A Retailer’s Guide To Scenting Department Stores & Boutiques

Choosing a scent for a retail environment is no easy task because many types of furniture, apparel and accessories that attract men, women and children are sold under one roof and no one scent can be suitable for all sectors. 

The smart retailer and/or boutique owner must know how to choose a scent because consumers respond differently to each fragrance even though marketers try to carefully calculate their reactions.

With more and more consumers using online platforms for their purchases, retailers are forced to think outside the box to both enhance and improve the customer experience.

Choosing The Right Ambient Scent For A Retail Environment

Ambient scents must evoke positive feelings among consumers if they are to be effective. It is usually safe to start the scenting project with traditional aromas and then combine them so that the new result can evoke a sense of curiosity about both the store itself and the merchandise within.

Psychological Impacts of Scent

As examples, ivory and spice may indicate prosperity as well as luxury, and the placement of oil from black pepper when infused in men’s cologne creates a scent that is exotic, rich and earthy, and may motivate men to purchase the cologne. Some department stores and boutiques rely on in-store surveys to determine their choice of a proper scent. These are meant to discover the fragrances that consumers prefer. 

Surveys are effective tools in discovering the key to effective ambient scenting; that is, if the scents that customers are presented with remind them of pleasant memories. If they do, there is an infusion of sub-conscious thought that gently urges the consumer to buy that product because it is connected to that memory.

According to Arnold Zlotnik (pictured below), President and CEO of Air-Scent International, “Olfaction is the most fundamental of all five senses because the brain responds to a fragrance before the other four come into play. Other details play a role in delivering a pleasant olfactory consumer experience such as: lights, window displays, decorations, layout and sales staff, but their power is secondary to that of smell.”

Arnold Zlotnik President Air-Scent

An appropriate fragrance in the right setting can actually heighten the perception of merchandise quality and increase lingering time in a department store or boutique. Selection requires mastery and care, as fragrance must complement the setting. For example, floral notes and vanilla work well for boutiques that sell ladies’ apparel while rustic, woodsy scents work well for mens’ clothing.

When a smell first reaches the human nose, it is then transported and read by the olfactory bulb in the brain’s limbic system. This structure stimulates emotion and memory and links smells with both good and bad experiences. It is this fact that arouses subliminal levels of intense reminiscence and is the reason why people connect particular odors with certain moments in their lives.

The Psychological Impact of Scent on Retail Sales

Consumers are affected by scent for a number of reasons. For one thing, once initiated into a retail setting it cannot be turned off, and for another, it prompts immediate, emotional responses. Ambient scents emanate from the environment and their potential to persuade and influence consumer decisions is significant. On average, every human being breathes 20,000 times per day, and with each new breath comes an opportunity to pitch a different product.

In combination with other marketing cues, scent can heighten brand connection, create stronger communication and deepen brand loyalty. Custom signature scents for retail and fashion brands are designed to express the overall brand message and environment, enhancing the perception, emotion and connection with the target audience, thereby becoming an integrated and memorable aspect of the brand’s overall identity and brand communication.

creating customized scents or fragrances

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Ambient marketers emphasize either the cognitive or emotional aspects of scent selection. Cognitive refers to product recognition that triggers a memory and may result in a purchase. Emotional concerns how comfortable the chosen fragrance makes consumers feel inside the retail setting, which can be thematic or sectional . 

These terms refer to smells that correspond to the decorations or purpose of a particular store. For example, soothing lavender and vanilla are often the choices for spas and resorts.

How Scents Enhance Customer Perception

Department stores are usually more financially able than boutiques when it comes to initiating a scenting program. Boutiques may be tempted to, but must not scrimp on this aspect of marketing because shortcuts can lead to disaster. 

Aromas emanating from ordinary air-fresheners will fade fast and shoppers will be the first to notice. Cheap diffusers prevent retailers from controlling fragrance intensity, while ambient scents that are released via cold air diffusion during specific store hours enable the control of both the strength and the duration of scents.

