The Games Companies Play
While companies may shy away from evidence that proves the scent-spend connection, researchers have spent years collecting it. A study by Eric Spangenberg, dean of the College of Business at Washington State University, found that certain scents—Rose Maroc in men's clothing stores and vanilla in women's—increased shopping time, number of items purchased, and amount spent.
Music also has an effect. Maureen Morrin, associate professor of marketing at Rutgers University, found that people who make unplanned purchases tend to buy more in the presence of pleasant background music. She also found that scent and music together decreased spending, perhaps because people felt put off by sensory overload. (Such overload may work at a store like Abercrombie & Fitch, which imbues its stores with a musky scent and pounding music, because its target market is younger and may enjoy the stimulation, Morrin says.)
Muzak, which develops companies' soundtracks, explains that the restaurant chain Red Lobster's use of breezy pop songs, such as "How Sweet It Is (to Be Loved By You)" by Marvin Gaye, "embraces customers and makes them feel cared for and loved."
Whether being stimulated by sound or smell, consumers are usually blissfully unaware of the fact that they are shopping under the influence. "The average consumer doesn't understand that they are being manipulated in that environment," says Anna Mattila, associate professor of marketing at Pennsylvania State University.
Not that manipulation is necessarily nefarious. "We're trying to build a retail environment that people want to spend more time in and then to increase the likelihood that they spend money," says Spangenberg, who also consults for companies on their scent strategies.
At the end of the day, both shoppers and retailers can benefit when people buy what they really want. "If people can be logical in thinking through a product purchase," says Yarrow, "I don't think there's anything wrong with buying it."