By Jason H.
We all know that scents mean big money these days. I mean, Diddy has one. Reese has one. Even Paris has one. Yes–that Paris.
Personally, I’m not big on cologne, but I’m fascinated by the way fragrance is now being used in retail shopping environments. What I’ve found is that, while many chains resist the urge to pump scent into their stores, those that have done so–Hollister, McDonald’s and IKEA come to mind–take one of two tactics when doing so: either subtly, almost subliminally, or an over-the-top assault.
Anyone who has ever shopped at certain high-end department stores knows what I mean by “assault”: It’s an almost-polite way to describe the cacophony of perfume spritzes that awaits you the second you step anywhere near their main floor cosmetics-fragrance departments. Tween retailer Hollister, a division of Abercrombie & Fitch, takes a similar approach: They spray their trademark scent, SoCal–which epitomizes the Southern California surfer lifestyle that is at the heart of the store’s brand–on everything from the clothing to the salespeople. And apparently it’s working: SoCal, one of six fragrances that the store offers, has made such a splash with Hollister fans that one can find posts online such as, “What is the fragrance that Hollister sprays on the clothes and where can I buy it?” and “What is the best Hollister fragrance?”
Victoria’s Secret is another retailer that uses scent to its advantage; the seduction narrative that plays out in its stores, on its fashion runway and across the pages of its catalogs makes the brand a perfect candidate to sell sex through fragrance. Likewise, one can’t walk into a Yankee Candle without suffering from a crazy case of olfactory overload, with the Spiced Pumpkin, Pineapple Cilantro and Beach Vacation candles (to name a few of the chain’s 100-plus scents) waging all-out war on one another. While this kaleidoscopic approach to scent might verge on the overwhelming, Yankee Candle is doing something very right: It was acquired by a private equity group for $1.7 billion in 2007.
Then there are those who opt to use scent somewhat subtly, adhering to the “If you’re having an open house, bake a cake to make your home smell good” philosophy. McDonald’s–not a brand I necessarily equate with being subtle–uses this approach, without your even knowing it. Renowned for amazing french fries, the scent of which just filled my nostrils simply by typing the words on my computer screen, McDonald’s has somehow managed to amp up the scent on this bestselling product. I’d be surprised if anyone would not want to buy a bag of those tasty morsels after getting one whiff of their aroma. “The sense of smell is the only one that cannot be shut down for an extended period of time,” notes the Scarsdale, N.Y.-based Scent Marketing Institute. “It also connects to the limbic system, the brain’s center for emotions and decision-making.” In other words, you can tune out McDonald’s TV ads, but not the smell of those fries.
Likewise, IKEA has seemingly taken ownership of the cinnamon roll, which may be news to Cinnabon. I recently noticed that, as you move through an IKEA store, the subtle scent of dough and cinnamon gets stronger and stronger until, lo and behold, you’re at the checkout counter face-to-face with a cafe featuring these fresh-baked treats. Is there something inherently Swedish about the cinnamon roll? Not really, but it is just the right indulgent treat to take your mind off the fact that you’ve spent hours looking for the perfect Lack shelf.
And as you peruse the thousands of books at your local Barnes & Noble, do you find yourself wanting that perfect cup of Joe? That’s no coincidence: tucking Starbucks cafes within America’s #1 bookstore has positive effects for both brands, as the decadent smell of coffee undoubtedly makes people want to dig into the latest New York Times bestseller while enjoying a vente latte.
Scent pairings such as these lead me to wonder why even more retailers haven’t aligned themselves with obvious (and advantageous) scents. Wouldn’t kids and their parents want to visit Toys R Us every afternoon if they offered, say, fresh-baked cookies? Lovers of the great outdoors could take a mini-vacation at a pine tree-scented L.L. Bean store, while water babies could kick back for a few hours at their closest, coconut-scented Tommy Bahama. These aromas would put customers in such good moods that they’d undoubtedly want to stay awhile…and spend. Sure, it’s a risky proposition, and some may run screaming for the doors, but I truly believe that by aligning your retail environment with a fragrance that is relevant and on-brand, companies can make big dollars out of the right scents.