Scent Marketing Aroma Styler Diffuser

Explore our Aroma Styler HVAC diffusers!

In retail environments, candles can be very dangerous and perfume sprays can be costly and inefficient. Air-fresheners and their aromas can go sour after just after a few days because their ingredients are not balanced chemically. Our cold air diffusion machines guarantee an even steady flow of fragrance. 

Adding a diffused fragrance to a retail store or small boutique enhances the shopper’s experience and connects with them on an emotional level, offering a distinct competitive edge. The selected aroma must be very simple and barely noticeable. For larger outlets, combinations of many fragrances can be effective, but not for smaller shops. Ambient scents are ideal if positioned close to checkout counters. According to Leslie Vosshall, a professor at the Rockefeller University in New York, “Scents have a way of working in the background of our consciousness and can affect mood, for better or worse.”

According to Adriana Madzharov, assistant professor of marketing at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey: “A warm ambient scent leads people to perceive the environment around them as more ‘socially dense.’ People often shop to make themselves feel better and the more crowded a space, the less powerful they feel. This means you can manipulate spatial perception, and this is very important for retailers.”

To avoid the pitfalls, retailers and small boutique owners should answer the following questions: What is your purpose in dispersing scents? Which aroma appeals most to people? What kind of technique and technology must store owners use?

Relevant Studies and Statistics

Alan R. Hirsch of the Taste Treatment and Research Foundation, Ltd, conducted a study involving participants who were asked to compare a pair of shoes in a scented store and an unscented store. Eighty-four percent of customers reported that they were more likely to buy from the scented boutique.

Another iconic study conducted by Eric Spangenberg, a marketing professor and dean of Washington State University’s college of business, indicated that scent can connect a consumer with a product if it corresponds with the gender of the shopper. 

It concluded that in clothing stores the sale of women’s clothing doubled when feminine scents such as vanilla were employed. In the same instance, the sales of men’s clothing rose significantly when male scents such as rose maroc or patchouli were introduced. 

Spangenberg was among the first researchers to furnish scientific evidence that scents could put consumers in a buying mood. He pin-pointed a few key factors in selecting the right fragrance for the right setting. It must be pleasing yet intense in its own way. 

A Few Popular Scents For Retail Environments

    • Lavender

A member of the mint family, lavender is used often in retail sores because it helps to create an ambiance of warmth and serenity. This rich and sweet floral scent contains essences of French lavender, bergamot and clary sage. Studies have found that the smell of lavender can also reduce signs of depression and anxiety.

    • Fresh Cotton

The clean, fresh and soft aroma of fresh cotton helps customers feel comfortable within a retail setting and promotes peaceful feelings. Fresh cotton combines the essences of night-blooming jasmine with a white musk, and clothing retailers love it because it reinforces the natural scent of new clothing fabric.

    • Vanilla

The smell of vanilla is often associated with pleasant childhood memories. Cookies and pies baking in the oven evoke happiness and the recall of early family interactions. The essence of vanilla is warm, inviting, sweet, playful and friendly.

Vanilla Bean Ambient Scent

A study entitled: The Cool Scent of Power: Effects of Ambient Scent on Consumer Preferences and Choice Behavior” published in 2014 in the Journal of Marketing concluded that shoppers spend more when they are in an environment with “warm scents” such as vanilla or cinnamon.

    • Christmas Tree

The holiday seasons has always been a boon to the retail industry. To attract consumers, department stores and boutiques go all out to appeal to shoppers. While fire safety laws prevent the installation of live trees, many stores settle for a Christmas Tree fragrance, which helps to spread the special spirit of the yuletide. Earthy and vibrant, the scent of white pine and birch truly captures the essence of winter and the joy of Christmas.

