Smells Like Profit: Scents in Stores, on Products, Makes Shoppers Buy More

Sony wants to make women feel welcome. That's why the electronics giant sprays its stores with a scent made of vanilla, mandarin, bourbon and other secret ingredients.

The scent wafts through the stores all day, diffused by electronic devices scattered in the store.

Gino Biondi, the chief marketing officer for ScentAir, the company that developed the scent for Sony and makes the diffusers, says the smell of vanilla puts women, typically intimidated by electronics, at ease, while the mandarin denotes class.

The bourbon is there for the guys.

"It basically enhances the environment for a first great impression," says Biondi, whose company serves everyone from Express clothing to Mandalay Bay Resorts. Retailers, hotels, and even car makers use scents, he says, to evoke certain moods that will make customers happier with the brand.

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"It's very subtle," he says. "When it's done best, it's not overwhelming, just enough for someone to look around and say, 'It really smells nice.'"

Sony did not return a request for comment.

It's well known in marketing circles: Scents can have a powerful effect on consumer behaviour. After sound, scent is the second most powerful sense, experts say, and the only one of our five that bypasses the rational part of our brain to tap directly into our emotions. By spraying the right molecules into the air -- into their merchandise, or even onto their letterhead -- companies can make customers feel relaxed, energized, safe, young or sexy.

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"Scent is amazingly influential in what we do and how we do things in a purchasing moment," says Martin Lindstrom, author of "Buyology: The Truth and Lies About Why We Buy."

Scents are not only very subliminal, triggering emotions in ways you would never expect, but they are also more memorable than other sensory experience.

Scents Influence Consumer Behaviour

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In a recent study in the Journal of Consumer Research, scientists at the University of Michigan and Rutgers University found that scents significantly improved consumers' memory about products.

"When products are scented (versus not), consumers are more likely to remember information about those products," the study's co-authors Aradhna Krishna, May Lwin and Maureen Morrin write. "This occurs even though the product scent is not reintroduced at the time of recall, and even when memory is assessed as much as two weeks after product exposure."

Scents Complement Design, Lighting, Music

As a result, a growing number of companies are adding scents to their sensory repertoire, along with the lighting, music and design they use to evoke certain moods among shoppers.

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Most often, retailers try to evoke relaxation and happiness in their customers, in order to make their shopping experience more pleasant.

Lindstrom says that relaxing aromas such as lavender actually slow down our heartbeat rates and make our perceptions of time slow down, which encourages us to linger in the store longer, increasing our odds of spending money.

Marketing gurus have a stunning array of scents at their disposal. Some examples, courtesy of Lindstrom:

Vanilla: Makes you feel childish, young, energetic. Vanilla provides comfort because it reminds of breastfeeding mothers.

Wood: Reflects earthy, solid, classic values. "Back to basics and back to nature," is how Lindstrom describes it.

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Fruit: Evokes summer, and makes people feel more open-minded, happy and sexual.

Cigars and leather: Reflect conservative values and make brands seem more trustworthy. Lindstrom points out that banks and law firms often, sometimes unwittingly, use leather and wood in their interior furnishings, to project a certan solidity.

Car Makers Engineer New Car Smell

Certain industries make a natural fit for scent marketing. Restaurants and bakeries, as well as fashion companies that use perfumes to evoke certain styles, are well versed in this art. And we all know about real estate agents who recommend baking cookies before the open house.

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Others are less intuititive. Car makers, for example, have been engineering that "new car smell" for years, to conjure up certain thoughts in buyers' minds.

"Every major car brand uses scents consistently," says Lindstrom, who has been a consultant to several large automakers. He says car smells are so well branded, that a study he conducted showed that consumers can usually identify a brand just by its smell.

ScentAir has also created scents for hotels and casinos that want their guests to feel more comfortable. The Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, for example, sprays its space with "Coconut Spice" to complement "the lush vegetation, flowing water and exotic décor."

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A Future of Scents

A range of other companies -- from cell phone carriers to toy makers -- have also tried to take advantage of scent branding, but the strategy hasn't completely permeated most industries yet. Experts say you should not be surprised, however, if in the future your favorite gadget comes with its own trademarked scent.

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