Scents & Sensibility: Why the Scent of Your Store Matters

Romancing the customer—with story­telling, stellar service, and great product—is the name of the game in fine jewelry retail. But all that wooing may be for naught 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.

In retail, scent strategies are the new lighting schemes. Abercrombie & Fitch, Williams-Sonoma, Victoria’s Secret, and Bloomingdale’s have all established signature scents—perfumed footprints that help cement a brand’s identity in the public consciousness.

The trend has led to the proliferation of scent marketing firms, which offer turnkey solutions for scenting and odor remediation (e.g., to dispel strange smells wafting in from outside). The top firms offer a modern approach to scenting a store: a cold vapor machine that sends lighter-than-air drops of scented water into the air via the HVAC system.

Spence Levy, president of Miami-based Air Esscentials—which created a signature scent (composed of grapefruit, vanilla, and cedar wood) for the Independent Jewelers Organization—has scented some 1,000 U.S. jewelry stores. Levy and his staff conference with new retailers about color scheme, shopper demographics, inventory, and scenting needs—among other factors—before creating a proprietary scent.

The most in-demand notes among retailers, Levy reports, are vanilla and grapefruit. “Vanilla-based scents work outrageously well,” he says. The firm’s No. 1 scent is grapefruit-vanilla. “It reminds [consumers] of their mother’s kitchen. And vanilla is the secret scent in Johnson’s Baby Powder, so people let their guard down. Vanilla has purchasing power.” Green tea and warm, woody notes (namely sage and cedarwood) also rank high with retailers.

Ambius’ Ventura uses grapefruit, tangerine, and other citrus notes to banish undesirable odors in stores cursed with odorous neighbors or construction smells. “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.”

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.”


What’s That Smell?

Used wisely, scent can be a powerful selling tool. But beware pitfalls in perfuming! We asked Air Esscentials president Spence Levy for his top tips for scenting a jewelry store.


Be matchy-matchy. “You don’t want to smell leather in a fish restaurant—your brain is going to say, ‘This is uncomfortable.’?”

Don’t cut corners. Glade PlugIns won’t achieve the luxurious effect you’re going for, says Levy. The fragrance will probably remind clients of cleaning.

Tread lightly. “A huge mistake is over-scenting,” he says.Stores keep turning up the machines because they get used to the smell and can’t [detect] it anymore.”

Get some air. Gauge the intensity of your store’s scent by occasionally stepping outside, breathing deeply, then reentering the store. “If you stay in the environment, you’ll never be able to judge what it smells like.”

Mix and match. Though vanilla is hugely popular, never use the note—or any other—alone. Aim for an artful mix of smells.

(Inset and above: Thinkstock)

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