Experiential Retail: How to Appeal to All Five Senses at Your Pop-Up

Consumers are demanding more from the in-store experience, and the expectations for pop-ups are becoming even higher. Pop-ups aren’t your traditional, everyday brick-and-mortar experience. Pop-ups are special, and consumers want an exceptional experiential retail experience.

“You’re looking to create a memory and an understanding of a product proposition, [often] either launching a product or re-introducing a product, maybe even launching an entirely new category,” says Matt Carle, executive vice president of experiential marketing agency Pierce Promotions.

One way to make a memorable pop-up for customers is through creating a multi-sensory brand experience. Here’s how to engage all the senses for your next pop-up.

How to Appeal to the Senses in Your Pop-Up Shop


“Sight is critical,” says Carle. After all, the sight of your storefront is often the first sensory impression your pop-up has on shoppers.

Sight refers to the expected components of your pop-up, such as signage, window displays, store layout and visual merchandising (make sure your models look like your target audience). Your sales associates are also visible to shoppers, so they should match the experience as well.

Avoid going overboard, suggests Chris Gilbert, senior account executive at MC2, a brand experience agency specializing in events. “Most of the pop up designs over-exploit the visual with big graphics and flashy signage to attract foot traffic,” he says. Take retail company Bulletin for example, who does a great job at visually displaying their brand, while not being too overwhelming.


“Sound is critical in terms of setting the stage and facilitating the right energy,” says Carle. Here, it comes down to understanding your audience and what type of experience they expect versus the one you want them to have.

Gilbert describes a Samsung pop-up event they’ve executed in the past: “The music was loud and fast. [We were] trying to get [customers] to move and dance.” For their virtual reality (VR) tech products, it was all about creating that high-energy experience, making that auditory experience a perfect fit. For a pop-up promoting spa products, that level of energy doesn’t match.

When considering the sound of your pop-up, think about the following:

  • Music: One study found that music with a slower tempo causes patrons to linger longer. Another study of music in a supermarket environment confirms those findings, adding that slow-tempoed music also corresponded with higher sales volumes — possibly because shoppers are in-store longer. Beyond the tempo, you also want to choose the right music for your pop-up.
  • Volume: Ever walk into an Abercrombie & Fitch store to thumping music? Their younger target demographic is likely drawn in by such a loud and lively environment. But if you have an older or more reserved audience, keep the volume lower. Also, if you want to encourage lots of interaction between sales staff and shoppers, loud music will detract from that experience.


One of the biggest differentiators between the online and in-person pop-up experience is tactility. “We’ve lost that immediate connection with the product or the brand,” Gilbert says. “Pop-ups allow consumers to make that connection and have that tactile response to a specific product or brand.”

Appealing to the sense of touch goes beyond simply having the product on display for shoppers to interact with. While that’s an important experience to provide, product demos can go even further in making an impression, and bringing the product to life in creative ways.

Take Eileen Fisher’s Renew pop-up program; the company “introduced its Renew program to bring new life to past Eileen Fisher styles through circular design and eliminating waste,” it reported to Fashion Network. This way, customers are able to engage with the products in a more tactile way, with environmental elements brought in to bring the concept to life.


Scent evokes emotional memories more powerfully than the other four senses. For some brands, incorporating scent marketing is straightforward: Food brands can promote the scent of their products, while perfume or bath products’ scent can also be highlighted.

Carle recalls an experience with a coffee brand pop-up promoting single-cup brewers. “While it could have been sterile and about the hardware, we made it about the end result and the output of the product,” he says. “The scent of coffee goes into creating that environment. That’s certainly to be expected.”

For other brands, incorporating scent into your pop-up isn’t always a no-brainer.

When Nike added scent to their stores, they increased intent to purchase by 80%. During the holidays, adding ambient scent (such as pine and spices) can increase sales — as long as its congruent “with consumers’ expectations or preferences regarding a retail store and its merchandise.”


Taste becomes either easier or more difficult, depending on your brand. If have a food or beverage product, offering samples at your pop-up is one way to appeal to the sense of taste. “Tasting bars are becoming more and more popular,” says Gilbert.

But for brands that don’t offer edible products, taste is less straightforward.

The Vancouver Aquarium took a unique approach to appealing to guests’ taste buds through their Ocean Wise Pop-Up Café. For the second year in a row, the aquarium participated in the city-wide Dine Out Vancouver event. Per the Facebook event, attendees could explore the aquarium’s galleries and stingrays exhibit — rounding out a multisensory experience.

Putting It All Together

Though isolating each sense can help you come up with creative ideas, you’ll be even more effective when considering everything from a holistic perspective. How do each of these components work together to round out the desired pop-up experience?

“It’s not a one-size-fits-all opportunity,” says Carle. “There are many tools in the toolkit, and they should be considered through the lens of what success looks like for you, because it’s not the same for everybody.”

The isolated sensory components of your pop-up should match and complement one another. If you want customers to feel relaxed and at ease, playing upbeat pop music and diffusing energizing citrus essential oils may not be the right fit.

Gilbert points to an example: “One brand that I think has engaged all five senses is the Magnum Pleasure stores. You walk in and smell the chocolate. You see these really amazing chocolate and ice cream bars, and you get to kind of design your own. It’s very premium — the music’s going. You’re excited to be there. And then you get this great ice cream bar when you walk out, and it’s been customized to what you wanted. And you leave feeling like you’ve had a premium experience.”

Plan your next pop-up, from budgets to location, with the ultimate pop-up guide >

About the author

Alexandra Sheehan

Alexandra is a contributor for Storefront. Beyond offering up insights here, Alexandra is a copywriter and content strategist for retailers and retail industry leaders.