The sweet smell of success: how does scent affect the shopping experience?

In the battle between online and offline, experiential marketing has become the hot topic of retail. Look at online beauty brand Glossier – its first ever permanent store is more than just a shop, it’s a beauty pilgrimage. Even tech giant Apple refers to its stores as ‘town halls’, in an attempt to change the public’s perception of Apple being just a retailer, into a place they can stay-a-while.

Brick and mortar stores are capitalising on physical experience because it’s the one thing they can offer that online cannot. As Geoff Schiller, PopSugar chief revenue officer told Digiday, “It’s a response to the need to do things that are fewer, bigger, better.” Striving to create the most efficient and enticing journey possible, businesses are targeting all five human senses, in order to create a holistic experience.

The nose knows

Senses are strongly linked to the way we emotionally process our surroundings. With consumer expectations rising, new-wave stores need to create an environment where every sense is activated to trigger the most positive emotional reaction possible; of all our senses, smell is the strongest. Unlike our other senses, smell travels straight to the part of our brain that is responsible for processing memories and emotions (which is why smell has the power to trigger memories). This is where scent marketing comes in.

Scent marketing gives brands the ability to forge emotional associations in customers’ minds. Sam Bompas, co-founder of Bompas & Parr told The Guardian, “What you’re trying to do is buy time in people’s brains. The more time you have to spend in someone’s brain in a positive way, the more likely they are to buy your product.”

Image from Boston Magzine

Heaven scent

Media agency MediaCom and publishing company HarperCollins have recently unveiled a new scent marketing campaign to promote the launch of online cooking blogging team BOSH!. They have installed a scented bus shelter on Tottenham Court Road, catching commuters at their hungriest. The science-led strategy draws on the idea of people experiencing a biological response when they see and smell food they love. According to Netimperative, “The release of the hormone ghrelin triggers a feeling of hunger”. This emotional trigger leads to a more memorable and impactful campaign.

Wake up and smell the coffee

Starbucks has been pioneering sensory marketing since the 80s. Strong coffee aromas waft outside the stores, drawing customers inside. They took their smell very seriously; breakfast was even taken off the menu because the smell of heating eggs and cheese sandwiches interfered with the coffee aroma.

A study by The Independent found that the smell of fresh-brewed coffee at a gas station increased coffee sales by 300%. Even major retailers have reported the success of this style of sensory branding; Nike found that scent marketing in retail stores “increased intent to purchase by 80%.”

It makes scents

Forbes recently declared that it’s not uncommon for brands to create bespoke scents for the retail environment. Air Aroma is one company that offers this unique service, working with the likes of Hugo Boss and Max Mara. Arigami, a London-based research consultancy company, wants to offer a service that includes both smell and sound and strives to provide data on how the “consumer’s mind reacts to the combination of all these sensory inputs to help create emotional memories.” Speaking to Forbes, founder Ari Peralta said, “It is going to be the job of us at Arigami to just focus on one word: ‘multi-sensory’.”

In order for the struggling retail sector to compete with the striving online one, retailers must explore all avenues of control. By controlling the most dominant sense they can better control how a customer will process their store and thus, their opinion of it. For the modern shopper, experience is key. Creating an experience they feel emotionally positive about will improve brand reputation and drive sales.