What is Atmospherics?

The controllable characteristics of retail space which entice customers to enter the store, shop and purchase are atmospherics. Philip Kotler first identified the use of design atmospherics as a marketing device in 1973. Aspects such as lighting, ambient sound, merchandise layout, and other features are all components of atmospherics. These features are in place to influence a consumer's mood and increase the odds of purchases. Additional features of atmospherics include

  • A layout of the space including the location of clerks and check out counters
  • The overall temperature of the retail space
  • Scents or aromas designed to excite and entice the shopper
  • The location of pricing information or other signage
  • Music to inspire, sooth, or stimulate
  • Decorations which represent the brand

Many retail giants will use elements of atmospherics to help identify their retail brand and set it apart from competitors. One drawback can be an overly aggressive use of atmospherics, which can have the opposite effect, intimidating or driving potential customers away. 

The Various Uses of Atmospherics in Retail

All retail stores use atmospherics, even if they are subtle. For example, a big box office supply store may be known for its wide, well-lit aisles and bright red signs. Upscale retail clothing stores will have upholstered chairs or sofas to convey the sense of luxury in shopping and allow shopping companions a comfortable spot to rest and wait. Shops which target teenagers will often use contrasted lighting and loud music. Panera Bread and Subway® are expert at using the atmospherics of aroma as the smell of freshly baked bread encourage purchases. Realtors also employ elements of atmospherics as they stage open houses. Staging allows buyers to picture themselves in the space through the use of furnishings and the scent of freshly baked cookies.

Real World Example

The holiday shopping season is a prime time to see atmospheric marketing in action. Stores compete to entice shoppers using holiday music, festive decorations, and even "holiday scents" like pine, vanilla, and cinnamon. They strive to create a sensory experience for their customers, who in turn, may be more likely to spend money on holiday merchandise. For example, Anthropologie, an upscale women's clothing, accessories and home store, owned by Urban Outfitters Inc., relies heavily on atmospherics in their stores, especially during the holidays. Every store has a visual display team, and there are seasonal plans for decorating during each holiday. Store and merchandise design come from the store's corporate headquarters in Philadelphia. Given its level of using atmospherics, Anthropologie's aim appears to offer its customers a shopping experience that is carefully curated, from how a store is laid out, how it smells, and even the presentation of merchandise on the racks and stacks.