Orange Makes You Buy More (and Other Sneaky Store Smell Tricks)

As any realtor will tell you, the smell of fresh-baked cookies or warm bread are enough to inspire warm feelings of home. But are these yummy smells enough to get people to buy more while out shopping? (See also: Advertising Jargon That Aims to Mislead)

While television commercials don't yet have smell-o-vision to encourage viewers to buy products, physical stores can easily pump in manufactured smells to try to get people to spend more money.

The trick works.

A study by Nike found that adding scents to their stores increased intent to purchase by 80%, according to a story in The Independent, a UK newspaper.

A Net Cost supermarket in Brooklyn, N.Y., was using machines to fill the air with the smell of chocolate in the candy aisle, the smell of grapefruit in the produce section, and the smell of rosemary focaccia by the bakery.

But why not just give customers a chocolate chip cookie to get them to buy more? Smell machines are cheaper, for one thing, and smell is more subtle than putting something in your face such as a cookie or playing loud music to get you to shop faster.

Strong Sales From Simple Scents

Researchers at Washington State University College of Business and in Switzerland found that a simple scent works best to entice shoppers. Writing in the Journal of Retailing, researchers noted that uncomplicated scents such as that of an orange had the most effect on increasing shopping.

A simple smell is more easily processed, they found, which frees the customer's mind to focus on shopping.

Where the Nose Goes, the Wallet Soon Follows

Scents are often released at a store's entrance to attract people inside, which is one reason why perfume counters are often at the front of department stores.

As Paco Underhill, a New York author of the book "Why We Buy," told me in an interview two years ago, the smell of perfume is intended to get shoppers to buy in that area and throughout the store.

"That, in part, gets our saliva glands developing, and when we are salivating we are much less disciplined shoppers," Underhill said.

But a Little Goes a Long Way

If you've ever been doused by a perfume sampler in a store, you know how offensive some perfumes can be and how the smell can do anything but get you to buy more.

Leslie Komet Ausbum, a marketing expert, says she avoids Abercrombie stores because of what she calls the "noxious levels of cologne they have in the store," that sets off her daughter's asthma, and the "horrifically loud music" there.

Other smells can backfire, too. Milk and cookies go together, but they didn't go so well in San Francisco in 2009 in the "Got Milk?" ad campaign. Cookie-scented cardboard strips were installed in bus stop shelters to encourage people to buy milk, but they were quickly removed after complaints. Among the complaints were that the ads could be offensive to poor and homeless people who couldn't afford sweet treats.

Other bus shelter ads with smells, however, have been successful. The smell of baked potatoes was a hit in the UK, a spokesperson for Dale Air, an aroma business there, told me in an email interview. The company has also done interactive bus stop advertisements for cake and coffee businesses.

Supermarkets that Dale Air has worked with have seen sales increase by pumping out the fresh smell of coffee in the morning and then a crusty bread or cake smell in the afternoon.

Still unconvinced of the power of smell to motivate a response? Try baking a cake or a batch of cookies and time how quickly your family leaps off the couch and into the kitchen. Then let us know the results of your experiment!

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Andrea Karim's picture

I actually have to run past Abercrombie whenever I end up in a mall because the smell makes me nauseated. And I LOVE perfume! I have no idea how anyone shops there.