Good Smells are Good Marketing: How to Use Scent to Your Advantage

by | Aug 8, 2017 | News

Hal Conick

People stay as much as 44% longer in businesses that smell good. Is your business up to snuff?

The pleasant smell of baked cookies or fresh-baked bread. The scent of shoe leather or new sneakers. The waft of alluring perfume wafting across a sales floor.

Scents in retail are nothing new, but they may be underemphasized in marketing. Aroma 360​—a Florida-based scent marketing and branding company with clients like Ritz Carlton, Paradise Island Bahamas and Ferrari of Ft. Lauderdale—finds that customers stay as much as 44% longer in a business “surrounded by an attractive scent.”

Marketing News spoke with Farah Abassi, founder and “chief aromachologist” at Aroma 360, to get her take on scent marketing, why it works and if a business can smell too much for its own good.

Q: What is it about scents that works so well to keep customers in a business longer?

A: Scent has the ability to evoke an emotional response and, when used right, can enhance mood and evoke feelings of happiness. Studies have shown up to a 40% improvement in mood when exposed to a pleasant fragrance. People are naturally inclined to spend more time in places when they feel good which is why scented environments have been shown to cause an increase linger time. We create signature scents with a multitude of notes that are balanced and designed to make customers feel better than they did before walking into the store. Citrus notes are energizing, jasmine is a mood enhancer and sandalwood is calming so it’s a delicate balance of creating the right mood and emotional response that fits the store, brand and buying experience.​

Q: What’s the most interesting scent experiment that you’ve seen a business try?

A: There are so many fascinating case studies and experiments that illustrate the powerful subconscious effect scent has on behavior, emotions and daily decisions. A well-known grocery store reported a 3% to 5% increase in same store sales after introducing scent into different parts of the store (fresh bread in the bakery, citrus in the produce department etc). I have a property management client that introduced scent to part of their portfolio of properties. After three months of scenting, they noticed the vacancy rates of their scented properties went down by 7% whereas the unscented properties stayed stagnant. They have now implemented scent across their entire portfolio and their residents have provided great feedback.

Q: Can businesses go too far with scents? Meaning… can there be too strong of a scent so much that consumers are put off?

A: Definitely. Many people think that for a scent to be impactful, it has to be strong and exaggerated. The truth is, our brains can process and react to a minute amount of a particular scent. There is a direct path between our scent receptors and the emotional part of our brains. The part of our brain that is responsible for cognitive thinking and that processes stimuli is bypassed so before we are even aware of a scent’s existence, an emotional reaction has already been ignited. Furthermore, people all have different sensitivities to scent. For example, women tend to have a more acute sense of smell than men which can be magnified during pregnancy. Cultural backgrounds and age can cause a difference in scent preference too. Being too aggressive with one’s scent strategy can be off-putting. When used subtly, all the benefits of scent marketing can be enjoyed without the risk of offending or alienating anyone.

Q: What kind of scents do retailers like this use? Is it something aside from the smell of new sneakers or leather shoes?

A: The use of scent in retail and sales in general is astonishing. Scent’s main role is to make the customer feel comfortable, happy and put them at ease so they will spend more time in the store, spend more money and ultimately make them more likely to return. The type of scent that’s used depends on what is being sold, who it is being sold to etc. Whether that means using the scent of coconut and mango in a swimsuit store to lift the mood and make the customer feel like they’re already on vacation or using the seductive scent of rose and narcissus in a lingerie store to make a woman feel confident and sexy. I have some movie theatre clients that choose to diffuse the scent of popcorn outside their theatre in hopes of enticing people in to see a movie. I recently started working with a chain of high-end movie theatres that don’t even sell popcorn yet have an attached five-star restaurant, bar and lounge section. Their goal was to use scent to reaffirm to their guests that the “VIP” movie experience is less about going to watch a movie (in the traditional sense) but is about an experience – a place to socialize and spend time before and after the movie. The design and décor of the theatre is chic, sexy and luxurious and designed to be the perfect date spot or place to meet friends. The scent we created for them is mysterious, elegant and seductive – a blend of black tea, pepper, rose and amber.

As you can see (or should I say smell), there isn’t a one-size-fits all solution to scent marketing which is why we have fragrance consultants that work hand-in-hand with our clients to find the perfect scent for their needs.

Q: What’s the most controversial scent, meaning one that draws some customers in and puts some off?

A: In my very humble opinion, aggressive perfume-like scents such as the one diffused at many Abercrombie and Fitch retail stores is a prime example of a scent that may be appealing to some customers yet offensive to others. The scent is designed to appeal to their younger clientele but the many older people, the dark lighting, the loud music and strong scent equates to sensory overload and can be overwhelming.​

Author Bio:

Hal Conick is a staff writer for the AMA’s magazines and e-newsletters. He can be reached at or on Twitter at @HalConick.


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