Why you bought that ugly sweater

“Retail atmospherics”—layout, lighting, wall color, music, and so on—can significantly influence customers’ moods, and their spending. Stores jammed with merchandise are known to induce claustrophobia, while those that are too bare can cause agoraphobia. Either extreme can lead shoppers to flee. One researcher found that stores could counteract these responses with the right scent [8]. A cluttered tchotchke shop, for example, might light a seashore-scented candle to evoke spaciousness; a big-box store could make customers feel cozy by piping in the scent of firewood. One paper now under peer review shows that cooler temperatures indoors lead to a more emotional style of decision making, while warmth contributes to a more analytical approach [9]—which could explain why expensive stores always seem to have their air-conditioning cranked up. Research has also demonstrated that consumers prefer spending money in stores with cool, blue-toned interiors over stores with warmer, orange-toned interiors, where they tend to be less enthusiastic and balk at high prices [10].

Touch is important too. Stores that keep their merchandise behind glass or in hard-to-reach places might consider making goods more accessible. People are more likely to buy a high-quality item if they can handle it [11]. Music is likewise a powerful tool: The right genre can increase customers’ pleasure and cause them to lose track of time (which would presumably be a good thing, from a retailer’s perspective) [12]. One study found that popular music leads to impulsive decisions, while lesser-known background music leads to focused shoppers—ones who are, say, more likely to carefully process information about promotions [13].