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Catherine Colbert

Retailers use scents to boost business

by Catherine Colbert | Dun & Bradstreet Editor

January 21, 2011 | 4 Comments »

As retailers begin to see glimmers of hope with increased foot traffic and even inspirational sales spikes after the downed economy, some companies are looking to scents for added success.

Their goal is to spur customers along to return to their “shop ‘til you drop” personas. We’re not talking about rolling out the overpowering smells that blanket your nostrils when you enter Bath & Body Works, which entices me to purchase anything that smells like fig (evidentally a popular scent way back in 2003) while my husband hangs out in a safer spot in the open air.

Big-name retailers are enlisting the expertise of specialty marketers to provide sensorial experiences in a less obvious manner. Toronto firm Mood Media, an in-store media specialist, uses music, visual, and scent mediums to put shoppers in the mood. The company has developed olfactory soothers with names “Lotus Flower” (to produce a relaxed and peaceful state) and “Enchanted Apple” (could help to reduce migraines, too?) to keep customers in stores longer. The point is that lingering, happy customers typically spend more. The smell of grass cuttings, for instance, has inspired shoppers to purchase gardening equipment at do-it-yourself stores, such as Home Depot.

The marketing firm counts more than 800 retail chains as clients. Its reach extends to some 30 countries throughout North America, Europe, Asia, and Australia.

Retail chains that have tapped Mood Media for its scents expertise include furniture seller Habitat, outdoor clothing and footwear peddler Timberland, and Guess?, the maker and marketer of apparel for curvy clients. 

The move by retailers is an intriguing one that makes sense, especially as the economy bounces back. As they rode out the recession, customers adjusted their one-stop store mentality for a strategy of trekking from store to store looking for the best price on needed items. Consumers also traded down to save money. Shoppers who typically spent time at Target, chose Wal-Mart until budgets loosened up. And Tiffany fans were likely to discover equally classy but not as flashy James Avery. Retailers want to lure customers back to their old stomping grounds to do all their spending under one roof again.

Now, if you find yourself strolling leisurely throughout a Tommy Bahamastore, ask yourself why. It’s possible that the owner is tapping new technology and science to keep you around. Do you smell piña coladas and white linen? 



Photo by Jinx!, used under a CC-Share Alike license.

I find this both intriguing and somewhat diabolical all at the same time.


Thx for the interesting post! Very good introduction to scents in Sensory Marketing.

I also just published a post on sensory marketing and used your post as a reference:


Looking forward to hearing to you!



Catherine Colbert

Thank you. Maybe you can provide some insight on sensory marketing, Johannes. I heard last week from a girlfriend who stays in W Hotels nationwide that she always smells gardenias in the lounge areas. The scent is wonderful (to me). So tell me, is the scent of gardenia used to inspire ladies to linger in lounges and order cosmos?!

Dear Catherine,

I recommend you a really interesting scientific paper on the 5 senses:


Unfortunatekly I can not tell you in how far the smell of gardenias influeces female hotel guests. Yet, it definitely works for branding as smell triggers positive and long-term memories (more in the paper).

Looking forward to reading more from you!



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