How the right scent can make a store irresistible

International Fragrance Day was on March 21 and served as a timely reminder about the incredible and powerful influence of scents. When was the last time you thought about the power of scent?

Of the five senses, smell is a powerful instigator of emotions because of its biological connection with human emotions and memory. Through the effective use of scents, firms have the opportunity to connect with consumers on an emotional level – set the mood, promote products or position a brand.

Think about it. There’s nothing like the smell of freshly baked bread to make you add a loaf to your trolley at your local supermarket, the waft of a French perfume to attract you into a fragrance store, or the stimulating aroma of a sausage sizzle to send you digging for a gold coin at your local Bunnings.

A study run by Nike showed that ambient scent in their stores increased intent to purchase by 80 per cent. In another experiment, the sales of shampoos positioned near a point of sale diffusing a pleasant scent, increased by 36.9 per cent – with an overall shampoo sales growing up to 27 per cent.

The right scent can attract the right consumers, increase sales and value perception and solidify brand recognition and customer satisfaction. By ignoring scent strategies or using the wrong scents, retailers could miss out on millions. For many brands, scent may be the most underused marketing tool at their disposal.

Companies such as Air Aroma Australia and Scent Australia help firms incorporate scent as part of a strategy to increase sales, lengthen the time customers spend in a store and boost loyalty and brand awareness.

But the question is, whether these efforts affect all consumers in the same way – do some consumers respond better or worse than others to product and/or ambient scents?

A recent study I conducted with other UQ Business School researchers found that scent exposure can affect some positive emotions positively (e.g. excitement, inspiration, alertness) and some positive emotions can be affected in a negative way (e.g. enthusiasm, interest, determination).

For example, eucalyptus scents increase alertness but decrease enthusiasm. Floral scents such as rose and lavender increase inspiration, however, decrease attentiveness.

Scent exposure also influences negative emotions (e.g. jitteriness, nervousness) in much the same way, making some stronger while diluting others. For example, we found that spicy scents like clove, a woody scent called neem and certain fish odours increase hostility, while nutty scents like macadamia decrease nervousness.

Further, we found that scent preferences are influenced by individual differences including age, culture and gender. For example, preference for coffee aroma is stronger in Western culture than Eastern culture and among men compared to women. Likewise, the smell of chocolate is more appealing to Western culture than to Eastern culture.

While scent marketing is a powerful tool, businesses should remain mindful that certain smells are pleasant to some, but they could be potentially nauseating – and even toxic – to others. Scent marketing should not just be about getting the scent right (by crafting ambient and signature scents) but should be about getting the right scent to the right individuals.

To scent, or not to scent? My top tips on the effective use of scents:

  1. Identify a need: Scent marketing is important and beneficial only to those businesses that offer similar products to their competitors and rely on scent to differentiate their offerings and to influence consumers perceptions of products or retail spaces.
  2. Know your customers and choose scents accordingly: Age, culture and gender all play a critical role in how consumers react to a given type of scent (pleasant/unpleasant) – so know your audience, know your scents and match them appropriately.
  3. Customise scents to your marketing strategy: For example, use energising scents in peak shopping times, while relaxing scents could diffuse long wait times.
  4. Make scent part of your overall approach to ambience: Scent alone is not enough to set a “mood”. Multisensory effects, such as music, lighting, furnishings and colours, combined with scent, could help generate positive emotions and successive positive customer evaluations of the store.
  5. Consider customers with chemical and odour sensitivities: Offer odour-free retail spaces or, at least, odour-free sections (e.g. aisles, lobbies) and most importantly, offer odour-free products.

Dr Usha Pappu is a marketing research scholar at UQ Business School, The University of Queensland.

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