Leveraging Scent to Create the Ultimate Retail Experience

by Katie Sloan

By Chris Karl, design specialist for Ambius

With e-commerce continuing to eat away at brick-and-mortar retailers’ business, stores need to find new ways to create meaningful experiences shoppers can’t get online. Retailers that are slow to adapt to this trend are finding the current environment difficult to survive — no matter how established their brand or large their footprint. Many are discovering the value of experiential marketing with a growing number of retailers — including Abercrombie & Fitch and Pandora  — incorporating custom scents into their in-store experience.

Chris Karl, Ambius

Research backs up the important role scent can play in shaping consumers’ perceptions of the in-store experience. With independent research house Walnut Unlimited, Ambius Premium Scenting undertook a study to investigate the impact of multisensory experiences on consumer involvement levels. The recently-released study found that scent increases consumers’ emotional involvement by 38 percent — with a statistical significance of 99 percent. To put that in simpler terms, retailers can use scent to amplify the in-store experience with an unseen element that compliments the store’s design. Designed properly, scent becomes an integral part of an experiential marketing effort to attract and retain customers by providing deep engagement with the brand.

The challenges posed by the convenience of online shopping mean brick-and-mortar stores need to raise the bar to keep up with consumers’ expectations.  According to a 2016 report issued by Ambius Premium Scenting, 42 percent of shoppers claim “ambiance” or “pleasant atmosphere” is what they like most about shopping. According to that same report, 90 percent of customers said they would speed up their browsing if the store had an off-putting smell. In many subtle and not-so-subtle ways, our sense of smell plays a critical role in shaping people’s perception of their environment. Taking advantage of this opportunity, stores can increase foot traffic, encourage customers to stay longer, and build positive brand associations that keep people coming back.

Scenting, of course, isn’t the entire picture when it comes to providing a comprehensive in-store experience. It acts as an integral part of an overall brand atmosphere that engages several senses, including visual displays and ambient sounds. Shoppers seek product advice from knowledgeable and friendly staff and enjoy the social experience of shopping with friends and family. Many high end stores are incorporating additional customer experiences into their store design to create that sense of community such as cafés flanked with green walls, entertainment spaces where you can literally plug in, and gathering spaces that include nature and technology elements to complement the experience they’ve designed for their customers.

As online shopping continues to grab an increasingly large piece of the retail pie, we’ll continue to see stores adapt creative experiential marketing strategies to keep consumers coming through their doors and sticking around long enough to make a purchase. Scenting is a very practical element of an experimental marketing strategy because it’s relatively inexpensive and doesn’t take up valuable floor space needed for merchandise. It’s also a very powerful one because, as research shows, it has a profound effect on consumers’ emotions.

Chris Karl is an award-winning design specialist with more than 20 years’ experience at Ambius. He specializes in resorts and shopping destinations in Southern California and strives to create atmospheres where people are stimulated and thrive.

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