Role of technology in sensory retail & brand experiences – Retailing Africa


by Sanet Yelland. The changing landscape of new retail dynamics to offer new and more exciting brand and shopper experiences has seen the increasing rise of more sensorial and engaged tech experiences that can transform, engage and ultimately create a differentiated experience for brands and the retail space in which they experience them.

What’s behind the need to enhance sensorial drivers?

Quite simply, by bringing together new technology, sensory amplification and better storytelling, brands can offer up something differentiated in a space that has traditionally been cluttered and fairly traditional in the degree of shopper engagement, both from spatial planning and navigation, and in terms of the amount of time that shoppers will stop and engage in communication vehicles and messages.

We have to ask about the role of the types of technology in delivering these sensory-rich experiences. Where can they be used more strategically to deliver on business goals in the retail space?

1. Tech-based navigability: This is the ability to provide technology tools that can offer shoppers new ways to navigate their retail spaces and find the products that they love and also become a source of differentiation for retailers who consider the simple principle of a seamless exploratory shopping experience where the typical barriers of not finding things are removed. More retailers are investing in this technology to upgrade the retail experience and be a source of competitive advantage in the marketplace through information, exploration and better navigation.

2. Selling a solution with sensorial triggers: While the physical tangibility of products and experiences is still very important for categories, it can enhance a multi-sensory experience for shoppers when combined with digital amplification. Take, for example, Cyrano’s tech device. It is a scent speaker that uses a range of scent capsules to emit ‘playlists’ of smells. Cyrano enables users to set up a mood melody and send it to friends and family through the app. Paired with a video on the app, the scent travels through each scene like a scent-o-gram.

3. Phygital and AR in retail spaces: Although we tend to think of shopper needs as being fairly functional in retail spaces, many times,  brands have successfully captured the imagination of shoppers with brand storytelling, for example, the launch of Frozen 2 into Tesco’s stores. Using the Tesco Discover Augmented Reality app, Tesco customers could then relive the magic of the Frozen movie and bring the stickers to life on their mobile or tablet device. Each sticker enables Frozen fans to explore different 3D scenes and take an ‘elfie selfie’ to access a range of video content that ultimately enhances the customer experience.

4. Enriching new category educations and conversions: To enable shoppers to make better-informed choices about production selections adds incremental value to the shopper and the category conversion, e.g., Dulux Paint Experts: Decorators, an AR app used before purchase commitment. Using the AR app, people can try out various paint colours on their walls. Although it was initially created as a B2B tool, the platform offers rich DIY explorations and more engagement with consumers on the end product visualisations.

5. Dramatising brand benefits and storytelling: The wine category is a rich sensorial category for providing consumers and shoppers with an experience linked to a brand, packaging, and the end experience of taste and exploration. A relevant example is the wine brand Siduri. After scanning a Siduri wine label with a smartphone, viewers see an animated virtual track wrap around the bottle before a grape pops out of the lid and slides down the track into a trap door. Being able to provide storytelling to the experience of the product enables brands to differentiate themselves and be more memorable.

6. Tech solutions to enable shopping payments: Often categories that don’t automatically seem sensorial can adopt clever ways to bring sensory experiences into their distinct brand assets. VISA is a good example. Once a Visa cardholder uses their card, and their transaction is officially complete, consumers hear a unique sound. When customers hear this sound, they know their purchase is finalised successfully and securely. This type of sensory branding provides both comfort and reassurance in the trust of the payment platform and is aligned to the brand expectations.

Connecting tech sensory experiences to future value

While technology is advancing at rapid rates to bring together differentiated experiences for brands and retailers alike, the true value of any technology experience that unlocks a sensory experience is the end goal of what it needs to deliver. Whether it’s tech utilised for a conversion, education, or simply enhancing a differentiated value proposition, brands need to consider the role of integrating tech experiences into the broader strategic needs of shoppers to ensure that the experience is not just fleeting or momentary but rather becomes a platform that can be built on for distinction.

Whilst brands and retailers alike are constantly seeking fresh ways to engage consumers using new channels, enhanced storytelling, and more innovative services, retailers will need to go ‘beyond traditional customer-centricity and tap into new value by delivering the right mix of invisibility, indispensability and intimacy.’

Main image credit: Supplied.



Sanet Yelland is the CEO and founder of Streamline Advertising, a fullservice agency. She has worked across the industry for 30 years, on clients within financial services, wholesale, retail, FMCG and government sectors on notable brands, including Massmart, Dis-chem, SAA, City of Johannesburg, Nedbank, Absa Bank, and Pick ‘n Pay (Score Supermarkets and RiteValue brands). Yelland started the Young Community Shapers initiative in 2000. This project acknowledges and celebrates the achievements of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds by providing funding, bursaries, and mentorship.

– Receive the Retailing Africa newsletter every Wednesday • Subscribe here.