When a customer visits your bridal salon, she bases her impression of your business on more than meets the eye – literally. She experiences your store not only through sight, but also through sound, smell, touch and, to some extent, even taste.
    All five senses play a role in determining how a person feels in a particular environment. Senses influence a person’s emotions, and emotions drive purchase decisions. This simple truth makes it beneficial to create an environment that appeals to brides’ senses.
    “It’s all about the experience; it’s all about evoking the emotion,” says Steve Starr with Starr Design in Charlotte, N.C., who helps businesses design spaces that satisfy the senses.
    Having the opportunity to appeal to multiple senses gives brick-and-mortar bridal salons a competitive advantage over online outlets. In today’s retail environment, Starr says, it’s crucial to focus on making the customer experience so special that customers wouldn’t want to shop online. Targeting a customer’s senses – initially and throughout the sales process – is an important part of this equation.
    “You can either define what customers experience in your store, or the experience will be random, but they are going to have a sensory experience either way, so you might as well be deliberate about it,” he says. “Be very cognizant of the messaging that a customer’s five senses are receiving.”
    The sensory experiences you choose to create should help communicate your store’s overall brand message. Here, VOWS shares suggestions that appeal to each sense.

    Sight is the most stimulated sense and one that can’t be ignored in an image-driven business like bridal. Brides visually observe your storefront and window displays, as well as the store interior where lighting, décor and design all influence their impressions of your salon.
    Shoppers respond most favorably to stores that appear clean, up to date and logically organized. In addition, keep in mind the following pointers:

Use proper lighting. Well-designed lighting can go a long way toward appealing to a bride’s sense of sight.
    “Lighting is all about creating a visual hierarchy,” Starr says. “That hierarchy allows you to choreograph the customer journey.”
    Shoppers will first be drawn to whatever is most brightly lit, then to the next-brightest area, and so on, he explains.
    Well-lit displays can also draw the eye to the texture and details of gowns. Chandeliers and LED spotlights can be used to make stones and sequins sparkle and shine.

Make merchandise stand out. Simple interior design can help direct the eye to your product.
    “We want our gowns to be the center of attention, so we try to keep any other store décor at a minimum,” says Tina Berry, co-owner of New Beginnings Bridal Studio in Puyallup, Wash. “We designed the elements of the store itself to be the décor so that the only other ‘fluff’ customers see is the beautiful inventory we have on display.”
    Also, with the majority of bridal inventory being white or ivory, it can be helpful to use color and patterns to create a clear, yet subtle contrast between samples and surroundings. Backdrops should tie in with your brand. However, Starr warns that too strong or dark of a background color may feel less comforting.

Bring products to life. In addition to displaying dresses on mannequins, today’s technology can be an engaging means of helping brides envision a gown’s fit. For example, a digital frame can scroll through designers’ stock photos or your brides’ wedding pictures.
    Digital signage can be used in a similar way, suggests Trey Courtney with Mood Media, a company that combines sight, sound and scent solutions to create better customer experiences.
    As well as showcasing dresses, digital signage can be great for promoting accessories, Courtney says, considering that 68 percent of Americans have made an unplanned purchase simply because they saw something featured on in-store digital signage.
You can also use the technology to feature live feeds of social-media posts in which your salon is tagged.

    The sounds in your store can greatly influence customer emotions. What you choose for your customers to hear, as well as the degree of quiet privacy you provide, creates a certain atmosphere and level of comfort.
    Music, in particular, is commonly used in retail to establish a mood and put the customer in a specific state of mind. For a bride, the “incredibly evocative power of music” is one of the most effective ways to make her shopping experience special, says Mood Media’s Danny Turner.
    “Spanning across generations and demographics, music literally provides the soundtrack to the most important moments in your life,” Turner says. “Celebrating this moment with a thoughtfully curated playlist will make it much more memorable.”
    Here are some things to think about when making your playlist.

Go with a genre that blends with your brand. Take into account the tempo and energy of the music. Slow music has been shown to make shoppers move more slowly through a store and buy more. Classical music has been found to make people purchase more expensive items. That said, the music you play should reinforce your key customer messaging and be in tune (pun intended) with your store’s branding.
    While many bridal salons opt for classical music or love songs, Cathy Montante, owner of Collezione Fortuna Fashion Boutique and Bridals in Carmel, Calif., prefers classic rock and blues.
    “Clients love it,” Montante says. “It creates a party-like atmosphere. Some girls actually start dancing or we all start dancing and have fun.”

Forgo fads. Select songs that are timeless in their relevance, Turner recommends.
    “That doesn’t mean it needs to be all classic selections, but look for selections that have natural grace and staying power,” he says.

