Take a Deep Breath and Prepare to Open your Wallet

Discussion
Jul 25, 2011

Back in the day, as the expression goes, food stores did not have to pipe in artificial aromas. Some of us recall coffee, bread, cheese, candy and, yes, fish and meat. Some more tantalizing than others, perhaps, and no readily available records of whether customers spent (proportionately) more then than now. But at least they were from real products.

Brooklyn, NY-based NetCost Market is using wall-mounted spritzers to entice customers with grapefruit, bacon, focaccia and chocolate fragrances in the relevant departments. Some have produced a faster, greater return than others, according to Angelina Khristichenko, the store’s merchandise coordinator. The New York Post reported her conviction that "fruit sales are probably up seven to eight percent" with "the momentum in other departments growing bigger and bigger."

Customer Juliya Lubin reportedly found the bacon smell "subtle"  but said, "It made me really hungry all of a sudden!" Another customer agreed that it made her hungry but said it didn’t make her spend more, while a third expressed concern that one in the fish department "would be awful."

ScentAir, the company providing the machines, explains on its website, "We draw people in. We make them want to stay awhile. We make them want to come back."

There is evidence to support Netcost’s experiment. Introducing a discussion here in February, we quoted Sue Phillips, president of Scenterprises, who claimed to be at the forefront of environmental scenting.

Writing in Glow’s Spring issue, Ms. Phillips said, "The Journal of Marketing and Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services has shown that scent can make shoppers spend more time and money in a store and make them pay more attention to a brand."

In other developments, Liza Eckert reports on deathandtaxesmag.com about a smell-o-vision system being developed by Samsung and UC San Diego. Not quite ready for use at home yet, it may eventually "produce up to 10,000 different aromas." Anticipating mobile apps using such technology, Ms. Eckert also imagines the potential downside of sharing relatives’ scatological humor.

Discussion Questions: What do you think of the potential of scents as in-store marketing tools for retailers?

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17 Comments on "Take a Deep Breath and Prepare to Open your Wallet"


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Bob Phibbs
Guest
9 years 9 months ago

The upside is huge but this is hardly new. The pioneer was someone who knew it was all about touching all the senses–Walt Disney who pioneered scenting Main Street at Disneyland in the ’50s.

There’s no denying that the smell of baking bread or roasting coffee influences purchases. As a way to keep the smell in the store longer, for example, when you aren’t baking bread seems smart.

Just piping it in over your Wonderbread display…probably not too effective.

Steve Montgomery
Guest
9 years 9 months ago

It is no secret the sense of smell is a powerful tool in determining our actions. It has been long used in various situations to drive sales. For example, everyone is familiar with the impact of the smell of fresh popcorn on its sales at a movie theater. This is why even though many theaters pre-pop because of capacity issues they still do some fresh popcorn. We drove cinnamon rolls sales in stores by heating cinnamon oil in an oven behind the counter.

The potential is great but stores would have to be careful to not over use or over scent their stores. It may be great to smell bacon while shopping but no one wants to leave the store with the scent on their clothing.

Paula Rosenblum
Guest
9 years 9 months ago

I think we all have it right. The smell of fresh baked bread? Intoxicating. The smell of pumped in “fresh baked bread aroma”? Not so much.

The sense of smell is powerful for triggering memories both good and bad. Plus, there is always risk of triggering some kind of allergic reaction (think about those perfume thingies in magazines…).

I don’t see a lot of additional opportunity here.

As for smell-o-vision, all I can think of is John Waters’ iconic movie “Polyester,” where the audience was handed scratch-and-sniff cards that we were encouraged to scratch at appropriate times…the only one I really remember was the leather one.

So let’s see, we’re going to sit in our homes watching TV with our 3D glasses on while aromas produced by said TVs waft over us. Somehow that really creeps me out!

Gene Detroyer
Guest
9 years 9 months ago

Bernice’s opening paragraph is a pretty discouraging statement for today’s definition of food. “But at least they [scents] were from real products.” Perhaps this is telling us that we need artificial scents to sell artificial foods. This must be progress.

The potential is there and yes it will work.

