The Odor Effect: Stores That Smell Better Do Better Business

Take a whiff. What does your store smell like? If the answer is Mr. Clean, Lean Cuisine, or “nothing,” consider the latest research in scent marketing.

Time magazine reports that researchers in Belgium recently conducted a 10-day experiment at a chain bookstore that gauged customer behavior when the smell of chocolate wafted through the air.

Candle image courtesy of Diptyque

Dispensers releasing a chocolate scent were placed in two locations, and researchers found that people were twice as likely to look at more than one book closely when the scent was present. They also were roughly three times more likely to chat up staffers and ask questions after browsing. Sales increased by 40 percent in some book categories,  by 22 percent in others. Interestingly, women were more likely than men to dawdle and buy books in the romance and cookbook sections.

While chocolate may not be the most appropriate aroma for a jewelry store, keeping tabs on scent marketing research may help you uncover an odor that encourages shoppers to linger longer in your store.

The authors of the study concluded that disseminating delightful scents in the air led “consumers to explore the store.” For optimal results, “retailers should also pay attention to whether the scent is thematically appropriate for the store’s products (e.g., sea breeze for a surfing shop).”

For many retailers, the standard for in-store smells is “clean.” But sinus-smarting scents from cleaning products aren’t ideal, said retail expert Nick Falla in a seminar he hosted at JCK Las Vegas this year. “I mean, how long do you want to stay in a store and have your sinuses burned up?” he asked. Women’s perfume and perfumed candles, similarly, aren’t recommended, simply because scents that complex are so subjective.

Luckily, there are a handful of universally loved scents. In 2010, a group of Israeli neurobiologists defined them by testing dozens of smells on people in Israel and Ethiopia—two starkly different demographics—to find out whether great smells were universal or specific to cultures.

The five most-loved scents leaned largely toward citrus: lime, grapefruit, bergamot, orange, and peppermint. Runner-ups included freesia flowers, amyl acetate (a molecule that smells like apples and bananas), cassia (similar to cinnamon), mimosa flowers, and fir tree.

The worst-ranked scents were sharp and vinegary: carboxylic acids or amines and cyclohexanol. And, bad news for patchouli and musk lovers: both cult-fave scents ranked among the least-loved odors in the plant-based category.

Absent from the odors tested, for some reason, was vanilla—which numerous scientists have crowned the most beloved scent in existence. A study at Tubingen University in Germany, for example, once proved that vanilla reduced the startle-reflex in both humans and animals, and various studies have shown that vanilla reduces stress and anxiety.

JCK Magazine Editor