- The Washington Times - Monday, November 27, 2006

It used to be that only your feet were tired after a long day of shopping, but now your nose might be in for a workout, too.

Walk into an M&M;’s World store and the aroma of chocolate lingers in the air. The baby section of Bloomingdale’s? It smells like baby powder. Sheraton hotels yield the scent of apple pie, and orange, vanilla and cedar perfume the air in Sony stores.

In an attempt to stand out from the crowd, retailers and “hospitality companies” are turning to shoppers’ sense of smell to create loyalty, hoping they will remember the product because of its aroma, even when the product’s scent isn’t necessarily obvious.

“The more hook you give a person to hang their hat on, the more likely they are to remember it,” says Avery N. Gilbert, chief scientist at the Scent Marketing Institute in New York.

The aroma of chocolate is part of the “experience” of M&M;’s World, four-story shops in Las Vegas and in Orlando, Fla., that feature M&M; mood analyzers and 3-D movies, says Phil Levine, a spokesman for Mars Retail Group.

“Customers love the scent of chocolate,” Mr. Levine says. “We consider it part of the retail experience when they get to the store.”

Makers of products without a scent have to stretch a bit to find an aroma that invites a purchase. Samsung uses a green-melon-type scent in its New York store, Sony has developed an orange-vanilla-cedar-type aroma and Singapore Airlines’ towels and lounges are perfumed with the scent of flowers. These scents are designed to create a calming ambiance and are less noticeable than chocolate, Mr. Gilbert says.

“It humanizes the environment,” he says of the Samsung scent. “Customers might not even be aware of it. When you walk into an air-sanitized store, with zero smell, that’s a little weird. You expect some kind of background smell.”

Some marketers say scent resonates with consumers on an intellectual level, as when a shopper opens a container of shampoo and thinks, “Do I like this scent?” If they do, they’ll associate positive feelings with the product.

Scent can act as a subtle trigger tied to memory because the part of the brain that reads scent is linked to the part of the brain that reads memory. Hotels use kitchen aromas like apple pie and chocolate-chip cookies and hope they subconsciously remind customers of positive memories.

“It’s not something that hits you. It’s ambiance in the background,” says Nadeen Ayala, a spokeswoman for Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc.

Starwood’s Westin hotels have a white-tea scent, meant to create a relaxing environment, while the Sheraton Hotels are scented with apple pie, designed to inspire a homey atmosphere.

Other retailers are catching on to scent marketing. A session on the topic attracts interest at GlobalShop, an annual retail-design convention, says group Vice President Doug Hope. “Just like Intel has the Intel sound, every brand is going to have their scent.”

A Washington State University study found that scent boosts sales when the scent is appealing to shoppers. Sales nearly doubled when a subtle vanilla scent was placed in the women’s department of a clothing store in the Northwest and rose maroc — a heavy, spicy scent that men tend to like — in the men’s department. When the scents were swapped, sales fell.

When ScentAndrea, a Santa Barbara, Calif., scent-marketing company, added a chocolate aroma to vending machines, sales jumped 300 percent, Chief Executive Officer Carmine Santandrea says. ScentAndrea is testing “smell-o-vision,” a series of grocery-store television commercials and accompanying scents, in some grocery chains.

Scent marketing has been around for about 80 years. But the technology became inexpensive enough this year for commercial use, and fragrances are available in a “dry” format instead of spill-prone oils, and more smelly shopping can be expected early next year.

Scent marketers say their scents are hypoallergenic and designed to hang in the background, not to be dispersed like perfume in department stores.

“If we reach off the shelf and grab someone by the nose, we will achieve what advertising to date is not achieving,” Mr. Santandrea says. “Everything has a scent, even if it doesn’t need it. Toilet paper doesn’t need a scent to make it work. It’s put in there to appeal to the consumer. When it’s wrapped and on the shelf, the scent they spent a fortune on isn’t working for them.”

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