Research shows that simple scents can increase retail sales

Dec 17, 2012

Since shopping on the internet is easier now than ever, you may have gotten comfortable buying gifts in your pajamas. An experiment conducted by Washington State University and Switzerland's University of St. Gallen found that scents in stores can make people more likely to take their Christmas shopping off-line. Eric Spangenberg, Dean of WSU’s College of Business, says the study will help retailers make in-store shopping more enjoyable.

“Often times the merchandise isn’t differentiated at all,” Eric Spangenberg says. “We’re buying Ralph Lauren, Nautica or Polo that can be in any number of stores. Really the retailers are looking for differential advantage by creating an environment that’s more pleasant, and that people want to spend time in; that they want to re-visit.”

The study’s key finding is that simple scents, like cinnamon, are more effective at getting people to open their wallets than more layered, complex scents. Writing in the Journal of Retailing, the researchers said that cash register receipts and customer interviews reflected a significant bump in sales when an uncomplicated scent was in the air. They say that's because simpler scents are easier for the brain to process, freeing customers to focus on shopping.