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Grow Your Business Sales & Marketing

The Smells That Make Shoppers Spend More

image for Prostock-Studio / Getty Images Prostock-Studio / Getty Images
  • Smell has a strong link to emotion and, therefore, spending.
  • Scent marketing and scent branding are complex strategies involving science and art, with the goal of enhancing loyalty and spending.
  • Using ambient scent can make your business smell good and has other applications, such as decreasing stress and anxiety.

While shopping, you might want to pay more attention to how things smell in the stores you visit. Those scents just might make you spend more. While lighting and music can play big roles in how much people spend, research has indicated that certain kinds of smells can also inspire shoppers to spend more.

Scents can influence people's emotions, so they have the potential to affect consumer behavior. Aromas of lavender, basil, cinnamon, and citrus are relaxing, whereas peppermint, thyme and rosemary are invigorating, ThoughtCo reported. Ginger, cardamom, licorice, and chocolate tend to stir romantic feelings, while rose promotes positivity and happiness.

Simple smells, as opposed to complex blends of scents, are powerful motivators when it comes to spending, researchers at Washington State University found. That's because simple smells, such as citrus and pine, don't require much mental processing from the shopper, freeing their brains to conjure images associated with these fresh scents.

"What we showed was that the simple scent was more effective," said Eric Spangenberg, one of the study's authors and dean of the Washington State University College of Business at the time of the study.

For the study, the researchers developed two scents: a simple orange scent and a more complex orange-basil-green-tea scent. For 18 days, the researchers watched more than 400 customers in a home decorations store as the air held the simple scent, the complex scent or no scent.

The study revealed that the 100 consumers who shopped in the presence of the simple scent spent an average of 20% more.

In a series of experiments, researchers had students solve problems under various conditions. They found that the students solved more problems, in less time, when a simple scent was in the air, compared with when a complex scent or no scent was used.

Spangenberg said the research underscores the need to understand how scents affect customers.

"Most people are processing it at an unconscious level, but it is impacting them," he said. "The important thing from the retailer's perspective and the marketer's perspective is that a pleasant scent isn't necessarily an effective scent."

Published in the Journal of Retailing, the study was co-authored by Andreas Herrmann, of the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland; David Sprott, of Washington State University; and Manja Zidansek, also of Washington State University.

As online retailers continue to dominate sales, scent marketing has become a way for brick-and-mortar stores to enhance the shopping experience and boost sales. 

"Companies like Nike, Apple, and Starbucks benefit from this by dispersing specific, strategically formulated scents throughout their stores, and even in their products," scent marketing company Aroma360 says on its website." These scents are used to trigger a certain emotion in potential customers, subtly encouraging them to not only attach a scent to their brand (brand image) but also to spend more time in their stores or places of business (customer experience), all the while creating positive memories with those scents that will keep them going back to the product or service (brand loyalty)."

Nike cited a study that shows that scent marketing can influence the intent to purchase by up to 84%. On its website, marketing company Spectrio says customers are willing to pay 10% to 15% more for the same product in a store that uses scent marketing than in a store that doesn't use scent marketing. Another case study indicated that gamblers put 45% more quarters into slot machines when the area is artificially scented, according to Spectrio. The research noted that our sense of scent is linked directly to our limbic system, which controls memory and emotion, according to Spectrio, and that ambient scent offers the following benefits:

  • Ambient scent boosts recognition and memory performance.
  • It increases the time consumers spend in a shop or business.
  • It elevates mood and a person's level of enjoyment
  • It improves the quality of a service encounter.

There are many ways to use scent marketing in your business. Hyatt Place, for example, has been utilizing scent branding for years. According to Harvard Business Review, Hyatt Place launched with a signature scent it calls "Seamless," which incorporates blueberries and floral notes on a base of vanilla and musk and uses this blended scent throughout its Hyatt Place properties. For Hyatt, like other companies using scent branding, the goal is to associate the hotel with a pleasant scent and trigger a subconscious association with the brand.

At Walt Disney World in Florida, visitors to the Magic House at Epcot Center are relaxed and comforted by the smell of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. According to ThoughtCo, Singapore Airlines uses a patented scent it calls Stefan Floridian Waters; the company uses it in its aircraft, the flight attendants wear it as a fragrance and it is used to launder in-flight towels.

Scent marketing even has applications beyond increased spending. Scents have been shown to decrease anxiety levels in cancer patients awaiting MRI tests (vanilla) and dental patients in waiting rooms (lavender). The science of scent marketing and scent branding has advanced to the point where companies can be very specific about the desired reaction. If the retailer is looking for a high-end appeal, the smell of leather is the way to go. Linen and cotton evoke cleanliness, good health, and springtime. Whatever atmosphere you seek, you can likely get it through a scent or combination of fragrances. 

Business News Daily Editor

Business News Daily was founded in 2010 as a resource for small business owners at all stages of their entrepreneurial journey. Our site is focused exclusively on giving small business advice, tutorials and insider insights. Business News Daily is owned by Business.com.