A classic finding in consumer behavior research is that odors influence buying behavior. When a smell hits our brain, it starts out its processing in the limbic system, which is one of the most primitive parts of the brain. We—and the people who shop with us—make decisions instantly and subconsciously based on smells.
But that classic finding from laboratory studies has, over the years, not worked out as well as we’d hope when applied in operating retail stores. Why? Researchers at Washington State University and Switzerland’s University of St. Gallen found an answer in the degree of complexity of the fragrance: A simple scent increased shopper spending in a retail store, while a hard-to-decode scent did not.
Shoppers can be wearing fragrances as they come into your store. In addition, if you’re aiming for different fragrances to match different product lines in different parts of your store, the air circulation can mix things up, creating an overly complicated blend.
Is the answer to make your intended fragrance extra strong? Well, no. Unless the fragrance is faint, your shoppers might faint. Or run away to escape. And then there are the smells in a store that at any strength will chase off shoppers. How about the air around a dirty restroom?
The answer, instead, is to use pleasant fragrances which are already familiar to the shopper or which you make familiar through repetition. If a smell hasn’t been encountered before, with associations stored in the brain, it will be complicated for the shopper to decode, so the advantages of instant, subconscious influence are lost.
Stay with smells most people like. Vanilla has pretty much universal appeal. Some preference are cultural. For example, if your shoppers come from an East Indian culture, try sandalwood. Some preferences are seasonal. Cinnamon is more strongly welcomed with Christmas shopping than with swimsuits.
Also keep in mind that smell is not enough to close the sale all by itself. Even the best perfume or cologne has to be backed up with the goods in order to move a relationship forward.
Still, smell does set the groundwork. And it's not only with smells we think of as alluring. For instance, researchers find that sales of cleaning products go up significantly when a faint fragrance of Formula 409 wafts through the area.
For your profitability: Sell Well: What Really Moves Your Shoppers
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Check That Your Store Smells Good
Deliver Fragrance to Customers Who Like It