Scent marketing in retail has gotten a bad reputation over the years. It has been accused of seducing and manipulating consumers. That’s also the reason why only very few retailers let the public in on their concepts. Having said that, many consumers are often oblivious to the fact that scents are only part of the overall retail strategy, while visual and auditory components that have the same effect are also playing a major role.
Although it is scientifically proven that certain fragrances can boost sales, their use is aimed at an entirely different effect. “The primary objective of olfactory neuromarketing – better known as scent marketing – is to increase the customer’s well-being through the sense of smell,“ explains André Niehues, Concept Consultant at AirCreative. In the best case scenario, well-being is triggered when a scent conjures subconscious memories and positive feelings in our brains.
Scent islands draw attention
Stored emotions can be increased tenfold when several senses are addressed at the same time. For stores, this means they should include olfactory elements into their conceptual design in addition to visual and auditory components. That being said, haptic and gustatory concepts are not suitable for all brands. However, used smartly, they can still complete the overall concept of a brand or product strategy.
However, it is often wrongly assumed that each sense needs to be addressed individually when it comes to multisensory experiences. The truth is that scent marketing is only one part of the overall store concept. “It is important to see scent not as a ‘fragrance‘ but as something I simply accept as part of the concept of a space without a second thought,“ says Niehues. He adds that this is why ambient scenting with overwhelming scents as done by Abercrombie & Fitch or Hollister, for example, are misplaced because customers mainly prefer clean and fresh air.
Jens Reißmann, Managing Director and Perfumer at Reima AirConcept, agrees. “The scent concept should also always include unscented areas in the store.“ Yet the expert also points out that “so-called ‘scent islands‘ attract attention and aid to get customers interested in specific products and product groups and make them curious. This is especially helpful in food retailing.“
He adds that in the produce section, the fruity scent of strawberries, for example, can be enhanced by natural aroma in such a subliminal way to where the customer’s attention is also drawn to other products such as glaze, for example, which was placed directly within view of the strawberries. Reißmann points out that, “customers are allowed to explicitly notice scents in these areas but it should never bother them. The scent should be perceived as pleasant and should no longer be noticeable after ten minutes. This guarantees that the retailer achieved the right dosage.“
“It’s not about the actual smell of the scent but what it triggers“
The applied scents are made with natural essential oils that are non-hazardous to your health. According to Niehues, it is also important for the concept creation to note that these oils have a special frequency, similar to the light frequency of colors, which has an effect on the organism. This is also why they are color-coded in aromatherapy literature. “The scent of roses, for example, is a cooling, soothing and valuable fragrance that corresponds to the color blue in all aspects,“ explains Niehues. This way, you are not only able to assign a specific color but also a specific attribute to every scent.
“Scent marketing also means to utilize scents as a stimulant and consider it a messenger. In this instance, it is not about the actual smell of the scent but what it triggers.“ For example, in 2012, Edeka Nord tested a concept that was tailored to all five senses in several of its stores. The company installed blue fluorescent strips on the ceiling of its frozen food departments, which were meant to reflect the idea of “coolness“ based on the color. However, this effect might also be perceived as uncomfortable or too cold. In collaboration with AirCreative, the company thus decided to add a cinnamon scent. It scents the area so subtly to where customers don’t notice it, yet the subjective temperature perception is increased by up to two degrees Celsius because cinnamon exhibits the frequency of a warm shade of red.
For retailers, it means they have to consider three key issues in the composition of their scents: the marketed product, the space, and the emotional mindset retailers or brands want to evoke. These ultimately create the context the scent needs to match. Reißmann emphasizes, “I believe that the harmonious relationship between perfect visual merchandising, corresponding decoration, effective use of lighting, friendly colors, beautiful music and, of course, the complementary scent make the sales concept coherent. Shopping should not just be about the purchase of needed items but should turn into an experience for the customer.“
Fragrances from essential oils are non-hazardous to your health. Contrary to popular assumptions, essential oils do not cause allergic reactions, even if you exhibit contact dermatitis according to the German Environment Agency.
Air refinement also implies odor neutralization
Scenting requires for the existing ambient air to first be treated. This is why emitted distracting odors caused by materials, furniture, and even customers are also removed with the help of natural substances and are not just covered up. The scent molecules remain untouched in their complex structure and fully develop in the purified air.
What’s more, scenting systems should never be integrated with the ventilation system, according to Niehues. The latter has its own function, namely to ensure good airflow and should thus always be considered a separately working system. In addition, the VDI 6022 guideline “Ventilation and indoor air quality“ prohibits the emission of volatile organic compounds via the ventilation systems.
Aside from systems in the form of diffusers, fresheners, dispensers and scent machines, scent-emitting video displays can also be a great alternative to showcase products by also adding moving images.
So what does all of this mean for retailers?
Great scent marketing is not aimed at leading consumers around by the nose. Scents are meant to create a pleasant ambiance, encourage to stay longer or give the end customer a preliminary perception of a product feature. Guests are supposed to feel comfortable and that is only possible if the overall context of the store is coherent.
That means concepts have to be comprehensively coordinated, preferably with the help of experts. Retailers should first understand what they would actually like to accomplish by using scents, what effects they want to achieve or which product features they seek to highlight.
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