5 Secrets to Get Your Customers to Buy More

Increase your in-store sales with these simple, subliminal retail tips that really work.
candles and tea in shop
Believe it or not, lighting candles in your store could boost sales! Scent marketing is a remarkably effective way to turn customers on to merchandise. (Photo: Kryvenok Anastasiia/Shutterstock)

At one time or another, we’ve all ended up buying more than we intended to during a shopping trip. We may not have been planning for it, but the store certainly was. It turns out small, subliminal changes to your customers’ shopping experiences can make your business significantly more profitable.

From clothing boutiques to bakeries, retailers are quietly luring shoppers to spend more without overtly selling them anything. Here are low­-cost ways you can cleverly engineer your customers’ shopping experience to make your business more profitable.

1. Offer free treats

In many J.Crew stores across the country, store clerks hand out small water bottles to keep customers hydrated and shopping comfortably. Satiating customers by distributing small bites of food can also be used to a small business’s advantage. A study published in the Journal of Consumer Research found that indulging in a sweet treat can boost a shopper’s desire for non­-food luxuries. Just a bite of free chocolate could “activate goals associated with indulgence… and encourage subsequent acts of indulgence,” the researchers explain. Fern Penn, owner of boutique clothing store Rosebud on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, says she’s developed a loyal customer base over the past 12 years because she makes the shopping experience enjoyable. “I serve them chocolates, wine and tea,” says Penn. “I treat them like a friend visiting me at home.”

2. Employ scent marketing subtly

Scents have a powerful effect on consumer behavior, and a growing number of companies across a wide range of industries are using scent as a powerful marketing tool in their arsenal.

According to Adweek, scent marketing is a remarkably effective way to turn customers on to merchandise because the olfactory system is uniquely connected to the limbic system, where our emotions and motivations are born. In other words, scent has the power to trigger emotional memories – like a romantic getaway with your partner, your Grandmother’s apple pie or the comforting smell of a fire on a cold day – that can make customers purchase items.

The Hershey’s store in Times Square, for example, uses artificial scent machines that blow the scent of chocolate into their store. Movie theaters have been known to pump the chemically engineered scent of fresh popcorn to whet the appetite of moviegoers to spring for a $9 bucket of popcorn. And department stores even customize scents based on the department, such as a baby powder smell for the child’s section or a tropical, coconut scent in swimwear. But even subtle changes to your store operations can intrigue customers’ noses and evoke emotion. Panera Bread moved its baking time from the morning to daytime hours so customers could smell its bread all day long. Boutique retailers can perfume stores or light candles with near-subliminal scents to entice customers to make a purchase. Less is more when it comes to your scent strategy: The trick is to not overwhelm shoppers.

3. Rethink your store layout

Small cosmetic tweaks and additions to a store can substantially increase the likelihood of a purchase. For example, adding several comfortable chairs or benches strategically facing merchandise will provide an opportunity for your customer to take a rest (without leaving your store) while remaining focused on your products. Because consumers tend to move counterclockwise through a store, any display to the right of the main entrance is premium real estate. Shoppers will gravitate to this direction first, so displays in this area should be stocked with high­-profit merchandise. The addition of mirrors throughout a store will enhance a space’s appearance and make it appear larger, but the benefit doesn’t end there: It’s also an effective way to get shoppers to slow down and get a glimpse of themselves. This means more time spent in your establishment! Here’s one more reason to give customers an opportunity to look themselves in the mirror: It is a remarkably effective theft deterrent. We behave better when we can see ourselves.

4. Drop the dollar sign

It may sound counterintuitive, but the decision to remove that small dollar symbol on menus and price tags may considerably impact your sales. According to researchers, when a currency sign appears with the price, we automatically connect it to our very own purses – and what is or isn’t inside them. This leads us to believe the item in consideration is more expensive than it actually is. A Cornell study found that a format that leaves off dollar signs, and even the word dollar, gets people to spend 8 percent more at restaurants.

5. Play ambient music

While it’s tempting to play your favorite Spotify station in your store as you work, you may want to rethink your in-­store playlist. It turns out that playing certain types of music can keep shoppers in a store longer and make them less careful with their cash. A survey by the Gallup organization indicated that most retail customers believe music affects their shopping behavior. Studies show that slower tempo music slows shoppers down and increases the amount of time they spend in a store, while classical music typically helps customers relax and results in higher purchases. A study found that shoppers who made unplanned purchases spent an average of $32 more when slow-tempo music was playing than those in a controlled condition with no music.

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