How Retailers Use Our Own Senses Against Us

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You walk into your local department store to buy yourself a shirt or a pair of shoes and before you know it, you walk about with a dozen things you didn’t expect to buy. You get home and you start scratching your head. Why did you go and buy all that stuff anyway? You really didn’t intend to, but…what exactly happened in the store?

Most consumers don’t think about what a store smells like  (unless it smells badly, of course) but science and studies tell us that just the way a store smells will influence what we buy and how much we buy. It’s so subtle, but it triggers a reaction in us that, most of the time anyway, we aren’t really even aware of.

Research shows that our sense of smell is our strongest link to emotions. We get feelings from certain scents. Think about perhaps your mother’s favorite perfume, or your father’s pipe. Smelling these things will instantly remind you of home, warmth, belonging, comfort, and love. Of course, smells vary from person to person and we are speaking in general terms here, but it’s thought that people can remember about 10,000 different odors and each of these is capable of triggering a memory in us.

Big retailers know this. They know that scents trigger feelings. They test scents before they are used in their stores. One study conducted by a consumer psychologist, Eric Spangenberg, found that when they used what most would think of as feminine scents, such as vanilla, the sales of women’s clothing doubled in volume. More masculine scents, such as cedarwood, would greatly increase the sales of men’s clothing. Men do not like to hang around stores with feminine scents and women won’t stick around stores with more masculine scents.

There are even consultation firms, such as ScentAir, who specialize in nothing more than finding out what scent will entice the buyers retailers want to target.

For example, one particularly popular clothing store, which targets teens and persons in their early 20’s, sprays their well-tested perfume in healthy doses to attract young men to a certain area of the store. They also spray their models and sales staff with fragrances men find pleasing.

Music is another way retailers have of influencing what you buy. Music helps us to self-regulate our emotions, affects our moods, and can even affect us physically by reducing our breathing and heart rate (read more about unusual ways music can tune up the brain). As consumers, we generally don’t think twice about the music at a particular store. We might sing along or hum if we know the tune, but that music is there for a reason. It’s working on your mind, slowing you down or speeding you up, but most of all, getting you to spend more money.

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