Persuasive Design Can Put Jingle In Sales

Just what is it about the smell of cinnamon and cloves that ushers in the holiday season? The aromas, vibrant reds and greens, cheery holiday music, they all signify that the annual retail spectacular is afoot.

On the surface, it appears to be merely a subscription to the merriment of the season; but on a subconscious level all the sights and sounds of holiday retail are a deliberate, strategic means of connecting with consumers emotionally. Sensory triggers are so effective in persuading consumer behavior that experts suggest it can increase sales by up to 300%. Atmospherics, or the study of retail spaces, is the science that backs up this strategy.

Follow the Brick-and-Mortar Example

“The Impact of 3D Virtual Haptics in Marketing,” a research report issued by Psychology and Marketing, documented that auto retailers whose consumers physically touch and interact with cars have more positive product evaluations, experience more enjoyment during the test-driving phase and exhibit a stronger connection with the brand. Similarly, Cinnabon, a baked-goods retailer, sets up kiosks in high-traffic areas and uses the aroma of a proprietary spice blend to seduce passersby. Dr. Alan Hirsch, founder of the Smell & Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago, notes that good smells create a halo effect that positively affects consumers’ moods. According to Hirsch, “If something smells good, it is good. If you view a product in a positive way, you are more likely to buy.”



Online retail brands may not have the ability to use cinnamon to capture shoppers’ attention, but they do have a significant opportunity to use interactive tools in much the same way. They can use technology to affect consumer sensibilities through design, including interactive mechanisms, aesthetics, and applications that add value. All of these techniques encourage a pleasurable shopping experience and engage consumers using a variety of sensory methods.

Three Ways to Harness Sensory Triggers

There are three persuasive design tools that are especially effective in triggering consumers sensually: social, urgency, and authority. First, designs incorporate social media tools to persuade consumers to evangelize reap the benefits of exposure to multiple networks. Secondly, design that illustrates scarcity, such as time tickers and inventory data, is effective in consumer persuasion. For instance, Groupon uses a time-clock and publishes the number of purchases. These techniques translate a sense of urgency and help consumers feel more comfortable in reaching a buying decision since others “have done it.”

This is especially important for relatively unknown or new online retailers, which may cause consumers to be skeptical at the point of sale. Thirdly, testimonials persuade consumers to buy by establishing brand authority through the use of real-world, narrative examples of customer satisfaction. This is particularly effective in targeting female consumers, who account for some 83% of all consumer spending.

Use Captology to Reach Consumers

Captology, a term coined and studied extensively by Dr. BJ Fogg and his Stanford University team at the Persuasive Technology Lab, is the concept of using technology to influence consumer behavior. Using Facebook as an example, he shows how touch points stimulate consumer interaction/involvement to achieve a desired behavior. An excellent example of captology is Jawbone’s UP wristband, which passively collects health-related data and sends it to an application when synched online so consumers can make purposeful healthy lifestyle changes.

How do sensory persuasive techniques translate into online retail markets? They illustrate the role of interaction in influencing consumer purchasing decisions and brand evangelism. To be persuasive, design technology needs to bring an aesthetically-sound framework to the table in addition to utility to allow consumer customization and manipulation.With consumers already motivated to make superfluous purchases, the season is ripe for brands to put their best marketing foot forward when it comes to optimizing design technology to persuade them to do so.





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