You might call it muzak for the nose. The latest technique for putting consumers in a spending mood is to fill the air with a seductive scent. That's why Select Comfort, a nationwide chain of 400 bedding stores, is in the market for one that will soothe shoppers browsing for bedding. ScentAir, one of several firms that design scents for retail settings, has suggested a mix of cashmere wood, amber, cardamom, cinnamon and bergamot. The blend, it says, will convey quiet repose.
The demand for these olfactory services--by stores, hotels, casinos and even museums--is stimulated by a growing body of research that demonstrates how smells affect consumer behavior. Advertising studies in Martin Lindstrom's book Brand Sense suggest that although most contemporary commercial messages are aimed at our eyes, many of the emotion-triggering moments people remember on a given day are actually prompted by smell. And scents, experiments have shown, can evoke an array of sensations. Citrus notes, for example, are perceived to be energizing or invigorating, whereas vanilla can suggest warmth and comfort.
Coming up with just the right aroma is a complex process. For the Westin hotels, ScentAir created a fragrance that melds green tea, geranium, green ivy, black cedar and freesia to evoke a peaceful aura in the chain's lobbies. "Tea, the ascendant note, suggests serenity and tranquillity," says ScentAir CEO David Van Epps. "Black cedar adds body, fullness to the aroma. As for the rest of the tones, each has its own characteristics, and it's as much an art as a science."
Sony hoped to benefit from both last year when it decided to try to broaden the mix of people shopping for consumer electronics in its SonyStyle stores to include more women. "Our products are about seeing and hearing," says the stores' creative director, Christine Belich, referring to Sony's cameras, TVs and music gear, "so it seemed natural to add smell to create an immersive sensory experience."
After interviewing Belich and her staff with questions like "If your consumer was going on vacation, where would she go?" and "What color floor tiles might she pick?" ScentAir's mixologists researched their inventory of 1,500 aromatic oils to find the ones that would produce the right blend to capture the essence of the stores. Over the next six months, about 30 concoctions were FedExed from ScentAir's lab in Charlotte, N.C., to the Sony offices in New York City; a steady stream of comments and suggestions flowed the other way, until a final pool of five candidates emerged.