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Delivering an Optimal In-Store Shopping Experience with Scent

Delivering an Optimal In-Store Shopping Experience with Scent

Holger Roschk and Masoumeh Hosseinpour

In-store experiences have become highly competitive. Even digital-born firms see the value of a physical presence; for example, Amazon recently invested $13.4 billion in its brick-and-mortar strategy. To prevail in the market, firms must perfect their in-store experiences with sensory and social interactions that customers do not get elsewhere. The search for new ways to create an irreplaceable in-store experience includes ambient scent. This is not surprising. The olfactory system has unique features making scent a powerful stimulus that evokes strong emotional memories.

In a new study in the Journal of Marketing, our research team integrated 671 available effects from ambient scent experiments. We demonstrate that exposure to pleasant ambient scents on average produces a substantial increase in the level of customer responses (3 to 15 percent). Our results reveal positive and robust effects in the areas of mood, evaluations, memories, intentions, and behaviors. Nevertheless, recommendations are not straightforward because scent-facilitated responses may not always be desirable. Undesirable responses may include scent-enhanced recall and activation that intensify negative experiences (such as complaint handling or waiting) and scent-facilitated lingering worsening performance indicators (such as the number of processed consumers).  Hence, it is advisable to use field tests to corroborate the development of an ambient scent strategy.


Importantly, the effects of ambient scent depend on situational contingencies that are eventually decisive for the success of an ambient scent strategy, and are, for example, positively related to congruency, unidimensional aroma structure, ascribed familiarity of a scent, service exchange, and proportion of females. In more managerial terms, using lavender in a French florist shop may illustrate a best-practice example. Lavender is a fit to the store, is familiar to most French people, and contains a single aroma. Other cases may be less obvious, especially regarding familiarity, which is not about identifying a scent, but rather being acquainted with its aroma and the memories and emotions attached to it. Popular scents may be known, but are not necessarily familiar. Further, service environments appear favorable, making the 1 Hotels group a positive example. Scent also appears beneficial when females represent the main consumer group. In either context, the scent needs to be perceived and should not overpower. If ambient music is present, it should match the ambient scent (via both stimuli’s arousing properties). 

Overall, the idea of using pleasant ambient scents to connect to consumers is well-founded. Scent positively influences consumer responses. More importantly, the magnitude of its effects appears substantial, as gauged by the percent changes. However, it requires judiciously considering the various situational contingencies (and the nature of the effects) because they are eventually decisive for the success of an ambient scent strategy. This is reflected in the sensitivity of expenditures, for which we predicted an increase between 3 percent and 23 percent across an average and a most favorable condition; negative effects are also possible. Although it seems unlikely that a pleasant ambient scent can turn a poor in-store experience into a great one, we see it as an enhancement that, in the fierce competition for the perfect in-store experience, may be decisive for thriving and prevailing in the market.

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Read the authors’ slides for sharing this material in your classroom 

From: Holger Roschk and Masoumeh Hosseinpour, “Pleasant Ambient Scents: A Meta-Analysis of Customer Responses and Situational Contingencies,” Journal of Marketing, 84 (January).

Go to the Journal of Marketing

Holger Roschk is Professor of Service Management, Department of Service Management, University of Klagenfurt, Austria.

Masoumeh Hosseinpour is a doctoral student in Marketing, Department of Marketing and International Management, University of Klagenfurt, Austria.