Perhaps the Y generation did not grow up with Wimpy (named Poldo in other countries) flying, following the smell of hamburgers and promising to “gladly pay Tuesday for a hamburger today”!  But Popeye’s friend, introduced to the public in 1933, showed us the way… Almost after 80 years we know and can prove the strong effect that scent has on customer behavior, branding and sales.  And we can use it to directly increase profits since scientific studies have shown that specific scents can increase sales from 20 to even over 90 percent.

Smelling is the strongest and most primal of all our senses. In fact it is said that 75% of emotions are generated by smell.  It is the first sense to evolve in the evolutionary chain and the one with the strongest and most accurate recall level. Our olfactory receptors connect directly to the limbic system, which is the portion of our brain responsible for emotions and decision-making. Scent can trigger memories or desire that influence decision and can remind us of pleasant associations, whether that is “home”, a beach or a meadow.

What effect does it have?

Consumers perceive value through their senses. Using scents in retail environments and on the products you are selling, improves customers experience and customer perception of the product.  Good smells can have a halo effect and put shoppers in a positive mood, which affects their perception of a product.

Building a stronger emotional association between customer and brand through multi-sensory marketing directly translates to higher prices consumers are willing to pay. In consumer testing, scented products have routinely been considered of higher value (the sneaker offered in scented versus an unscented store) and better quality (scented versus unscented toilet paper). Dr. Alan Hirsch, a neurologist and psychiatrist who is the founder of the Smell & Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago has found in a study that shoppers were willing to pay $10 more for the same pair of sneaker shoes when a mixed floral aroma was in the air. Everything from hand lotion to cleaning products is purchased with scent in mind. Many of these products work equally well, so the scent may determine which one is purchased

Scent impacts the perception of time passing (for example gamblers linger longer at the slot machines). This can prolong customer’s journey (and spending) in retail.  It can also help you for example change the negative effect long queuing has at cashier desks. Scent also has been shown to impact the perception of space so it can change the value-for-money perception of a small hotel room, making it feel more comfortable and roomy.  It can also help you organize a successful event at a much larger than needed hall.

You can use smell to draw customers to your product. For example, Kmart reconfigured its Super Kmart stores so the bakery kiosk with its smell of freshly baked breads, pretzels, cinnamon rolls and muffins is the first area customers encounter. Stores can use smells to direct shoppers to certain areas, where they’re then likely to spend more because of the scent.

Women according to research are more attuned to scent than men.  Researchers found that a gentle scent of vanilla makes it more likely that women shopping for consumer electronics or mutual funds will make the purchase. This might be because vanilla is a scent found in breast milk, and women associate the scent with confidence, says Bruce D. Sanders, a consumer psychologist.

Some studies report that certain scents make people can feel tense or relaxed. The smell of peppermint, for example, arouses us; the smell of lily of the valley makes us feel relaxed. Smells of the ocean or freshly baked cookies can revive very strong emotional and key childhood memories.

I have used with STIRIXIS Group scent as part of our sensorial marketing tools in designing complete and memorable experiences for customers in our systemic concepts.  The investment is quite low and the return on it is impressive.  So choosing the right scent for your retail network can:

  1. Boosts Sales, through prolonged stay, product or service perception, “tweaked” customer experience.
  2. Impress your customers and create a great and complete first impression upon entry.
  3. Strongly and memorably differentiate you from your competitors, enhance your brand awareness and loyalty.
  4. Increase staff productivity and well-being
  5.  Achieves high impact product promotion at the Point of Purchase (PoP)

How and where to use it

As always, you first need to align your scent decisions to your general retail strategy and concept attributes.  As it has such a strong effect, retailers need to ensure that the scent chosen for every space will have a positive effect, build added value on the brand perception and communicate the same positioning as all other concept parameters do. (Read Complete concepts report for more…)  It is advised to either use a retail consultant for this or/and perform a related market research.

Scent companies provide a wide variety of standard off-the-shelf scents.  Sometimes these are too many to choose from but they have case studies to make a short list for you depending on your concept and your target groups. However there are two more things I would like to note as important.  A scent intended for branding purposes and not only for sales boosting should be unique and memorable. So I’d rather not go for cinnamon or lavender to make a brand statement, no matter how pleasing or relevant to your product. If you opt for a riskier more distinguishable scent, your statement will be more much stronger and memorable. Customized scents can also be produced for around €2.500, an amount not extreme depending on your size of operations.

One of the less known characteristics of scent is that its stimulus is soon diminished.  This means that if you stay in an area scented the same way all around, the scent will soon seize to have the same strong effect.   However, this is easily solved as we now tend to use different scents for different areas.  This has too advantages, it keeps the sensorial triggering mechanisms alive but also lets us customize the effect one has in different areas of the same store.  You can watch an interesting story on CBS on the subject here.

The options are endless and the results are there.   What is required is a clear strategy, based on a systemic concept approach such as STIRIXIS Group designs, which will ensure that the return on your investment is maximized.

Scents can be used in almost every area where a customer comes in contact with your brand, products or services.  Real estate agents use it because areas that smell better sell better. Home scents such as apple pie or fresh flowers put life into new and old homes and apartments.

Scents are used with success in Supermarkets, Restaurants and Cafes, Hotels, Healthcare services (even coupled with aromatherapy services) , Retail, Fitness areas, Gaming, Banks and Financial Institutions etc.  Even non-profits such as Goodwill Store use it as nice smell is part of a plan to raise more money for the charity and those it serves.

There is also Odor remediation, i.e removing of bad odors.  According to the EPA, indoor air can be five times worse than outdoor air, with odors from smoke, perspiration, fungi and more. Modern technology in Scents neutralizes them by combining latest odor remediation with new diffusion systems.

You might even want to think extending the use to your billboards or advertising panels.  These can be now be equipped with scent systems to release to surrounding air space the scent that is linked to the product advertized. This can be very effective in high traffic areas such as malls, airports, train or subway stations.

Who uses it / case studies

There is a long list of success stories for  Scent marketing.  Some well-known such as Abercrombie and Fitch some less known.  The long list includes for example Singapore Airlines which introduced successfully their trademarked scent throughout the customer experience, from the lobby, to flight attendants and pillows.  Cadillac introduced their signature scent back in 2003. This scent is processed into their leather seats to assists imprinting the brand upon the customer with every car sold.

Victoria’s Secret has a specific scent, So does Rolls Royce, The Bellagio, Mandalay Bay, and The Venetian Hotels in Las Vegas. Japanese office buildings have used scent in order to reduce errors and increase concentration and productivity. Kraft Foods has been known to introduce a POP display unit scenting their Banana nut Crunch products and Toys R Us uses specialty scents in various areas or zones of their stores.  Disney has been using scent since the 1990’s not only to add to the themed environments, but to increase sales in the food shops.

Top 10 Scents according to Scent Marketing Institute/SCENTtrends

  1. Feel safe, secure and nostalgic: Talcum powder.
  2. Be more alert: Peppermint, citrus
  3. Relax: Lavender, vanilla, chamomile
  4. Perceive a room as smaller: Barbecue smoke
  5. Perceive a room as bigger: Apple, cucumber
  6. Buy expensive furniture: Leather, cedar
  7. Buy a home: Fresh baked goods
  8. Browse longer and spend more: Tailored floral/citrus scents
  9. Develop road rage: Unpleasant smells (rotting rubbish, air pollution)
  10. Become sexually aroused: For men: pumpkin pie/lavender For women: the sweat of nursing mothers