By coincidence, I was talking with a leather goods manufacturer last week. We were talking about how to tell real leather from today’s imitations. I said, “By the aroma.” He said, “No, no, no. Leather perfume has existed for over 30-years and is widely used not only for imitations but by retailers of real leather. Or, so you think.”

Ian Percy
Guest
9 years 9 months ago

Please refer to the McLuhan discussion about the medium being the message. Yup–that’s what I’m looking or in my food…artificiality. Yum, yum!

Warren Thayer
Guest
9 years 9 months ago

I have no doubt whatever that it does what it is supposed to do. I only wonder one thing: If some study will come out saying that the scents cause cancer in field mice forced to breathe the stuff 24/7 at 1,000 times the levels normally used. Then, the Village Voice and others will be headlining not only “Olfactory mind control,” but “It’s not safe to breathe the air in supermarkets.” Perhaps not so far-fetched. Lots of laundry and body soaps and shampoos are coming out with unscented varieties because consumers believe, rightly or wrongly, about health issues caused by the scents.

Liz Crawford
Guest
9 years 9 months ago

I have read that scent is 80% of taste. If this is true, scent can drive sales because it is like giving customers a sample. Further, scent can be detected from any angle, so customers facing all 360 directions know where the aroma is coming from. They can follow their noses (a big advantage over signage, where many customers can’t see it or mentally block it out). Finally, of course, the sense of smell is our most primitive, hooking directly into the limbic brain. For all of these reasons, fragrance is an effective marketing tool.

Marketers use all kinds of tools to manipulate behavior and attitudes. This is the nature of the business. If you don’t use it, your competition will. The manager who is concerned about using this tool may be in the wrong business.

Bernice Hurst
Guest
9 years 9 months ago

To answer my own question, I think this could quickly reach a tipping point and become more irritating than tempting. I know that when I was in a grocery recently and smelled what I thought might have been freshly ground coffee, I remembered my childhood and my mother buying beans having them ground on the spot. Back then people didn’t have their own grinders. But the store I’m talking about didn’t either and I was disappointed enough to leave empty handed when I realised that the smell was faked to try and tempt me without being able to achieve an acceptable conclusion.

David Livingston
Guest
9 years 9 months ago

It’s a great idea. When I go to Whole Foods, they always have good smells. Not sure if they are real but it makes you want to hang around. McDonald’s has always known that the color of red and yellow together will make people hungry. The right visual, the right scent… it is all about separating cash from our pockets.

Ed Rosenbaum
Guest
9 years 9 months ago

I do not like this at all. While the idea has merit; the execution leaves a “bad taste” with me. Something about it seems dishonest if not distasteful.

Carol Spieckerman
Guest
9 years 9 months ago

Scent certainly completes the picture but it isn’t hard to imagine how nasal assaults could get out of hand (just because you can doesn’t mean you should). Last year, Kodak pulled an April Fool’s spoof involving a breakthrough in “Neuro-Optic-Nasal-Sense Imaging.” Perhaps they were onto something.

Steve Montgomery
Guest
9 years 9 months ago

Just a quick follow up to Bernice’s comment about fresh ground coffee. My daughters always told me that if coffee tasted as good as it smelled while being ground, they’d drink it.

Ralph Jacobson
Guest
9 years 9 months ago

This is nothing new, and yes, it works! I’m waiting for “smellivision” software to gain popularity so you can be lured on your PC at home or where ever.

Al McClain
Guest
Al McClain
9 years 9 months ago

I come down on the side of those who say “Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.” I think many consumers are increasingly looking for real, authentic, natural, organic, etc., and spraying shoppers with bacon scents seems to fly in the face of that.

Eliott Olson
Guest
Eliott Olson
9 years 9 months ago

Everything old is new again! In the ’60s the company I worked for would put milk and cinnamon in a pan and blow the aroma out into the store.

W. Frank Dell II, CMC
Guest
9 years 9 months ago

One key reason for adding bakeries to supermarkets was the smell. Cooking in store added to the senses. Artificial scents in a supermarket could counteract, causing confusion.

Kai Clarke
Guest
9 years 9 months ago

This is a great idea whose time has clearly come. It is time tested and proven. Movie theaters, coffee stores, bakeries, carnivals, and donut shops have all used this to their advantage…why not grocery stores?

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