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Sound: The Potential Unsung Hero of Online Retail?

Published April 18, 2023
Published April 18, 2023

Sound has been a slightly under-the-radar, but very powerful tool in the beauty industry. From the wellness and mindfulness meets scent ethos of Inara to the podcasts of Lush and Aesop, there have been a select few brands exploring the medium as a means of deeper connection with their customer and products.

But what about sound in the shopping experience? A UK study across 2,000 participants by music licensing company PPL found that over a third of customers were more likely to buy extravagant fashion items if the shopping venue played pop music. Music ranked second as a priority for 21% of individuals when asked about the stimulants that matter most. In comparison, colors were important to 41% of respondents, while fragrance and lighting ranked lower than auditory cues.

“Music has mood-enhancing powers. When customers—whether pubgoers or shoppers—enter an environment that’s sound-tracked by a catchy beat or familiar tune, they may feel happier. If we feel good, we’re more inclined to treat ourselves.” commented Music Therapist for PPL PRS, Marianne Rizkallah.

But how do these insights apply to beauty retail experiences? Previous research has only delved into specific effects of genres in wine shops, florists, and supermarkets; findings showed that classical music led to more expensive wine purchases, romantic music led to higher spending on flowers, while in grocery stores slow-tempo music led to longer times spent roaming aisles and therefore higher profits as it led to more additional purchases.

One can assume that for in-store beauty shoppers, a soundtrack that complements the feel and character of a brand would make for the most complementary pairing. With 23% of global health and beauty shoppers splitting their purchases evenly between online and offline purchases, music in the digital retail realm is equally as important. For interactive, gamified experiences like The Clinique Lab, simple background music and the occasional voiceover will suffice. But enter most online shopping spaces, and your ears will be met with deafening silence. However, some can perceive landing on a shopping page and being met immediately with music as invasive, making it slightly difficult territory to navigate.

If you ask IFF and IRCAM Amplify, all signs point to an emphasis on melodies rather than complete quietude. The fragrance manufacturer and sound research/design lab partnered up to research the impact of sound on e-commerce sales. Their results show that the purchase intent for perfume products increases by 58% in an online setting when paired with sound.

“If we can reach billions of people through sound, we will enter a totally new dimension in terms of the perfume experience."
By Guillaume de Lesquen, Designer Brands Fragrances President, L’Oréal

"E-commerce hasn’t yet incorporated scent, as there still exist many technological obstacles, one of them being the difficulty to miniaturize and simplify scent replication. That is why the IFF study conducted by IRCAM Amplify study offers such a breakthrough path to scent e-commerce: it provides digital platforms with a potential key to communicating to their customers the ‘emotions’ of a scent, through carefully designed sound,”  Judith Gross, VP Communication and Branding in Scent at IFF, tells BeautyMatter.

Another revelation was the effectiveness of conveying the emotions and sensations of a scent through the online experience thanks to science-based sound design. “Our innovative science-based sound creation expertise, combined with IFF’s expertise in perfumery science, paves a new route for scent in the e-commerce space," adds Nathalie Birocheau, CEO of IRCAM Amplify.

The design lab has previously put its auditory acumen to use in the beauty industry, creating an infrared sound for the Viktor&Rolf fragrance Spicebomb, to embody the product’s slogan “Turn up the heat.” IRCAM Amplify’s team took the spicy accords of the fragrance and turned them into distinctive sounds—an increasingly fast thumping sound akin to a heartbeat to be exact, which is said to raise the body’s temperature. They did so by using the Speak methodology, which through psychoacoustic research identifies how sounds are auditorially received.

“If we can reach billions of people through sound, we will enter a totally new dimension in terms of the perfume experience—one that is digital, universal, and utterly innovative,” explained Guillaume de Lesquen, L’Oréal Designer Brands Fragrances President, at the time of release. Gross sees AI-driven fragrance creation and increasing integration of scent with smart connected devices as further drivers in the push for these types of marketing initiatives, adding: "Colors, emotional attributes, different sensory associations (touch, sound) are the future of efficient scent marketing, connecting to consumers for elevated brand purpose."

Described by the companies as a “digital fragrance sample,” the Spicebomb project went beyond simply dropping some elevator music into an online space. While the overlaps in language around scent and music (think accords, notes, compositions) make it a foolproof pairing, how will the innovations look on the side of color cosmetics or skincare?

If synesthesia is anything to go by, perhaps we can hear shades of lipstick or product texture. Certainly the world of ASMR can attest to the audio potential of rubbing gel or silicone-based products into the skin, but how much could the viral online format be integrated into an online shopping experience, and how many consumers would be interested in hearing it? Experimentation will be the only way to verify this potential; however, one thing is clear: in today’s distracting world of online purchasing, immersing the visitor into a multisensorial experience is sure to keep eyeballs on the screen for longer.


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