Smell Turns Up in Unexpected Places

woman's hand touching lavender, 'feeling nature'In olfactory news, it turns out that the olfactory system is far more vast than previously imagined. For decades we’ve known that this lock-and-key system that comprises our sense of smell lives in the nose. Scientists around the world are now finding that odor receptors are not confined to the nose at all, but exist throughout the body.

Johns Hopkins University physiologist Jennifer Pluznick explains, “If you think of olfactory receptors as specialized chemical detectors, instead of as receptors in your nose that detect smell, then it makes a lot of sense for them to be in other places.”

Several papers have been published during the last few years, revealing olfactory receptors in skin, testes, lungs, liver, heart, kidneys, muscles, colon, sperm, and the list goes on. In one series of tests, skin abrasions exposed to synthetic sandalwood scent healed 30% faster. Another study suggests that odor receptors are a necessary component of the system that causes stem cells to morph into muscles cells and replace damaged tissue.

Read the entire article in the New York Times.

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Drug chains shouldn’t overlook the power of scents

by Roger Bensinger
published in Chain Drug Review

Particularly for the hyper-competitive chain drug store business, the growing body of research on scent adds impetus to the argument that taking control of the in-store scent environment is a worthwhile strategic objective.

With so many chains locating right across the street from each other and/or facing direct competition from the pharmacies of grocers and discounters just down the block, all aspects of the customer experience are under intense scrutiny and comparison. If pictures, lighting, music and visual displays are being used, why neglect customers’ sense of smell?

After all, smell is arguably a more primal — and powerful — faculty than many of us fully appreciate. While the physiology of scent has been well understood for decades, there is something a bit mysterious about its influence on behavior and cognition. For example, research shows that the mere presence of ambient scent in a store can cause visitors to feel better served by associates. Want your customers to feel less hurried as they wait to pick up their prescriptions? One top retailer in Europe diffused an ambient scent in its checkout areas and found that this did indeed contribute to a sense of time compression among shop- pers in the space.

Or consider a paper published in the Journal of Social Psychology. The experiment, which was repeated 400 times, proved that the pleasant scent of fresh-baked bread made shoppers more likely to help a “stranger” (played by a researcher) who had dropped a personal item and walked away. Another study showed people stayed longer, spent more money and felt more satisfied when in a scented space.

Scientists have recorded all kinds of other ways in which scent can cause people to engage in largely unconscious behavior, including being more honest at the cash register or giving more money to charity in a scented versus an unscented space. Exactly why scent brings out our “better angels” in this way is still unclear, but we do know that scent is processed in the same part of the brain that handles our emotions, memory and creativity.

Researchers now believe humans can distinguish more than 10,000 different aromas. And yet, when it comes to retail environments, there is a well-understood art and science to “getting scent right.” Just as inadequate understanding of the principles of visual merchandising can lead to visual clutter that confuses customers, it is possible to employ ambient scenting in ways that run at cross purposes to your goals. Flooding a space with such a strong scent that it irritates customers will create an experience that makes people want to flee your stores rather than linger in them. While some specific fragrances make people feel energized, others are soothing to the point of putting people to sleep. (In one Duke University study, the scent of lavender relaxed the subjects every bit as much as a physical massage.)

As you start to contemplate making more conscious use of scent in your stores, the first step is to look at precisely what you want to accomplish. Some drug stores are content to scent only the entrances to their stores, thereby creating what might be thought of as a “welcome effect.” By offering a nice (and subtly memorable) sense impression each time a shopper enters or exits the store, these chains aim to bolster customer experience and loyalty.

Another goal might be to boost sales of a particular item by suffusing the display with a congruent scent. Maybe the aroma of chocolate lingers around a Valentine’s Day display, making it irresistible to chocoholics, or a bubblegum scent enhances the appeal of a girls’ back-to-school display, making its brightly colored backpacks and other items seem even more lively and youthful.

Fragrance effects can even be used to accomplish such goals as remediating malodors. At some drug stores a profusion of painted vinyl and plastic products — imported beach balls, toys, household items and more — can cause problematic odors. Today, you do not have to just “cover up” those bad smells by overwhelming them with a stronger fragrance. Specific odor-canceling agents can be incorporated into scent formulations to eliminate the problem.

However, it is important to make sure your fragrance choice matches your brand and other objectives. To that end, it can be helpful to understand the “primary colors” of ambient scenting — otherwise known as the six scent families — and their likeliest emotional and cognitive effects.

For example, the citrus family — lemon, lime, mandarin, orange, grapefruit, bergamot and clementine — is a natural fit for drug stores because these scents are often described as crisp and clean. Typically, drug chains prefer to use scents that call to mind attributes such as “clean” and “fresh” and to avoid fragrance effects that are heavy, spicy or homey. Fragrances that evoke clean and fresh associations are more likely to inspire confidence in the cleanliness and sanitary conditions of the environment, which is something the drug sector also tends to emphasize in its merchandising strategies.

