Interview: Involving all senses in retail

An ideal store environment is one that engages our senses. When working with light, we are constantly developing lit experiences focusing on the visual sense. But there is so much more we can do to provide the customer with a total brand experience. Sound design, or directed sound specifically, is an emerging way of giving visitors a fantastic feeling of the brands identity.

To find out more on how it all works, we talked to Margareta Andersson, founder of Lexter, a company that specialises in sound and scent design for public environments.

Margareta came from the advertising world when she started her first company working with sound campaigns for Disney content music for movies, which later lead her in to her current occupation. 

– Working with sound content for advertising campaigns on Disney movies made me think about the opportunity to have Elton John’s voice from the Lion King at the part of the shop where they displayed the movie. We tried a lot of different ways to do it, but in the end there was no product that could do the job at that time. Either there was too much noise pollution from the sound or there were too many wires, Margareta explains.

So what is directed sound?

Directed sound is a technology that enables you to create concentrated sound for a certain spot; exactly where you want it. The difference between directed sound and traditional speakers is roughly the equivalent to the effect of a light bulb compared with the light from a flashlight.

In 2007 Margareta came across the first technology that could be used within retail and other public areas which didn’t create "noise pollution". And here is where the story of Lexter begins. Today Lexter offers a holistic view within sound design, working with everything from the acoustics of the room, psychology behind dynamic sound to branding and sales driven messages.   

Margareta compares the movement of sound with a glass of water. When you pour it out on a hard surface it will bounce and spread over the room. If you pour it over a soft material it will not move but softly sink into the material.

– We record the sound of the premises before we put our sound to it. We listen to the recording in our studio and after that we produce what ever it is we want to do. We need to know about the “natural” sound before we design ours, to avoid making it too noisy.

Scent is something food retailers have worked with for a long time. The aroma of freshly made cinnamon buns when you enter the shop will definitely make the customer at least consider buying some. Also chocolate, coffee and citrus are scents that are common within scent design. But now, even fashion retailers start to incorporate scent into shop concepts. Whyred is one brand that used both scent and sound to intensify the shopping experience in the tough competition with e-commerce. Lexter planned a modern, urban and unisex type of scent in the Whyred shop.

Mood Stockholm 

One of the largest projects they worked on was an unusual shopping centre called Mood Stockholm. Part of their brief was to transform an indoor shopping centre so that the visitors felt like they were in a city. Crucial to the success was getting Lexter involved at the inception of the project so they could advise the customer about the essential choices they had to make early on. 

Sound was an integral part of shaping the total experience within Mood Stockholm while equally providing individual zones, with their own target groups, a distinct audio articulation.

The aspirational "Desire" zone houses the exclusive brands reflected by a high-end glimmering and sparkling sound.

Within the “Wishing” zone the aim was to recreate a sense of London’s ultra-trendy Notting Hill with a soundtrack of soft guitar and someone whistling, while the more up-beat, fast and electronic vibe of the Everyday zone offers a more mainstream staple of everyday clothing.

Combining individuality with consistency was a real challenge; however Lexter managed to preserve the natural ambience across all areas to avoid it being evident that the sounds are changing. The difference had to be incredibly subtle.

More than music

Margareta is very clear on one thing; they do not work with music in shops. Their approach is more sophisticated, encompassing both branding and psychology.

How does the customer move compared to how we want them to is the key question you have to ask yourself when designing with sound. The placement of every speaker and technical instrument is meticulously calculated. The space between the speakers has to be exact; you can achieve more than you think by adding sound design, such as changing the visual expression.


Åhléns city 

Another large project Lexter have been highly involved in is Åhléns City. Åhléns City is one of Stockholm’s largest department stores. Across the bottom floor there are several areas targeting different type of customers. These areas are not separated by walls, which increase the risk of a high noise level. The new beauty department spans 2500 m2  which presents a great challenge since it is not only a shopping venue but also a place where people work.

Within the beauty section there are a number of departments each with a different target group and needs. The cosmetics and skin therapy area necessitated a “feel good”- atmosphere where the familiarity of sound was paramount.  

– A cheerful, flowery, timeless pop is playing, in combination with the commercial tune for the department store.

On the opposite spectrum the Creative Make-up section wanted a more up-beat ambience with a lot of attitude. With no physical break between the two areas, there had to be an invisible border, avoiding an unappealing mash-up of the sounds.

The café situated on the same floor had its own sound design with a distinct Parisian feeling. The objective was to make the visitor get a touch of France and a feeling of being outside. There is a harmonica playing and you can hear the sound of horse and carriage. To increase the feeling of being outside the sounds are designed so they appear to be coming from the street or a café next door.

Lexter has worked with more direct sales driven messages in supermarkets where the sound is sales message-focused on a specific area where there is a sales campaign. If the sound spreads beyond the targeted areas the result of the campaign could be compromised or it could have a negative impact in other areas of the store.

– A roaming cow is a great sound when selling milk, but maybe not the message you want to have when the customer is at the meat section. When working with beverages we have measured a 60 % increase in sales with sound design featuring cans open and ice dropping down in a glass, Margareta says.

All about timing

Timing is another important consideration. There should be the right sound level for the specific time of day. Monday mornings are usually slow and weekends busier. Than there is a possibility combining audio with a customer counting system it is possible for the volume to increase automatically. Lexter has developed a system where the shop assistant can control volume and create playlists for different zones of the store. And everything can be handled by an app on the smartphone.

It is central that sound, lighting and interior cooperate and complement each other to create the ultimate brand experience. If this is achieved the customers want to stay longer, shop more and when they leave they take with them a total experience of the brand.

Photo Benjamin Vnuk, Åhléns, Mood Stockholm: Mathias Nordgren.


This is an article from Fagerhult's magazine The Innovator.

Read The Innovator