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The Smells That Make Customers Spend

The Smells That Make Customers Spend
When spread in retail environments, certain scents can reduce the level of anxiety experienced by consumers. / Credit: Smelling image via Shutterstock

To make shoppers feel most comfortable inside your store, the design and smell must be properly paired, new research suggests.

When spread in retail environments, certain scents can reduce the level of anxiety experienced by consumers, according to a Concordia University study.

While retail stores with overstocked merchandise can make consumers feel claustrophobic rather than ready to spend, minimally stocked spaces can leave them feeling just as anxious. The researchers found, though, that those feelings can be negated based on the smell inside each store.

"Our research shows that scents are best at fighting anxiety when they create feelings of openness in crowded retail environments or coziness in minimalist retail spaces," said Bianca Grohmann, one of the study's authors and a marketing professor from Concordia's John Molson School of Business.

To test how scents affect anxiety levels caused by overly crowded or open spaces, the researchers invited consumers to a lab – a simulated retail environment -- that was either jam-packed or nearly empty.

During their experiments the lab was infused with either a scent reminiscent of enclosed spaces, like the smell of firewood, a scent evoking open spaces, like the seashore, or no scent at all. The participants were asked to evaluate several products, as well as the space in which the experiment was conducted. They then indicated their level of anxiety.

The researchers found that in crowded spaces, consumers felt least anxious when smelling something that evoked spaciousness, while in an almost empty space, they felt much calmer when exposed to a scent evoking closed spaces.

Overall, the study's authors discovered that anxiety levels were highest among consumers in an open space that was infused with a scent related to spaciousness.

"Our study shows that retailers need to carefully consider how they pair shopping space and ambient scent in order to decrease consumers' anxiety levels and improve their shopping experience," Grohmann said.

Based on their results, Grohmann and co-author Tina Poon, a Concordia graduate student, said that retailers who have small, crowded spaces, either due to limited store size or the volume of merchandise they stock, should use space-enhancing scents to prevent feelings of claustrophobia. On the flip side, those with lots of open space may be best served by using scents that bring a sense of coziness to the environment.

The study was recently published in the American Journal of Business.

Originally published on Business News Daily

Chad Brooks

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based writer and editor with nearly 20 years in media. A 1998 journalism graduate of Indiana University, Chad began his career with Business News Daily in 2011 as a freelance writer. In 2014, he joined the staff full time as a senior writer. Before Business News Daily, Chad spent nearly a decade as a staff reporter for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, covering a wide array of topics including local and state government, crime, the legal system and education. Chad has also worked on the other side of the media industry, promoting small businesses throughout the United States for two years in a public relations role. His first book, How to Start a Home-Based App Development Business, was published in 2014. He lives with his wife and daughter in the Chicago suburbs.