As we plunge into the fevered vortex of holiday shopping, it is always good to remember the ingenious ways in which retailers manipulate sound and smell in hopes of eliciting momentary lapses of self control, which, they dearly hope, will prompt us to buy -- and buy some more.
See Also: Holiday Hell
Music is an integral part of any shopkeeper's arsenal. Crank it up seasonal tunes such as "Jingle Bell Rock" to ear-shattering volumes, studies have shown, and we become overstimulated and primed to commit any number of impulse purchases.
Slower music, say that old chestnut, "I'll Be Home For Christmas," is a proven way of ensuring that shoppers linger longer inside. whereas places that play, say, "The Twelve Days of Christmas" over and over again, may cause the holiday consumer to become so cranky and over-amped that he'll cry out, "I'll take the sweater with the reindeer pattern. Just get me out of here!"
Smell is another essential tool -- the fresh-baked cookie, the smell of cinnamon, the warm wash of orangy fragrances -- in summoning pleasant holiday memories and family togetherness.
One of the country's experts in this whole olfactory business is Eric Spangenberg, an environmental psychologist and dean of Washington State University's College of Business. As Salon noted in a recent article on sensory marketing, Spangenberg is one of the pioneers in scent-marketing research and one of the first to come up with "scientific evidence that scents could get people in the buying mood."
The Daily Weekly spoke briefly with the Spangenberg the other day, and he told us that the use of scents to lure customers make perfect sense.
"If you go into a tire store that smells like cheese, you say, 'This place stinks. Let's get of here," says Spangenberg. "Conversely, if you got into cheese store that smells like tires, you're not going to buy much cheese."
In a 2006 study, Spangenberg, writes Salon, "he also established that the scents should match the rest of the shopping experience. Alternatively dousing a Pullman, Wash., department store in the masculine scent of rose maroc and the feminine scent of vanilla, he found that women bought less when the store smelled masculine, and men bought less when the store smelled feminine.
"If [the scent is] not congruent with what people expect, then that can hurt you.... If you go into a cheese shop, you expect it to smell like certain cheeses, and it's awesome. If you had that in a clothing store, though, you'd walk right out, because it's not congruent."
Spangenberg's latest research, published in the Journal of Retailing, delves into another component of smell that encourages consumption: aromatic complexity.
In one part of the study, Spangenberg and some colleagues set up camp at (you guessed it) a home-goods store in Switzerland to test two similar scents that had been determined to be equally pleasant, equally familiar to customers, equally subtle and equally congruent with the store. One was a simple orange scent; the other was a more complex blend of orange, basil and green tea.
In 18 days of testing, they found that those who made purchases at the store while it smelled simply of orange spent about 20 percent more. And not only 20 percent more than in unscented conditions, but 20 percent more than in the presence of the more complex scent.
"We isolated these scents, so people liked both scents at the same level," he says. "The only difference you could attribute it to was the complexity."
That store that wants to celebrate Christmas with a mulled-wine scent, then, might think again.
"Even if it's congruent with Christmas, it's complex," he points out. "What about one of the elements of mulled wine? Like cinnamon sticks. Or justspruce. Or just pine."
Coincidentally, on the plane back from Switzerland, Spangenberg says, he came across an article in the inflight magazine about a famous French perfumer, who has made scents for Chanel and Yves Saint-Laurent, including one of the best-selling scents in modern history (Spangenberg couldn't remember which). And while most perfumes have two, three-hundred elements in them, how many did the world-famous perfumer put in his best-selling scent?
"Eleven," says Spangenberg.