Overspending? Blame Your Nose
Scientists have discovered that smells, sounds, and even wall colors can influence whether someone decides to buy those cute Capri pants or put them back on the rack. Companies have long relied on such research to shape the design and general atmosphere of stores. Here is a roundup of leading studies on the subject, so you can be armed with the same knowledge as the retailers trying to get into your wallet.
Smell. Customers like stores' scents to match their sounds, according to research by Eric Spangenberg of Washington State University. Participants were invited to a laboratory to experience Christmas or non-Christmas music combined with Christmas or non-Christmas scents. They were then shown photos of a store and asked how they felt about it. Participants who were exposed to a Christmas scent in combination with Christmas music gave the store higher ratings than those who experienced a Christmas scent with non-Christmas music. As a result, Spangenberg advises retailers to attract customers, and their money, with scents that complement the rest of the store's atmosphere.
Sound. A HEC-Montréal and Rutgers University study found that some shoppers—the ones who tend to make unplanned purchases—bought more when stimulated by enjoyable background music, while other shoppers—those who tend not to make impulse buys—spent more when surrounded by a scent they liked. The lesson for retailers? Figure out what type of shopper you have, and deploy scents or sounds accordingly. The researchers suggest that music might be best used for goods, such as clothes and food, that are usually bought on impulse. Cars and computers, on the other hand, which usually involve a lot of comparison shopping, might sell better with scent. One warning: Scent and music together decreased spending across categories, possibly because customers found the mix overstimulating.
Color. Another study by researchers at HEC-Montréal and Rutgers found that colors can affect shoppers' opinion of product quality. Almost 600 shoppers in Montreal were asked to rate the quality of the products inside a mall after being exposed to either cool colors (green plants and trees) or warm colors (yellow and red flowers and drapes). French Canadians gave the mall's products higher quality ratings in a survey given after they walked past the warm colors while Anglo Canadians ranked the products higher after seeing the cool décor, suggesting a cultural difference in the interpretation of colors. Of note: Both groups gave the products higher quality ratings after being exposed to either décor, compared with none at all.
Turnover. Retailers can boost profits by "training" shoppers to buy at full price instead of waiting for a sale, according to researchers at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School. Many consumers, they say, have caught on to the classic retail strategy of marking up clothes only to slash their prices if they don't sell. A certain group of consumers, labeled "strategic" consumers, now wait to buy until the sale, which cuts into store profits. The researchers recommend following the lead of Zara, the Spanish retailer known for its quick turnover of fashions. Such a strategy can boost profits by an average of 67 percent, they found.