Which company has the most successful in-store customer experience?
Apple, with its beautifully minimalist stores? John Lewis, with their renowned customer service and polite staff? Or perhaps you prefer the sheer opulence of Harrods?
All worthy contenders.
But my vote would go to a brand that rarely troubles awards judges or wins plaudits in the trade press - I'd pick the Bellagio.
I believe the Bellagio, one of the largest casinos in Las Vegas, delivers the greatest customer experience. Every sight, sound and smell has been deliberately chosen to work towards a single goal: prising more money from its customers. And how? By relentlessly applying psychological insights to every element of its design, from the overall style to the tiniest detail.
The design nudges begin before the customer enters the casino, with extravagant fountains and opulent settings priming customers to think luxuriously. Who wants to bet a mere $5 in such palatial surroundings?
As punters walk through the door the music that greets them has often been chosen, not on a manager's whim, but according to scientific learnings.
Jenny Spenwyn, Doug Barrett and Mark Griffiths of Nottingham Trent University tested the impact of music on 56 undergraduates whilst they played roulette. The participants gambled with either high or low tempo music in the background: high tempo beats generated high tempo betting. In fact, the gap between bets was 19% shorter than when slow-paced music was played.
Equally important are lighting levels: red lights have been found to boost gambling rates by up to 10%. The effect of sound and light are well known, but cutting edge venues go a step further to tap into the senses. Dr Alan Hirsch, a Chicago researcher, worked with the Las Vegas Hilton to measure whether pleasant aromas might impact betting behaviour. Although his test was small scale, he found that gamblers staked 45% more when he diffused pleasant smells around the slot machines.
Venues also encourage betting by manipulating the perceived probability of winning. Although the odds are stacked in the house's favour, it doesn't feel that way to the punter. Slot machines draw attention to every win; coins clatter into metal trays, accompanied by sirens or flashing lights. Many casinos take it further still. Jackpots have to be collected in person and winners are made to wait in a prominent place. Winning stands out, failure is silent.
Digital fruit machines are even more sophisticated. While the payout is regulated, the volume of near misses is not. Kevin Harrigan, of the University of Waterloo in Ontario, found that near misses can occur twelve times more than chance alone would suggest.
Dr Luke Clarke, from Cambridge University, told the BBC:
A near miss causes a gambler to overestimate their chances of winning. If two cherries come up on a slot machine and they see the third almost click into place, they'll keep playing for longer.
So why is all this of interest to marketers? Well firstly, it's a plea to scour unusual places for inspiration. Every brand looks to Apple for inspiration. Perhaps looking further afield gives brands a better chance of differentiating?
Secondly, the attention to detail that casinos pay to their environment is inspiring. If other brands paid as much attention to their design, whether that's the smell, the sounds or the lights, then they could significantly boost their returns.