If someone poured fragrance into the air, would that make you buy more? Would that put you in a good mood? I’m describing a trend in retail customer behavior called aroma persuasion. (Gass and Seiter 2002). It’s one of the more interesting trends when it comes to predicting consumer behavior. The purpose is to determine whose products the consumer will buy. Here’s my take, as a communication specialist, as how well the trend reflects peoples buying behavior.
What’s that scent?
Several studies, according to Gass and Seiter, show that pleasant fragrance can make consumers linger longer in stores. Knasco (1999), for instance, found either a floral or a spicy scent made customers stay longer in a jewelry store.
Let’s go to the mall
I work in one of the largest malls in the country, the Palisades Mall in West Nyack, New York. I’ve experienced firsthand how aroma influences consumer decision making.
(1) Great scents at the Yankee Candle Store
I visited the store two weeks after Hurricane Sandy hit the Lower Hudson Valley. The power at my house was out, and I couldn’t get batteries for my flashlight. Lucky for me, I remembered that a Yankee Candle store was located in the mall. Sure enough, the scent of the candles provided a pleasant distraction. I lingered and bought more than I had expected.
(2) Coffee and more at Starbucks
I’ve met some very helpful people at Starbucks. It seems this isn’t a fluke. A researcher named Robert Baron found that shoppers in a mall were more than twice as likely to help a stranger in the presence of roasting coffee or baking cookies.
(3) Doctor, is that vanilla I smell?
Okay, I’ll admit it. Like most of you I don’t get a check up as often as I should. When I do go to the doctor, however, it’s a pleasant surprise. Last winter, for example, I had a persistent cough. It was so bad that I thought I had the flu. It turned out that I just had a bug. It was gone in a couple of days.
What sticks out?
The office had a pleasant vanilla fragrance. The doctor was obviously in the loop. It turns out that Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center’s physicians have used vanilla fragrance to relax patients who are about to undergo a magnetic resonance image exam (Stolberg,1994).
What are the ethics?
Like it or not, aroma persuasion is a trend that’s likely to increase in the future. That said, questions about the ethics need to be answered. As Gass and Seiter point out, “people can close their eyes or look away from an image that offends them. They can’t stop breathing or turn off their noses.”
- 1. Gass & Seiter (2002). Persuasion, Social Influence & Compliance Gaining.
- 2. Knasco, S.C., (1989) Ambient odor and shopping behavior. Chemical Senses,14,718.
- 3. Baron, R.A., & Branfern, M. 2 (1998) A wiff of reality: Empirical evidence concerning the effects of pleasant fragrance on work-related behavior. Journals of Applied Social Psychology, 24 (13). 1179-1205
- 4. Stolberg, S. (1994, June 29) Trying to make sense of smell. Los Angeles Times. pp. A1,A20, A21