By 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.