How Smells and Sounds Impact Our Shopping Habits

eHow Money Blog

shoppingsmellsDuring this shopping season, retailers will pull out all of the stops to get your business. Many retailers and product companies use gender-specific colors to trigger positive emotions or associations and compete for a sale. However, sight is but one sensory detail that companies use.

Sounds and smells can influence consumer purchasing decisions without you even realizing it. Here’s a look at how retailers use these senses in an attempt to affect shopping behavior.


Nobel Prize-winning research reveals that our sense of smell has tremendous power to elicit an emotional response and trigger memories from our past. But can smells actually make us spend more? Quite possibly. A study published earlier this year compared purchasing in a French flower shop when a lavender aroma was diffused and when it wasn’t. It found that the aroma increased the number of customers purchasing items and the amounts of their purchases. An earlier study using Nike shoes found that consumers desired the shoes more, and were willing to pay more, when the room had a mixed floral scent.

Realizing the subconscious impact of scents, many stores diffuse artificial fragrances through their heating and air-conditioning vents or place scent machines above their doors. For instance, the aroma of pine or cinnamon might help you get in the holiday mood, while a coconut scent might make that bikini more appealing as you yearn for a tropical vacation.

A company called ScentAir actually customizes scents to complement the in-store experience of clients including Hugo Boss (which uses smooth, woodsy scents) and Bloomingdale’s (which uses a lilac scent in its lingerie section and the aroma of baby powder in its infant section). Other stores deliberately avoid synthetic smells to keep the focus on their products.


Ever felt frenzied due to a retailer’s fast-paced soundtrack? Or calmed by the strains of chanting monks? A retailer’s choice of music — specifically tempo, volume and genre — can have a big impact on customer moods. One study found that when subjected to loud music, customers will spend less time in a store. But interestingly, the researchers did not find a difference in sales or customer satisfaction.

Another interesting finding from a recent study was that customers actually shop longer when exposed to unfamiliar music. Just as department stores use different scents in certain departments, many use different music in some areas to appeal to varying demographics.

What’s an overstimulated shopper to do?

Well, you could always leave the store and take a break, but the food court probably isn’t your best bet as brands like Cinnabon and Panera Bread also use scents as part of their customer experience. If all else fails, Cyber Monday is just around the corner. Online retailers use a variety of other strategies to get your business, but you can always mute your speakers and enjoy the familiar scents of home.

Photo credit: Getty Creative

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