It’s one of retail’s best-kept secrets: There is an entire industry dedicated to perfuming our in-store experience. And most of the time, we as consumers aren’t even aware of it.
From casinos and hotels to malls and Main Street boutiques, fragrances are pumped into retail spaces of all stripes—typically at just-below-perceptible levels so that our brains respond favorably even if we don’t smell “something” consciously. The desired effect of scenting a space, of course, is to create positive experiences for our delicate senses so we remain in these spaces longer, increasing the likelihood that we will buy something.
How does it work? The Zing Report caught up with one of the major players in the retail scent game: Prolitec, a company that provides the technology to perfume stores to hundreds of retailers around the world, including fine jewelry stores. Prolitec technology is what perfumes the air in Abercrombie & Fitch (which infuses stores with one of its colognes, Fierce) and Walmart, which pumps out a clean, fresh smell in its restrooms, to name just two clients.
“The primary question that people have is, ‘Is there a magical note that creates sales?’” says Roger Bensinger, executive vice president of the company’s global business development, who guessed our first question before we even asked it. “The answer is ‘No.’ But the right molecule in the right environment can increase the dwell time within a space. And the more product you can introduce to the customer, the better chance you have of making a sale.”
Bensinger adds that the olfactory nerve begins our nose and leads directly to parts of the brain charged with regulating mood, emotion, and memory.
There have been several studies that prove pleasant scents increase the amount of time people spend in a store, increase the number of times a product is examined, and even positively influences how customers perceive the value of a product. Positive emotions drive loyalty, increase a brand’s good word-of-mouth to family and friends, and drive customers to spend more, according to a 2017 study authored by the Capgemini Digital Transformation Institute. And get this—the same study found that 70 percent of emotionally engaged customers spend twice as much as those who were not.
Prolitec sells subscriptions to a monthly service that includes the initial “build” of a scent, then installing diffusion technology at strategic locations inside a store and maintaining that equipment. When creating a signature scent with a retailer, the company considers the brand’s business objectives, makes a shortlist of words that describe the brand to guide its search, and considers a physical space’s colors, texture, and overall vibe. Some scents are singular, but retailers can choose from any number of scents or combination of scents.
And scent can be a response to the times. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, for example, many stores opted for a fresh scent that indicated purity and cleanliness. Other popular scents include citrus, vanilla, spices, and florals. Watery notes meant to conjure water hitting the pavement, salty seawater and other evocative H2O scenarios can be added to the mix.
As for where scent technology is most potent, many retailers place diffusers at the entrance of their stores. “The entrance is a very common warm-welcome approach,” Bensinger says. “It’s the perfect first impression: visual, auditory, and olfactory.”