Keep volume low. Research has shown that shoppers spend more time in a store when music is playing softly. Keep the volume low enough that it doesn’t inhibit conversation. Rather, it should be able to softly fill the gaps in the cadence of conversations, Turner says.
    Aside from music, be mindful of sound transmission within the store, especially in areas where customers appreciate a sense of privacy such as dressing rooms or viewing areas. When trying to create an immersive experience for your brides, the conversations of other customers or store staff can be disruptive.
    Create a more personal experience by using textured surfaces to distort sounds and soft materials to absorb sound waves, Starr suggests. Curtains, fabric-wrapped wall panels, upholstery and carpet can be helpful to absorb sound.

    Research shows that of all the senses, scent is the most powerful trigger of emotion and memory.
    “Of course, finding the perfect dress is a highly emotional experience on its own, and incorporating scent into that experience only heightens that special moment and can make it even more memorable for years to come,” Courtney says.
    So, what does your store smell like? Every environment has its own smell, but if you’re in the space every day, you may stop noticing it. Be aware of how your store smells, as it will elicit a specific emotional response from customers. Then, try the following suggestions to build your brand identity through scent.

Add an aroma. There are a variety of ways to make your store smell pleasant. Starr recommends placing a vase of fresh-cut flowers in the entryway and other key customer touchpoints such as dressing rooms, viewing areas and where purchases are finalized. Alternatively, many salons add fragrance and a cozy feel with scented candles or Scentsy warmers.
    High-tech options are available, as well. Companies such as Mood Media offer fragrances that can be diffused in a single area or through an HVAC system. The cost effectiveness, of course, depends on the scale of the business.

Evoke emotions. Consider scents that will help a bride envision her wedding day and “emotionally transport her,” Courtney recommends. Perhaps a floral scent will help her emotionally connect to the moment she’ll be walking down the aisle and the smell of the bouquet that will be in her hand.
    Jennifer Thompson, owner of Facchianos Bridal and Formal Attire in Broken Arrow, Okla., chooses vanilla for her store. It is widely appealing, she says, and brides tell her it smells like wedding cake!

Be subtle. Remember that the scent should be barely noticeable, never overwhelming or distracting. You want customers to enjoy it on more of a subconscious level. A scent that is too strong can be overpowering or irritating.

    Appealing to customers’ sense of touch can help make them feel more connected to the product and more involved in the shopping experience. Touch provides shoppers with important information to consider in their purchase decisions. The feel of a gown, as well as textures found in your salon, conveys a sense of quality.
    Consider the following ways to provide customers with a tactile experience.

Make products accessible. Research shows that customers are more likely to buy a product if they can touch it first. This is especially true with non-routine purchases of higher-priced items. Encourage customers to explore a product through touch while pointing out the quality of its materials and construction.

Let customers be hands-on. Especially useful for closed-stock salons, Courtney suggests engaging the sense of touch by building an interactive “look book” on a tablet app that enables in-store customers to easily preview various styles.
    “Consumers want an interactive experience; they want to be involved in the process. Rather than let them into the back of the store, bring the back of the store to them via touch technology,” Courtney says.

Design with touchable textures. A bridal shop should be very textural, according to Starr. The space should emphasize the sense of touch by featuring unique textures in the furniture, fixtures and finish materials. 
    In New Beginnings Bridal Studio, customers notice the roughness of warm-toned wood, smooth marbling of concrete floors, softness of shag carpeting in the guest rooms and waiting area, and raw variation of metal industrial racks and signage.

Add a personal touch. Don’t underestimate the power of interpersonal touch in a sales setting as intimate as bridal. A handshake upon meeting and a hug when a bride finds her dress can help establish trust and build relationships with customers.

    The sense of taste plays a much more limited role in bridal, but is still a powerful contributor to a person’s emotional response to an environment. Here are a couple options to incorporate taste.

Offer refreshments. Even a small dish of mints can satisfy the taste buds. The availability of beverages can keep customers comfortable. A champagne toast following a purchase can create a celebratory mood. Offering hors d’oeuvres during special events can also elevate the experience.

Add flavor to your favor. Find creative ways to send customers home with a sweet treat. The Special Event Boutique and Bridal in Alexandria, Minn., gives out custom-labeled strawberry flavored lip balm so customers always have the store’s contact information with them.


 Special Thanks to Store Sources:
Collezione Fortuna Fashion Boutique and Bridals, Carmel, Calif.
Facchianos Bridal and Formal Attire, Broken Arrow, Okla.,
I Do Bridal, Seattle
New Beginnings Bridal Studio, Puyallup, Wash.
The Special Event Boutique and Bridal, Alexandria, Minn.
Uptown Bridal & Boutique, Chandler, Ariz.
Wedding Belles Bridal Salon, Stevensville, Mich.