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Retailers Tap Into Consumer's Response to Smell

Branding Scents has Become a New Trend in Affecting Customer Behavior


A secret smart real estate agents have known for years is now in big demand by stores, hotels and other customer service businesses. What's the secret? Smell can influences our shopping behavior and overall opinion of our experience.

Every real estate agent knows that a house that has a warm 'apple pie' aroma while being shown, will rate hire in a buyer's mind than no aroma or worse, people aroma. Now retailers have seen the light (or smelled the roses) and the demand for sultry appealing scents to puff into the air is huge.

Coming up with the right mix of scents which are subtle and help to keep the customer in a pleasant olfactory 'place' seems to be the real challenge. We've all experienced that anxious moment in an elevator when someone gets on drenched in their favorite cologne. It's a breath-taking experience to say the least and not a pleasant one. People also experience allergic reactions to some scents, lavender being one the biggest irritants. So how will the scent companies come up with a 'one-for-all' scent which sets the proper mood of a store or hotel without running a significant percentage out the door? Very carefully, according to Jeremy Caplan's article Scents and Sensibility.

How Smells Affect Consumers

Martin Lindstrom, author of Brand Sense, writes that smell influences emotions and mood and can trigger memories of a specific time in our lives. Some scents will evoke energy, others make us feel warm and cozy. Selecting the right blend of tones to project the right message is what scent companies set out to accomplish. "Tea, the ascendant note, suggests serenity and tranquillity," says ScentAir CEO David Van Epps to Caplan. "Black cedar adds body, fullness to the aroma. As for the rest of the tones, each has its own characteristics, and it's as much an art as a science."

Branding Scents

It seems unlikely that we'll ever walk into a room and say, "I smell a Sony," however Sony does have an exclusive scent. According to creative director, Christine Belich, Sony uses a branded aroma in its SonyStyle electronics departments in the hope that women will find it a more appealing area to browse. Finding the right scent involved months of research by ScentAir, a firm specializing in scents for retailers, and sending over 30 mixes for SonyStyle executives to test.

In the end a mix of a full-bodied orange, vanilla with a dash of cedarwood was selected. Why this mix? SonyStyle felt it accomplished the goal of the appealing to women with the orange and vanilla and the splash of cedarwood adds masculinity and helps it from being too feminine and turning away men.

Nose Plugs for Some?

While retailers' insist that using scents to make a more pleasant experience for their shoppers is the real motivation behind circulating the air with branded aromas, others feel it is a migraine waiting to happen by those who are sensitive to smells. Gabrielle Glasner, author of The Nose: A Profile of Sex, Beauty, and Survival told Caplan she found SonyStyles attempts to target with smell, patronizing, saying "It's like 'Oh, Mommy, we understand you.' So condescending!"

SonyStyle, however, sticks by its decision and now has the scent in all its stores, insisting that its intent is merely to make a pleasant shopping environment for both men and women and they aren't alone. Other companies are jumping on the nose wagon, such as Bloomingdale's use of a baby powder scent in the infant departments. Westins Hotels uses a scent in the its lobbies created by ScentAir which is suppose to make people feel serene and tranquil.

Companies such as ScentAir can charge between $5,000 and $25,000 to come up with a special signature smell for a company. There is also additional costs for rental fans to help circulate the scents. For home owners, for $30 a month ScentAir has a machine designed for the home which circulates aromas which smell more natural than many of the other home scent choices now available in stores.

So the next time you are in a store flipping through CDs and you suddenly remember being back in the 80s at the outdoor concert, look around - chances are you may spot a fan blowing out a little poof of musk and patchouli oils with a dash of chocolate (yuk!).

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