Reawakening the senses in retail
While at first, the concept of isolation seemed manageable and almost comical, it quickly became a global coping mechanism that none of us were prepared for. As innately social animals, many of us felt bereft without the norms of social habits, retail therapy and work patterns.
Aside from careers without a WFH structure and conversations with potential house mates, we were absent of touch, communication IRL, food & drink discoveries, exercise and so much more. While the daily news boomed with increasingly negative reports, our own lives had become much quieter and introverted. We had less to do, less to talk about and even the once humorous video calls became a thing of the past as we became tired of this ‘new normal’.
The effect of this isolation on the retail environment was astronomical, with empty highstreets and store closures. However, despite no official ‘end’ of COVID-19, the lift of lockdown has left us referring to a post-pandemic world, featuring a rapid transition from isolation to socialisation.
WGSN refers to this rapid change as a ‘sensory revolution’, one that “would usually occur over decades or centuries but is now driving overstimulation”. Their team of forecasters believe that we are struggling to cope with the intensity of artificial light and loud noise, creating a global sensory overload. They predict that in 2024, sensory regulation will be the antidote to this overstimulation, and we will find ourselves seeking slow-technology, no-sound environments and a reduction in content overload. However, there is a reasonable argument to juxtapose this ‘regulated’ future. After more than two years of total or partial sensory deprivation, it’s fair to say that many consumers are ready to immerse themselves in sensory experiences. While we may not wish to be overstimulated to the extremes, we are perhaps ready to touch, taste, feel and hear things which bring us out of the metaphorical darkness. Which introduces us to…
Sensory Play. Fuelled by eliciting emotive responses, sensory play is the peak experiential format for brands to create imaginative and memorable moments for consumers.
Here are five examples of brands reawakening the human senses and connecting with us on a deeper level:
Hendricks: A Journey Most Unusual
A production originally scheduled for a pre-pandemic world, Hendricks’ A Journey Most Unusual possibly made a deeper impact with consumers in 2022. For just five nights in August, Hendricks took over the rooms of the Palisade Hotel in Sydney, transforming the hotel into an immersive experience to ‘unlock the five senses, and quite possibly the illusive 6th sense’.
Six theatrically designed spaces featured a number of curious characters, including Mr Foggerty the ‘scent seller’ and Madame Ruby the ‘aromachologist’ and a myriad of interactive moments including art, dance, music and ‘liquid libations’. Through these sensorial experiences, guests were taken on a tantalising journey straight to the heart of Hendricks masterful craft. The first of its kind production, this experience sits outside the realms of on or off-trade, delivering a playful take on brand & beverage discovery.
Byredo: Olfactive Stéréophonique
You would be forgiven for thinking that the limited edition Olfactive Stéréophonique is a speaker in the traditional sense (mostly thanks to the bright red acoustic horn) but in fact, the device is not capable of emitting any sound at all. Instead, the device has been designed to enhance the listening experience through scent! Designed by Devon Turnbull, founder of artisanal speaker and accessories brand OJAS, the Stéréophonique has been created with 10 integrated fragrance capsules diffused via fan system.
Turnbull borrowed acoustic horn loading theories from speaker design and applied these to smell diffusion. But while this method may seem complicated to the untrained eye, the process of enjoyment is simple. Choose a comfortable location, select the music of your choice on a separate sound system and allow the Byredo ‘speaker’ to immerse you into a multi-sensory experience. The most sophisticated sensory play, blurring the lines between sectors and experiences to deliver a moment of contemplation.
Moncler: Extraordinary Expedition
Moncler have recently celebrated 70 years with their ‘Extraordinary Expedition’ exhibit across New York, Seoul and London. Split into three-parts, the exhibition promises to take visitors on a fully immersive 360-degree experience, submerging them in Moncler’s recognisable identity.
The three-part exhibit is defined by: Extraordinary Experience, Extraordinary Moments and Extraordinary Designs. The experience is a CGI-rich film that is projected onto all four walls of the space, the moments are key garments and artefacts from Moncler’s ‘archive boxes’ and the designs showcase some of Moncler’s most iconic items.
Their icon status is derived from alpine fashion and it is this feeling of being in the mountains which inspires their 360-degree experience, utilising digital imagery, sound design, olfactory effects and the sensations of snow and fog.
Camilla and Marc: A Homage to Touch
Camilla and Marc’s neighbourhood flagship in Armdale (Victoria, Australia) is an ode to the local community while also developing a homage to the sense of touch. Citing a need to ‘prioritise meaningful experiences in both an environmental and social context’ the store has been designed to be incredibly calm, composed and tactile. This is achieved with the use of marmarino walls (made from lime putty and crushed marble), terracotta shades, herringbone wood flooring and a pearl-wave onyx bespoke counter. While seemingly a huge mix of materials and textures, the effect is refreshingly tranquil, creating an opportunity to experience the interiors as a calming series of surfaces and textures.
Akin Atelier, designers of the flagship store, describe the boutique as an “intimate experience that could transport the local community into a place dedicated to slowing down and appreciating the beauty in life. It is intended to be experienced as a tactile environment shaped by hand-crafted finishes and singular materials that evoke wonder and awe.”
Dopamine Land: Multi-Sensory Museum
What could be a better take on sensory play than Dopamine Land, a happiness-inducing multi-sensory museum? Open in London and Madrid, the immersive experience is intended to reconnect us with our childhood imagination, emotions and experiences. A labyrinth of rooms take visitors on a nostalgic journey, from pillow fights and popcorn through to the challenging floor-is-lava themed room.
Quite literally the opposite of sensory regulation, Dopamine Land holds sensory overload at its core. With colourful lighting, optical illusions and wild sound effects, the experience is an assault on the senses – in a positive way. Visitors are compelled to leave the comforts of a slow lifestyle and engage with the sillier side of life, even if just for a few short hours. While we may seek a slower sensorial lifestyle, we will always find room for an experience which takes us out of our comfort zones; particularly as we continue to get to grips with this new world post-pandemic.
Playing on the human senses is not a new phenomenon and so it may seem incorrect to refer to a sensory revolution. However, as we traverse into a new dimension of lifestyles, relationships and environments, the concept of sensory play in retail is a revolution in a post-pandemic atmosphere. The lockdown may not have prevented purchases, but e-commerce shopping was lacklustre in arousing any sense of feelings, other than concerns for our bank balances. The sensorial revolution refers to an opportunity to elicit emotional responses, without stimulation overload.
We envision a future in which retail could very well be considered a sensorial escape, in a very similar fashion to travel. We will be able to ‘travel’ into the realms of retail, whether it is a stage performance, a moment of contemplation or an intimate experience between brand and consumer. Regardless of the method, the success will be derived from how the experience makes us feel.
Brands and retailers – take note. The sensorial revolution is coming. How will it activate your next retail strategy?