How to Create the Perfect Store Scent

All the sales prowess in the world won’t make much of a difference if your store’s smell is the olfactory equivalent of an eyesore. Conversely, an inviting, familiar scent diffused into a retail space can nudge shoppers into a spending mood.

“If scent is done right, it makes people stay longer in an environment,” says Roel Ventura, an ambient designer specializing in olfactory branding for interior landscaper Ambius. “We like to nose around in places that smell really good.”

There is ample scientific research behind scent marketing (i.e., using scent to sell products). Our olfactory capabilities are part of our limbic system, which controls our emotions. And smell is closely related to the amygdala and hippocampus, parts of the brain that helm our moods and memories. Accordingly, scent can be more powerful than visuals, conjuring near-intact memories and emotions with a single whiff.

Choose familiar scents.
Spence Levy, president of Miami-based Air Esscentials—which created a signature scent (composed of grapefruit, vanilla, and cedarwood) for the Independent Jewelers Organization—has scented some 1,000 U.S. jewelry stores. The most in-demand notes among retailers, he reports, are vanilla and grapefruit. “Vanilla-based scents work outrageously well,” he says. “It reminds [consumers] of their mother’s kitchen. Vanilla has purchasing power.” Green tea and warm, woody notes (namely sage and cedarwood) also rank high with retailers.

Consider a “scrubber” scent.
Ambius’ Ventura uses grapefruit, tangerine, and other citrus notes to banish undesirable smells in stores cursed with odorous neighbors or located near construction sites. “These are ‘clear’ scents—when they’re released, you don’t smell anything,” he says. Pink grapefruit is his go-to air scrubber. “That scent, when diffused into the area, does so well. You can put that scent on a loading dock or in an assisted living facility and you smell absolutely nothing.”

Be matchy-matchy.
Make sure your scent matches your merch. “You don’t want to smell leather in a fish restaurant,” Levy notes. “Your brain is going to say, ‘This is uncomfortable.’ ”

Stick with a scent.
Whether remedying odor or putting your olfactory stamp on your business, it’s crucial, says Levy, to keep fragrance consistent: “This is a very big branding thing. If someone loves the scent of your store and they come back and it’s different, they won’t feel comfortable.”

A version of this story originally appeared in the June 2014 issue of JCK magazine.

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