By contrast, floral scents such as rose, jasmine, gardenia, or- ange blossoms and violet are often most appropriate for up-scale fashion boutiques and jewelry stores. In a large drug store, florals could be used to scent a particular product display (possibly something in beauty), but they would not typically be used as a primary ambient scent for the overall selling space.

Likewise, if the goal is to use a seasonal display designed to get shoppers excited about a summer line of eco-friendly, outdoors-oriented products, the outdoorsy scent family could be appropriate. These fragrances include woodsy notes such as pine and cedar, green notes such as fresh green grass and mint and herbal notes of basil and sage. Outdoorsy scents are characterized as refreshing, clean and inspired by nature.

Possibly the most popular of the six scent families in the Americas, fruity fragrances are bright, uplifting, often youthful, and tend to be anxiety-reducing as well. Examples include peach, apple, pear, plum and apricot. As with the aforementioned B-T-S display, there are some possible uses for this scent family in drugstores.

For its part, the ozonic family could be likened to “the scent in the air after a thunderstorm.” It is usually described as airy and fresh, subtle and light. Ozonic fragrances are often used in small spaces, perhaps to reinforce the im- pression of a fresh, breezy and open atmosphere, and are ideal for stores that have competing scents due to a variety of scent- ed products for sale. An ozonic fragrance could be used in a smaller drug store (as is typically the case in Europe and Asia) to make it seem a bit more spacious than its actual footprint.

Lastly, gourmand aromas such as coffee and chocolate are designed to convey the scent dimension of a food; they can work well to supplement specific product displays. For example, certain coffee retailers are famous for boosting the aroma of their stores by using coffee-flavor ambient scenting formulations.

After choosing the right fragrance, the next step is to tackle the technology piece. Today, leading-edge scent-delivery technologies allow stores to control scent intensities in much the same way that employees dial the volume of in-store music up or down. Microtechnology can ramp up this efficiency even further. By converting aqueous or non-aqueous liquids into plumes of ultra-fine droplets (measuring about 1 micron in diameter), it is possible to create scent effects that blend with and uniformly treat the air in indoor spaces using just a tiny amount of hypoallergenic liquid.

Next-generation appliances give drug stores the ability to scent in zones or to simply scent the entire selling space using one, HVAC-integrated unit. Appliances should be programmable, taking into account traffic flow and store hours to ensure a consistent scent experience as well as keep scenting costs down.

All of us prefer pleasant-smelling places, and we associate scents with specific people, places, products and experiences. For those drug stores that haven’t yet taken the plunge, ambient scenting represents an untapped opportunity to express creativity and evoke moods. The key is to take an informed approach that matches brand attributes with the primal power of smell.

Roger Bensinger is executive vice president of Prolitec Inc., whose AirQ LEED enabling service is a leading provider of ambient scenting services to retailers and other businesses, with more than 60,000 installations across the globe. He can be contacted at

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Human noses can detect 1 trillion scents

Girl sniffing yellow flowerAccording to a recent groundbreaking study, human noses can differentiate an average of a trillion scents, rather than the approximate 10,000 thought by scientists for the past several decades. This far exceeds the several million colors thought to be detectable by the human eye, and shows that the human sense of smell far outperforms the other senses.

The study, led by geneticists at Rockefeller University and published in the journal Science, performed 264 trials with 26 people and scent mixtures created from 128 odor molecules, testing the subjects’ abilities to distinguish which scent was different in batches of three, where two vials were the same and one was different. Scents had varying levels of similarity; for most participants it was easy to detect a difference in scents that share 50% molecular similarity, and for most participants it was difficult to tell the difference between scents that shared 90% molecular similarity. Still, the number of scents the average participant could distinguish was over 1 trillion, and for some participants the number was far greater. Even those with the least able noses could detect 80 million different scents, still vastly greater than previously thought.

Prior studies had already indicated that the sense of smell has played a huge part in evolution — humans have 400 genes that code for odor-sensing molecules. Other animals have yet to be studied in the level of detail done with people in this study, however it is known that mice have approximately 1000 odor-sensing genes.


Article: “Human noses know more than 1 trillion odors,” published in Science News

Abstract of Study: “Humans Can Discriminate More Than 1 Trillion Olfactory Stimuli,” published in the journal Science

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The smell of chocolates boosts lingerie sales by 20%

A Netherlands-based lingerie retailer has found that when the scent of chocolate is pumped through its stores, average spending increases by 20%.

‘Psychology tells us that if you give something to someone, they’re likely to give you something back, and if you feel in a good mood, you’re going to be less cautious about what you’re buying,’ says Orlando Wood of BrainJuicer Labs, the behavioral agency that worked with lingerie retailer Hunkemöller to perform the study. ‘Intuitively, marketers or people in retail know you have to make people feel at ease to make them spend more. Music is a very old trick. Scent is the new one…We can see that not only is it adding to the experience, it’s increasing sales,’ says Ashwien Bisnajak, market intelligence manager at Hunkemöller.

From POPAI‘s Dec. 2013 Global Retail Trends Report

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Crafting the perfect ambient scent for your stores via the “six scent families”

child.smelling.flower.closeup.150By Richard Weening, CEO, Prolitec.

