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How to increase retail spend with seasonal scent

It’s the most wonderful time of year. In truth, it has been since October, when the first festive fairings sneaked their way onto shop shelves around the world. London’s Selfridges adopted the Christmas spirit earlier than any other department store in the world this year with ‘A Christmas for Modern Times’ window display in the middle of October. While the true meaning of Christmas varies from person to person, there’s no escaping the fact that it’s a time for shopping and gift-buying, making the festive season of paramount importance for the retail industry.

With savvy customers seeking bargains long before Black Friday arrives, continuing through to Christmas and into the inevitable search-for-a-bargain post-festive sale season, there are plenty of opportunities for stores to take advantage.

And there’s a lot of money to be made. According to an  Independent article, the Americans part with $2,372,227, or roughly £1,857,000 every minute in December. In the UK, consumers spend just under £446,000 every minute of every day on presents alone.

Better still for the retail industry, a survey by Ocean Finance revealed that only 16 per cent of shoppers knew exactly how much money they had just parted with, barely two minutes after paying. Another 32 per cent had “no idea”. While women top the spending for presents, food and drink, the power of scent can be used on all genders to influence festive overindulgence, increase dwell time and give rise to brand affiliation.

How retailers can use scent marketing

It’s hard to remain neutral about smell. You either like a certain scent or you don’t. Smell has the power to influence our moods and emotions, and – probably more so at Christmas – makes us feel nostalgic. Smells are linked to life experiences that we have stored in our memories – and a memory is instantly triggered when a smell is identified. You could be anywhere. Simply walking into a room or down the street could evoke memories of past visits or create new ones. Premium Scenting’s study revealed that 73 per cent of respondents agree that a smell has triggered an immediate memory or emotion.

Importantly, 75% of emotions we experience are affected by our sense of smell. We can recall smell with 65% accuracy a year later, but in contrast, only 50% of visuals after just three months. By appealing to the spirit of the season – embracing the particular scents associated with this part of the year – such as pine, cinnamon, mulled wine, oranges, and cloves, there’s a real sense of finding emotional touchpoints in seasonal stores, bringing on feelings of nostalgia, excitement, sensuality, homeliness and family, and in turn, bringing in customers. A recent study by scenting experts Ambius uncovered the UK’s favourite seasonal smells. You can find out whether Christmas trees, cinnamon, mince pies or roast turkey topped the list here.

The study also showed that 80% of respondents felt more festive when they could smell familiar scents at Christmas. Younger generations were more influenced, with twice the amount of 25-34 year-olds agreeing that such scents would encourage them to stay in a store longer than those 65 years and over (65% against 33%).

Scent also works fast, and is the quickest way to change somebody’s mood or behaviour – vitally important when potential customers enter your store. Encouraging them to enter is a different matter altogether.

Working on the ‘multiplier’ effect

While bricks-and-mortar retail has been under significant threat from online shopping, Christmas can entice shoppers into stores like no other season. By creating an experiential festive mix of music, décor and scents, the retailer who finds the right mix will be the winner. Firstly, let’s get them in.

In London’s West End, Fortnum & Mason’s window display, featuring a host of cats sporting red jackets as they prep for Christmas, competes against the likes of Selfridges (mentioned above) and a wink to Scandinavia from Harvey Nichols, with the Northern Lights projected onto its façade. A window display shouldn’t be underestimated. It can define a store and give the consumer an idea of what the brand is all about. In the world of Instagram, having a well-thought-out and photogenic window display is essential.

Now you’ve enticed consumers into your store, research has found that shoppers particularly enjoy festive music when paired with festive scent. When music and scent are congruent, they act in partnership to bring a real sense of the holiday season. Consumers will also have higher evaluations of the retail environment if the mix of sensory inputs is right. As ever, the sum is greater than its parts.

These functions should work simultaneously, engaging all of the human senses at once. Creating sensory signatures across multiple senses will enhance the effects of individual elements and forge a bigger impression.

mother daughter playing in tent with lights

But don’t over-complicate scent

In a famous experiment Eric Spangenberg of the Washington State University College of Business, working with colleagues, developed two scents – a simple orange scent and a more complicated orange-basil blended with green tea. Over 18 days they observed 400 customers in a home decorations store. Those shopping in the presence of the simple scent spent 20% more, leading Spangenberg to conclude that merely making a store smell good – of pine or mulled wine, say – doesn’t always end with sales. So get Christmassy: but as with your food and drink intake, don’t be tempted to overdo it.

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