Sensing a successful store design

Our senses contribute to our emotions. Whilst touching and tasting can be more challenging in a post-COVID-19 environment, we can heighten the visual, sound and smell elements creating a compelling and memorable customer experience.

To disrupt is to get noticed. In the three-dimensional world of physical retail, the best form of disruption is one that challenges our existing perceptions, and to effectively do that, one or all of the senses must be engaged.

A recent trip to Paris and London showed us how other successful retailers are engaging the senses in different ways and unusual combinations.

Seeing is the most obvious sense associated with retail. In a cluttered retail landscape, cut-through is key to grabbing the customers’ attention. Galeries Lafayette on the Champs Elysees have done that in style with their entrance- a glowing tunnel of light that not only gets cut-through but arouses curiosity. It serves as a “decompression zone” between the busy, noisy streetscape and the wonders inside- and is a great Instagram moment.

Music has long been known to be an essential in stores- if it’s right, you tend not to notice it, but it enhances your emotional state. Or you might love it and Shazam it. If it’s wrong, you notice it, and it jars to the point where it’s uncomfortable. If it’s not there at all, it’s as if the store was closed. But perfumer Miller Harris in London’s Coal Drops yard has uniquely combined sound and smell.

Record-shop-like listening booths provide an aroma and a sound associated with it- for example, woodland sounds with a fresh forest based scent. Both smell and sound are hugely evocative- combining them both is an interesting and powerful idea. This adds to the intense colours in-store to create a hugely sensuous environment around the merchandise.

Retail experiences are tactile. Experience shows that touching a product is one step towards buying it. The sink is a prominent feature in all skincare environments from Aesop to Rituals, but the award for biggest and best goes to L’Occitane in their London flagship, where the sink resembles the centrepiece of a village square in Provence.

Tasting the product would seem to be the province of food retailers- chocolatiers, for example. But L’Occitane on the Champs Elysees have added taste to their multi sensual experience by incorporating a Pierre Hermé macaroon bar with a full dessert menu. Desserts and skin care might not be an obvious combination, but it appeals to a tourist-based audience in the centre of Paris, and the place is packed.

It’s in L’Occitane on London’s Regent Street that the five senses come together. It’s a hugely colour packed environment, with lighting that enhances the colours of Provence. In store, music harmonises with the visual environment.


The architecture itself is built partly from L’Occitane’s natural ingredients- there are columns of lavender, lemons, and almonds. There is the aroma of all the natural ingredients and the merchandise itself, and the flavour of the delights of the Pierre Hermé café. And of course, you can feel the running water on your hands that takes you back to that square in Provence.

Our senses contribute to our emotions. In a retail environment, we should be looking to stimulate as many of the senses as possible and try to do it in new and innovative ways, combining two or more senses to provide personal and intimate communication with our customers — something they can’t find online.

Written by By Gary McCartney

About: McCartney Design are specialists in the design of retail and hospitality interiors and brands. We have created customer centric and profitable environments for national and international clients, including Super Retail Group, bp, Woolworths Group, Greencross Group, and Baby Bunting. For more information, visit:






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