Art has the power to compel us to stop and observe. It also can tap deep-seated emotions, associations and aspirations, making us feel as though the artwork is speaking directly to us.

Those persuasive qualities make art a prime vehicle for retail branding, marketing and design. Because our response to a given work of art is so personal, however, the choice of which art to use is crucial to a brand’s and product’s success. This has led industry researchers to investigate which types of art are most effective, and why.

From window displays to the interiors of trendy boutiques, art’s aesthetic appeal has long made it a favorite device in retail design to attract customers. Through its imagery, symbolism and cultural associations, art can also enhance a brand or product’s attributes, providing customers with an additional incentive to make a purchase.

For her master’s thesis in strategic fashion marketing at the London College of Fashion, Julia-Sophie Jelinek investigated whether the use of art in fashion branding, marketing and retail design created added value for the retailer. Based on data gathered through interviews conducted with luxury consumers and industry experts, as well as case studies of two brands that had successfully integrated art into their designs, she concluded that when the appropriate art is chosen and consistently integrated and implemented through the entire value chain, from brand to retail store, it enhances the brand’s authenticity and leads to perceptions of higher brand quality.

A study by a pair of researchers at Seoul National University in South Korea corroborates Jelinek’s conclusions. They found that incorporating art into a retail space produces a "spillover effect," in which the prestigious image associated with the artwork is transferred in the minds of consumers to the retail environment and, by extension, to the brand and its products.

Consequently, consumers report a higher level of perceived value and satisfaction with the store environment, thus incentivizing sales. The Korean researchers note, however, that "a person who normally has a deep interest in art or artists is more likely to view the artwork displayed within a retail environment positively."

In a follow-up study with two other colleagues, they explored how the degree of familiarity with an artist and/or artwork affected customer’s response to art in a retail environment. They determined that while art can sometimes be a deterrent to consumers who do not like or identify with the artwork, it also can serves as a powerful attraction in leading them to enter a store and have desirable consumption experiences when they respond positively.

In addition, they observe, "Retailers can also enhance consumer experience by selecting artworks based on target consumers’ level of art knowledge and openness to experience."

Another factor affecting consumers’ response to art is genre. Kelly Naletelich, a doctoral candidate in marketing at the University of North Texas, examined whether the genre of the art used in the retail design influenced a consumer’s purchase intention and perception of their shopping experience. Her study, involving a non-luxury eyeglass retail setting, assessed a consumer’s behavior and attitudes in three scenarios: when abstract art was used in the retail environment, when realist art was used in the retail environment, and when no art was used.

Her results indicate that abstract art was positively associated with consumer’s purchase intention and their satisfaction with the store environment and shopping experience. Realist art, on the other hand, had little impact, although some consumers did positively identify with the image symbolism in the artwork.

When no art was present, purchase intention was positively associated with the store atmosphere and social environment.

For today’s retail designers, who are charged with designing a holistic and consistent brand story and memorable experience across all of a retailer’s channels (physical and digital), art can be a powerful tool. The findings from these studies suggest that crucial to its success is understanding the target consumer’s attitude and openness toward art, familiarity with the artwork, and choice of genre.