Published March 11, 2014 in Retail Customer Experience

Some of us are a bit skeptical about the notion that specific smells can change human behavior. But scientists say otherwise. Consider a paper published a couple of years ago in the Journal of Social Psychology. Repeated 400 times, the experiment proved that the pleasant scent of fresh-baked bread made shoppers more likely to help a “stranger” (played by a researcher) who had dropped a personal item and walked away. Another study showed people were more likely to clean crumbs off a conference table if citrus wafted through the air.

Altruistic or tidy behavior as a function of scent? It might seem hard to believe. But these findings are part of a large body of scientific literature on the ability of fragrances to influence mood and cognitive function. In one Duke University study, the scent of lavender relaxed study participants every bit as much as a physical massage.

From a physiological standpoint, this is no surprise. After all, smell is our most primal sense. It is processed in the same part of the brain that handles our emotions, memory and creativity — the limbic system. The acuity of our sense of smell, moreover, is remarkable: it is widely believed that humans can distinguish over 10,000 different scents.

Little wonder more retail designers — who already think carefully about the potential effects of sights, sounds, textures and traffic-flow patterns on the environments they create — are now contemplating the role of scent in the customer experience. Over the past few years, a growing number of retail chains — Abercrombie & Fitch, Hollister, Giorgio Armani and Ben Bridge Jewelers, to name a few — have launched ambient-scenting programs in their stores to good effect.

But just as certain colors are energizing and others soothing, different fragrances have different effects on shoppers’ moods. It follows that retail execs and store designers should take some time to educate themselves about the basics of olfaction as a sense and about ambient scenting. Generally speaking, ambient scenting is the automated diffusion and maintenance of a scent throughout a space. This can be used for scent marketing (i.e., to sell a particular scented product) or scent branding (i.e., to associate a particular scent with a brand, experience, décor, product or service). In tandem with this, the fragrance effect can accomplish goals such as remediating malodors or influencing cognition, emotion and behavior.

Read the rest of the article at Retail Customer Experience

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Fragrance should come first in ambient scenting

When it comes to ambient scenting, the fragrance should come first. It might sound obvious, but it is not always so, says renowned fragrance designer Raymond Matts. In the ambient scenting industry, many companies focus on their appliances, with little attention to the quality of the fragrances. In a talk given to Ambius Ireland, Matts discusses the importance of putting the “scent” back in “ambient scenting.”

Voyage With Fragrance

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The fine art of ambient scenting

From the Irish Examiner

Raymond MattsFragrance designer Raymond Matts is the creative mind behind some of the world’s most successful perfumes, including Clinique Happy, Tommy Girl and Elizabeth Taylor White Diamonds. The former Estée Lauder VP for fragrance development visited Dublin last week on behalf of Ambius, an ambience, landscaping and interiors firm for which he now consults.

“Ambience scenting is about creating an emotional appeal to your location, something that’s distinctive and will be remembered in a positive way,” he says.

Matts stresses that this technique is far more subtle than the “aromatic billboard” of freshly-baked goods.

“We’re seeing studies that show when a space is not overtly but pleasantly scented, customers tend to linger longer and are more apt to communicate with staff. People looking to sell something have their attention for a greater time-span and are more likely to return.”

The limbic system (the structures of the brain that process smells) is closely linked to memory and emotion. “At least 35% of what we recall about an environment in the short-term is scent-based, compared with about 15% of what we see. Yet marketing campaigns still tend to be sight-led. I’m not suggesting scent is a marketing “silver bullet” but it is certainly a potent part of mix,” says Matts.

Unlike the “come and get it” scent marketing employed by the hospitality industry, ambience scenting does not affect what we buy so much as how long we mill about deliberating. Somewhat alarmingly, it seems to alter the way we perceive time.

In his 2005 book Brand Sense: Sensory Secrets Behind the Stuff We Buy, Martin Lindstrom reveals customers surveyed at the Galeries Lafayette in Paris claimed they’d spent 25 minutes in stores where they’d spent 40, while customers in unscented areas made far more accurate estimations. Fragrance Foundation president Elizabeth Musmanno says “the length of time a consumer spends in a store is directly proportional to the average unit sale per customer,” further weighting the theory that scent impacts on our wallets.

Fashion and luxury brands have been in on the act on for years, using fragrance not just as a marketing tool but as an entry product for mass-market consumption. Giorgio Armani mists a version of his bestselling personal scents through his boutiques. Abercrombie & Fitch (which also utilises Matts’ talents) wafts its signature Fierce fragrance through stores all over the world. The brand’s communications head goes so far as to attribute A&F’s commercial success to “what you see, what you hear and what you smell.”

Concrete figures showing that ambient scenting boosts profits are thin on the ground. Ambius points to a 2006 study that found ambient scenting of a casino resulted in a bar sales increase of 17.5% over a 14-week period.

“I’m often asked about the ambient scenting’s return on investment and I respond by asking what the ROI on the artwork in your lobby or your exterior landscaping is,” says Matts. “It’s about creating an environment customers want to stay in, enhancing brand identity and encouraging repeat business.”

Read the full article at the Irish Examiner

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