A Few Examples of Commercial Retail Scents

Scents utilized for retail stores and boutiques must be discrete for they are meant to elicit specific feelings. For example, the Benetton store on Chicago’s Michigan Avenue features a bright spring fragrance modeled after Benetton’s Verde cologne. According to Robert Argueta, director of visual merchandising for the United Colors of Benetton: “It finishes the emotion we are trying to create in the store…It’s the first and last impression a customer gets.”

The Panera Bread restaurant chain is in the process of changing its baking hours from nighttime to daytime so the smells of baked goods are strongest while customers are there. Abercrombie & Fitch is well known for the musky scent of its stores, which is that of their signature cologne, Fierce. Employees regularly spray this fragrance into the air at Abercrombie stores to keep the scent fresh. 

Scent Families For Retail Settings

  • Citrus

This family includes: lemon, lime, mandarin, orange, grapefruit, bergamot and clementine. These scents are considered crisp, clean, rejuvenating and stimulating. They work best for brands seeking to convey a high-energy store environment.

Ambient Citrus Scents Retail

  • Floral

Floral scents include: rose, jasmine, gardenia, orange blossoms, and violet. They are very versatile and range in effect from pure and sweet to complex and exotic. Florals are favorites of fashion boutiques and jewelry stores.

  • Outdoorsy

Woody notes such as pine and cedar, green notes of fresh grass, moss and mint, and herbal notes of basil and sage are considered for this fragrance category. These scents are inspired by nature and are associated with the concept of cleanliness. They provide the perfect backdrop for outdoor outfitters or those stores best known for their sustainable policies and products.

  • Fruity

Fruity fragrances are bright, uplifting and soothing. Some examples include: peach, apple, pear, plum, and apricot. These options are very popular in newer fragrances and are a fragrant boon to specialty fashion retailers.

Apricots Ambient Scenting

  • Gourmand

Specialty food shops and kitchenware stores particularly use scents like vanilla, nutmeg, honey, caramel, coffee and chocolate both because of their powerful association with food and their ability to create a cozy environment.

  • Ozonic

Airy, fresh, subtle and light, ozonic fragrances are best described as “the scent in the air after a thunderstorm.” Often utilized in smaller spaces, such as gift shops, boutiques and clothing stores, these fragrances promote the impression of a fresh, breezy and open atmosphere, and are perfect for any store that sells scented products, which by their very nature, might present the challenge of competing scents.

Ozonic Ambient Scents

In Conclusion

The first step for retailers is to plan, with the help of experts, an effective scenting program with one of the families mentioned above. Equally important are the intensity levels of the chosen fragrance and its basic formulation. 

Ambient scenting represents an untapped opportunity that must be done correctly from the very beginning because it can backfire and send customers running for the door if the scent is too overpowering.

Fortunately, leading-edge scent-delivery technology allows stores to control scent intensities in the same fashion as store-owners can dial music up or down. Matching brand attributes with the power of smell begins with an informed and professional approach by experts within the ambient marketing industry. 

We offer many scenting options suitable to both large department stores and smaller boutiques. Founded on innovation, and the inventors of the world’s first fan-operated air-freshener, our equipment represents the most effective cutting edge air diffusion and odor control technologies, which renders us ideal for ambient branding in both small and large-scale business settings.

Retail Ambient Scent Diffuser

Explore the Aroma Beam diffuser!

Our Aroma Beam diffuser provides coverage for up to 4000 feet and works perfectly for large department stores. It utilizes unique cartridges specifically designed for linear diffusion over a period of 30 days.

Other large area options include our Aroma Styler HVAC systems, the largest model of which provides coverage for up to 12,000 feet and work perfectly for large department stores. The Stylers utilize unique nano-particle diffusion specifically designed for linear performance diffusion over a period of 30 days.

Other systems include the Rumate Passive Dispenser for elevators and other smaller areas as well as our Aroma One restroom air freshener to name just a few.

Call our team today, for an enhanced retail environment tomorrow!

Final note to retailers: If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten. ~ Tony Robbins 


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