When it comes to human senses, the scent is the one that may influence us in the most subtle, but powerful way; why am I saying this? Well, think about it: when your customers enter your store, they will see an explosion of colors, shapes and all of this–they will also hear the music you’re playing in your store–and, of course, all of these will have a big influence on them.

But what I think will determine the most how they feel and will shape their experience with your store is the scents they will encounter there–why? Well, imagine you (as a person, not as a customer, not as a retailer), walking in a room (not necessarily a store, any type of room) and imagine that the first thing you smell is something gross, something that totally turns your nose away–now I know this doesn’t seem to be directly related to the topic, but let me explain: if you walked in that room and heard a song that you didn’t like, or even that you hated, that wouldn’t be so repelling, you wouldn’t be so disgusted; and colors are almost not even worth mentioning here, in comparison with a bad smell.

Did you create an image in your head? Do you understand now why I wanted you to make this little imagination exercise? Of course, you’re thinking now that it’s not possible on Earth that your store will ever smell bad. And it’s true. I just wanted you to be aware of the influence of scents, which might be even bigger than the one that music or colors have in your store. Even though the effects of the ambient scent haven’t received the attention of experts that music or other stimuli did, this doesn’t mean scent isn’t a very important element of your store’s ambiance. 

What research says about how can scents influence your customers

First of all, you need to know that you have to be very careful when it comes to creating the appropriate environmental psychological variables. Each one is important and each one deserves attention from you. This have been said, you must know how (much) does scent influence consumer’s behavior and his perception of the store itself and of the products offered for sale.

The effects of pleasant scents–because you have to be sure that your store provides this to your customers–have been explained for three different cases: the one of the store evaluations, the one of consumer’s perception, and the one of consumer’s behavior.

Research has demonstrated that pleasant scents evoke memories and feelings, thus they affect customers’ product judgment. To demonstrate this, some researchers led a little experiment: they replaced some unscented nylon stockings with some orange–odoured stockings.

They observed the behavior of the customers and gave the conclusion: well, of course, the ones which smelled like orange sold better than the unscented ones. How did they come to this conclusion? They saw that customers associated the product’s smell with its quality; thus, they perceived the stockings which smelled like orange as being of a better quality than those which were unscented.

Also, scientists have discovered that scents can determine the time a customer spends in a store –meaning they can make them stay longer (more specifically, they tested this in a jewelry counter). It was discovered that scent can even influence the perception of shoe stores–participants of the test were more likely to purchase Nike items in a perfumed room rather than in an identical, but a non-odorized room.

The general conclusions of all these experiments were that people associated pleasant scents with an overall pleasant atmosphere, this leading to a better perception of the stores and their products.

Researchers have also demonstrated the connection between a scent and a brand’s name. They exposed participants to familiar and unfamiliar brand names, in pleasantly odorized environments and in non-odorized ones, and they evaluated the time they spent evaluating each brand; this happened through a computer recorded. Thus, they’ve come to the conclusion that a pleasant ambient scent increased the attention and memory of the customer for unfamiliar brands; also, it primarily improved evaluations rather than familiar brand names.

Other researchers have continued their work by examining the link between scent congruity–meaning the appropriateness of it–and brand memory.

There were tested participants’ reactions to images of stuff like personal care/toiletries and household cleaner, first in a scented (geranium and clove), than in an unscented environment.

The results were like this: subjects’ attention to brand stimuli was increased when they encountered a pleasant scent with the product category, and also, consumer’s memory for familiar and unfamiliar brands, as estimated by recall and recognition measures, was improved by ambient scent.

Experts have tested the effects of scent congruity and incongruity in consumer’s perception–meaning, in this case, the decision-making the process of the consumer–as well. The results revealed that pleasant odors influenced customers’ decision making, in a way that congruent smells facilitated the way to a greater access to congruent attitudes and autobiographical memories, even though the experience with the product class was prior. And when it comes to incongruent scents, they may determine cognitive interference.

The ambient scent is used directly to create an overall pleasant atmosphere, which leads to a favorable perception of the mall environment and, implicitly, for product quality. And since odors may affect the way customers are perceiving the mall, retailers should take into consideration the citrus scent, which can be a powerful way of influencing product perception.

And, last but not least, the effects of ambient scent on consumer behavior. You may be surprised, but it was actually demonstrated that a pleasant scent increased slot revenues produced in one area of the Las Vegas casino, while in the section that was treated with a second scent and in the one that remained unscented were not detected any significant change in revenues. How did Hirsch, the researcher who conducted this experiment, come to this conclusion? He tested the effects of the presence of a pleasant scent on the amount of money gambling on the slot machines in the casino, after it was odorized with different aromas, for a period of time.

Other experts developed a model on the influence of ambient scent, as if it was an environmental cue on emotional responses and shopping behaviors. If we read literature from several disciplines, we find out that scent was demonstrated to be relevant for consumer behavior in two ways: we can directly associate the scent with an evaluation object and the scent is part of the overall ambient environment.

    Scents which have a high chance of encouraging your customers to spend more:

  • Vanilla and cinnamon, which are great gateways smells; it was also demonstrated that warm scents make people spend more, and these two are from this category.
  •  A simple orange scent, instead of a more complicated one such as orange-basil blended with green tea (for places such home decoration stores)
  • Green tea, lemongrass, white tea and fig, because these are subtle and fresh, which means they can be used in creating a deeper emotional connection with shoppers, as the experts say
  • Citrus and herb, because they invigorate the shoppers

It’s also very important to know that you should take into consideration spatial manipulation, meaning that you can make your store feel more crowded or socially dense (by using, for example, warm scents). This leads to the fact that your customers will feel less powerful, and when they feel like this, the best way to regain their status back is to shop, especially luxurios items–this way, they will feel better about themselves.

All in all, you should make sure that your store provides a really good, pleasant atmosphere for the ones coming in, and for this you should take into consideration all the factors–sounds, visual appearance and odors, to make your customers feel like home–or, at least, to increase their mood. Also, you can apply some tricks to get your customers into loosen their purse strings.