I was browsing through posts on our neighborhood’s online community the other day, and I came across this rant from a neighbor who was talking about a particular restaurant:

“Why do restaurants, retailers, dentist offices and hair salons blare background music in their establishments? You can’t carry on a conversation without raising your voice, which only adds to the noise level. For retailers this is a total disservice to themselves because I just want to get out that store ASAP.” —Aurora, Ohio

Philip Kotler, the father of modern marketing, first wrote about this subject in a seminal article in the Journal of Retailing in 1973. Kotler maintained that the sensory experience a shopper has influences his spending. This hypothesis has been proven by countless studies, and every retailer today is familiar with what Kotler called ‘atmospherics’ – the ambience, smells, sounds and sights that accompany the shopping experience.

The bottom line is that if you offer a pleasant shopping experience, shoppers stay in the store longer and are more inclined to make impulse purchases. Make their visit a chore and they will head for the door ASAP, resulting in lost sales.

Think the lost sales don’t add up? Try this math on for size: A retailer I know with 16 locations does more than 200,000 transactions a week. Think of the sales bump the stores would get if they could get each customer to pick up just one more item per trip to the store!

But you don’t have to be a superstore to experience the same pain of lost sales. In fact, single-store outlets may even have more at stake, since they are often competing on thinner margins. Every sale counts.

So back to the main question posed by my neighborhood ranter — why do so many stores, dentist offices and restaurants blast that background music? It’s simple — because they aren’t paying attention. In the daily grind of the business, they probably began to get sloppy around the edges.

You can see it in sidewalks not being cleared of snow even days after the snowstorm, in the metal music the night clerk put on without anyone’s approval, in the phone greeting that hasn’t been updated for months.

Unfortunately, everything you do in business communicates something to someone. Businesses send unintended messages every  day, messages that often run counter to the company’s marketing efforts. What a shame when the only message a shopper encounters seems to be saying, “Go away. You’re not important.”

If it’s been a while since you even thought about your company’s atmospherics, here are three things you can do immediately on your own to get back on track.

1. Check out your competition. Visit their stores or offices and take note of the way they use lighting and sound. How much ambient noise is there? Is music playing and what type and how loud? What textures does a shopper encounter? Are there any smells? (I love the smell of linseed oil in a hardware store, but not in a bank.)

2. Ask someone to evaluate your own place of business and offer their frank assessment of what is working and what isn’t. Consider bringing in a retail expert to help. (Don’t be afraid to call the marketing department at your local college. You might end up being a professor’s next class project, which could result in valuable recommendations.)

3. Take your managers through your business and evaluate every aspect of it from a customer’s viewpoint. Brainstorm ways to improve the shopping experience. Try new ideas. Remember, see it like it is, not like you’d like it to be. You’ll only improve if you do your self-assessment with ruthless honesty.

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