage shoppers to feel them. If your company sells makeup or jewelry (or any other product that this permits) encourage shoppers to try samples before they buy. If a customer can be sure of the benefits of your product before purchasing, their customer satisfaction rate will skyrocket.

Another method to get customers to interact with your merchandise is to utilize technology displays. Fashion retailer Rebecca Minkoff uses high-tech mirrors in its dressing rooms that allow customers to control the lighting, look for merchandise to complete an outfit, or order different sizes with just a few clicks. For Rebecca Minkoff, this technology almost tripled its sales at its flagship store location in New York. As digital displays become more readily available, consider investing in similar technology that will hold the attention of your shoppers.

3. Smell

The sense of smell is the most powerful sense and can greatly influence a customer’s willingness to make a purchase at your store. The art of using smells in a retail setting is often referred to as “scent marketing”. In studies done by large retailers such as Nike, the use of scents in stores increased intent to buy by up to 80%. All sorts of retailers utilize scent marketing, from gas stations purposely making service stations smell like coffee to car retailers spraying vehicles with new car scent before test drives.

The tricky aspect of scent marketing is finding a scent that appeals to all customers. Doing market research to find out what smells your target audience is most drawn to may be beneficial for long-term visual marketing plans. (Interesting fact: Abercrombie & Fitch has spent over $3 million on scent spraying machines to inject its signature scent, Fierce, throughout its stores.)

To best utilize scent marketing, choose fragrances that are light in nature to draw in customers. Although companies like A&F defy this logic with their strong in-store fragrances, as we have mentioned. It may also be a good practice to highlight the scent of a product you sell in-store, whether it is a candle or perfume. That way, when a customer asks for the name of the fragrance, you can point them in the direction of the product and hopefully create a sale.

Implementing a signature scent in your store is a great way to further create a pleasant, welcoming environment for your customers to shop in and get them in the right mindset to make a purchase.

4. Hearing

The hearing sense is important to stimulate when trying to project a certain mood in your store. Different sounds and music can have subconscious effects on the shoppers in your store. However, effectively creating a certain environment considers many variables about your target audience.

Tempo is the biggest thing to consider when marketing with sound. Faster tempo songs are likely to speed up shoppers’ heart rates and create a greater sense of urgency throughout your store. On the other hand, slower tempos create a more relaxed environment in the store. Slower tempo music is more likely to keep customers in your store for longer and will translate to more purchases.

People are also more likely to have a positive in-store experience if they enjoy the music that is being played. So, depending on your clientele and the environment you wish to create in your store, choose your background sounds accordingly. Selecting popular music from different decades is a safe bet to ensure that customers will like at least some of the music they hear in your shop.

It is also important to consider what platform you are listening to your music on—radio stations or basic subscriptions to different music streaming services often have commercials every few minutes. These sorts of interruptions can be disruptive to the shopping experience and create an adverse effect.

Along with these variables, also be mindful of the volume of your music in stores. While some stores find loud volumes are a benefit when trying to reach their target demographic, this is often not the case. To contribute to a relaxed atmosphere, choose a volume that can be clearly hear, but not overpowering.

5. Taste

If you are a retailer that sells food items, this is your time to shine! Stores that began offering samples of their food merchandise saw an increase in sales of almost as much as 2000%. Offering samples will not only increase sales but create a fun and enjoyable atmosphere that your consumers won’t forget.

However, if you do not sell food products in your store, reaching the taste sense may be a more difficult feat on a daily basis. If possible, consider offering light snacks or appetizers in your store for special events or sales.  Customers will find this experience memorable and create a positive association with your brand. An effective way to do this may be to form a partnership with local restaurants to offer free promotion of their business in exchange for food samples to display at your shop. Connecting with this sense may even be as easy as offering customers drinks while they shop. Just offering shoppers a glass of water or cup of coffee is a cost-effective way to make your customers feel welcomed, and even position your store as more of a luxury brand with this personalized service.


Visual merchandising can expand beyond just the look of in-store displays. If done efficiently and effectively, visual merchandising can engage all five senses to not only drive sales, but create a lasting, positive experience for your customers that boost brand loyalty. First, engage with shoppers’ sense of sight by including strategies to visually stimulate your customers. This might mean cross-merchandising, implementing the rule of three, controlling your store’s lighting, or crafting a unique window display. Next, customers can be heavily persuaded to make an in-store purchase by targeting their sense of smell. Finding out what fragrance your target audience enjoys the most and displaying it in your store will not only create a pleasant environment but is also proven to boost sales. The third sense to engage is touch. Mixing textures in your display and encouraging shoppers to try out products before purchasing them will create excitement and curiosity in your store. Another way to do so would be to incorporate digital displays in your store to have customers interact with your products before they buy them. Fourth, we discussed the importance of incorporating sounds in your store. Playing music to engage the hearing sense is a great way to contribute to the atmosphere of your store. The fifth and final sense is taste. While this may be a difficult attribute to touch upon for a clothing retailer, going the extra mile to offer small snacks or drinks in your shop will have a large positive impact on your shoppers’ perceptions of your store.

Making sure you are engaging with each of your customers’ senses will put your business steps ahead of your competitors. Paying close attention to these details will set your overall atmosphere and in-store experience apart.

Was This Article Helpful?

How Visual Merchandise Can Engage All 5 Senses How can you engage your retail customers by stimulating their 5 senses? In this post, we'll look into how it can be done!
5 1 5 1

You're Never to Cool To Learn New Things

Please note: 440 Industries is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to