Recreating a Brick and Mortar Ambience in an Online Store

This article offers tips for how retailers can translate their physical store ambience to their ecommerce stores for a seamless customer experience.

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Consumers don’t want to simply shop a brand. They want to experience it. This is why store ambience has become so pivotal to retail brands.

A survey of consumers’ retail preferences by design consultancy Dalziel & Pow shows that 41 percent of shoppers value store ambience — placing it above customer service, location and friendliness of staff.

This understanding is forcing retailers to experiment with different ways to engage consumers in a shopping experience that lets shoppers fully immerse themselves with brands. Most of this experimentation has to do with the ambience or atmosphere of a store being designed in a way that encourages consumer interaction.

“Deliberate atmospheric choices subconsciously deliver information to each customer,” Marek Biernacinski writes at H2Insider. He explains that a mindful showroom ambience reinforces the value of the brand to customers and can significantly contribute to customers’ overall experience with the store.

Creating the right atmosphere for customers does not apply only to brick and mortar stores. Online storefronts also have to be designed to create an ambience that immerses the shopper in the eCommerce experience to make them feel as if they are connecting with the brand.

Here are a few tactics eCommerce retailers can use to translate that in-store experience to the digital realm.

3 Tips for Recreating Store Ambience Online

Not all of the typical atmospheric elements of a physical store — music, lighting, scents — can be transferred to an eCommerce store. However, there are some ways that retailers can translate the ambience of the brick and mortar store to the ecommerce store.

Tip No. 1: Translate the Customer Experience Online

Every interaction that a customer has with a brand is an experience, and that experience determines how those customers will continue to interact with the brand, says Nicola Carter at brand experience design firm Rufus Leonard.

Recreating in-store experiences online can be challenging. When creating experiences in a physical store, companies can utilize the sensory elements to create the perfect atmosphere. Some of these elements are stymied online, but retailers can mimic these experiences in a cohesive manner online using these key design elements:

  • Images, which are key to evoking the emotions that companies want their customers to feel for their brands. Whereas in-store experiences are centered around lights, sounds, smells and touch, online experiences rely on images to evoke those same emotions.
  • Color, also a key driver of emotion. When recreating a store’s ambience online, retailers need to use color to make customers feel and experience the brand as they would in the store. Shutterstock has a nice guide that explains what the most common colors mean in different cultures.
  • Fonts, which also play a role in evoking emotion for online shoppers. A few years back, Wichita State University’s Software Usability Research Lab conducted a survey to determine which emotions were associated with different fonts. Arial, for example, scored highly both for stability but also was knocked for being unimaginative. When choosing fonts, it’s also important to make sure they are readable and understandable, in addition to congruent with the feelings you seek to evoke, says designer and content marketer Steve Cartwright.
  • Video, which can be used to engage the senses in online shoppers, transporting shoppers into another dimension with the brand.

Thought challenging, creating an on-brand, multi-sensory customer experience online helps retailers’ eCommerce sites perform better.

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Tip No. 2: Use Descriptive Storytelling

Because online stores don’t allow for the sensory experiences that physical stores do, retailers have to rely on their abilities to tell their stories to create the right ambience online. As Cate Trotter, head of trends for Insider Trends, says it, “Storytelling is the ultimate engagement and retention tool.”

The brand story represents who the brand is and what it stands for. These stories create emotional connections between the company and its customers. Effective brand stories can mean the difference between a customer choosing one brand over another.

That’s why it is so important to get the story right. In her article for Shopify, writer Alexandra Sheehan outlines how companies can create and share their brand stories:

  • Determine the purpose of the brand beyond the products.
  • Understand how the products fit into the brand story.
  • Get to know the target audiences’ passions and pain points.
  • Ensure the story is authentic.
  • Communicate the story consistently across all channels.

The key is to craft a story that engages customers and allows them to make an emotional connection. In-store atmosphere reflects a brand’s story, and so should the ambience of an online store.

When telling the brand story online, companies need to use descriptive words that bring in all of the senses to help customers immerse themselves with the brand and connect with the story.

Tip No. 3: Keep the Online Store Clean and Simple

eECommerce sites with cleaner designs perform better, says Kuno Creative’s Sandy More. Clean, simple, user-friendly websites provide customers with a sense of security that gives them confidence to do business with you, explains Vinny Galiano, president of branding at Minion Made.

When websites are cluttered, they become difficult to navigate and frustrate users, who often bounce as quickly as they landed. Sites that are cluttered with too much information or are “over-designed” are a turn-off to customers, says writer Carrie Cousins.

When designing an ecommerce site, it is important to focus on usability and readability. Focus on arranging elements to make sites as user-friendly as possible.

  • Place the most visually-intriguing information high on web pages. A store’s front window display either entices or discourages customers from entering the store. The same holds for eCommerce landing and product pages, technology writer Lauren Hockenson says.
  • Eliminate excess text. Too much text overwhelms the page. Focus on using images, slideshows and videos to demonstrate product details. This helps online shoppers reach their destinations quicker, which helps foster a pleasant shopping experience.
  • Simplify the navigation. Just as in-store shoppers expect to easily navigate to what they are looking for, so do online shoppers. One way to help shoppers navigate an online store is with breadcrumbs that lets the know where they are and the path they took to get there, notes creative director Genevieve Tuenge. Get rid of any unnecessary roadblocks that keep customers from easily locating what they want.

By keeping the online store clean, companies make it easier for shoppers to do their shopping. A clean store can also encourage shoppers to browse a bit longer and make a few more purchases.

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Keep the Ambience Cohesive Across all Storefronts

By bridging offline and online efforts, brands create experiences that blur the line of distinction between these channels. Shoppers don’t differentiate between the two — they just shop where it is most convenient, notes Denise Chan, product marketing manager at Ricoh Innovation. A consistent ambience caters to shoppers’ expectations.

When customers experience a brand, regardless of channel, they need to feel as though everything is from the same source, says the team at marketing consulting company Sage Age Strategies. They offer a couple of tips for creating this seamless brand experience:

  1. Know and understand different buyer personas to create content that speaks to all audiences through any brand channel.
  2. Make sure information is consistent across all channels because consistency and reliability are the pillars of trust for consumers.

Brands need to be careful to keep design elements consistent, too. Make sure colors, fonts and special offer wording are uniform across channels, says Nathan Blair, former SEO manager at These details are significant to consumers when they are deciding whether or not to trust your brand and buy your products.

Consistency is the Key

Customers interact with different channels at different points in their journeys. So, it is important to create a consistent atmosphere across all channels to ensure customers recognize the brand and form a connection that encourages trust and interaction. If offline and online channels don’t align, customers will be confused and turn to a brand they feel they can trust.

Images by: andreahast/©123RF Stock Photo, antonioguillem/©123RF Stock Photo, elwynn/©123RF Stock Photo

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