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Press Release From the Journal of Marketing: Does Smell Sell? How Ambient Scent Improves Shoppers' Mood—and Spending

Matt Weingarden

Chicago, October 23, 2019 — Researchers from the University of Klagenfurt published a new meta-analysis in the Journal of Marketing that examines the effects of ambient scent on consumers’ responses and expenditures.  

The study, forthcoming in the January 2020 issue of the Journal of Marketing, is titled “Pleasant Ambient Scents: A Meta-Analysis of Customer Responses and Situational Contingencies” and authored by Holger Roschk and Masoumeh Hosseinpour. 

In-store experiences are 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 marketplace, 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’s unique features make scent a powerful stimulus that evokes strong emotional memories.

A new study in the Journal of Marketing integrated 671 available effects from 64 ambient scent experiments. The researchers demonstrate that exposure to pleasant ambient scents produces a substantial increase in the level of customer responses (3 to 15 percent, on average). The results reveal positive and robust effects in the areas of mood, evaluations, memories, intentions, and behaviors.

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. Roschk explains that “We estimate that consumer spending can be increased by up to 23 percent, but only if scents are deployed in an ideal manner. In essence, the scents and the store environment as well as the products and services must be congruent, the fragrances must be familiar to customers, and jarring blends of different scents should be avoided.” Roschk goes on to elaborate that, “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.” Further, service environments appear favorable to using ambient scents. Scent also appears beneficial when females represent the main consumer group. In any context, the scent needs to be perceived and should not overpower. If ambient music is present, it should match the ambient scent.  

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 can worsen 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.

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.

Although it seems unlikely that a pleasant ambient scent can turn a poor in-store experience into a great one, it can be an enhancement that, in the fierce competition for the perfect in-store experience, may be decisive for thriving and prevailing in the market.

Read the full article

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

About the Journal of Marketing 

The Journal of Marketing develops and disseminates knowledge about real-world marketing questions useful to scholars, educators, managers, policy makers, consumers, and other societal stakeholders around the world. Published by the American Marketing Association since its founding in 1936, JM has played a significant role in shaping the content and boundaries of the marketing discipline. Christine Moorman (T. Austin Finch, Sr. Professor of Business Administration at the Fuqua School of Business, Duke University) serves as the current Editor in Chief.

About the American Marketing Association (AMA) 

As the largest chapter-based marketing association in the world, the AMA is trusted by marketing and sales professionals to help them discover what’s coming next in the industry. The AMA has a community of local chapters in more than 70 cities and 350 college campuses throughout North America. The AMA is home to award-winning content, PCM® professional certification, premiere academic journals, and industry-leading training events and conferences.

Matt Weingarden, Vice President, Communities & Journals, leads the diverse team that supports the AMA’s network of community leaders from its three broad communities and four scholarly journals.