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What type of scent causes consumers to spend more money?

It’s no secret that smell impacts buyer decisions, but new studies reveal that consumers prefer one type of smell when comparing simple versus complex scents.

What type of scent led to more sales?

It has long been common knowledge that baking cookies at an open house, or using signature colognes in the air at Abercrombie and Fitch, or baking pies at Williams and Sonoma appeal to an extra sense that consumers respond well to. The sense is often subconscious, and by manipulating smell, businesses can have an impact on one’s impression of a product.

But there is news in the field of the psychology of smell, and it’s good news. Dr. Eric Spangenberg is the Dean of the Washington State University College of Business and has long studied the phenomena of olfactory senses, and is known as a pioneer in the field. A recent study he authored compared simple and complex scents to discover which shoppers respond to best.

Working with Andreas Herrmann at Switzerland’s University of St. Gallen, Spangenberg, marketing professor Dr. David Sprott and marketing doctoral candidate Manja Zidansek developed two scents: a simple orange scent and a more complicated orange-basil blended with green tea. Over 18 week days, the researchers observed over 400 customers in a home decorations store as the air held the simple scent, the complex scent, or no particular scent at all.

“What we showed was that the simple scent was more effective,” said Dr. Spangenberg. The simple orange scent led to a significant increase in sales transactions, as well as an average spend that was 20 percent more money than the other two options, sophisticated, and unscented.

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Why is this scent more effective?

The researchers say the scent is more easily processed, freeing the customer’s mind to focus on shopping. But when that “bandwidth” is unavailable customers don’t perform cognitive tasks as effectively, says Spangenberg.

In a separate experiment series, WSU researchers had undergraduate students solve word problems under the different scent conditions. They found participants solved more problems and in less time when the simple scent was in the air than with the complicated one or no scent at all. The simple scent, say the researchers, contributed to “processing fluency,” the ease with which one can cognitively process an olfactory cue.

The research, says Dr. Spangenberg, underscores the need to understand how a scent is affecting customers. “Most people are processing it at an unconscious level, but it is impacting them. The important thing from the retailer’s perspective and the marketer’s perspective is that a pleasant scent isn’t necessarily an effective scent.”

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Written By

Marti Trewe reports on business and technology news, chasing his passion for helping entrepreneurs and small businesses to stay well informed in the fast paced 140-character world. Marti rarely sleeps and thrives on reader news tips, especially about startups and big moves in leadership.



  1. kenbrand

    November 29, 2012 at 3:56 pm

    What about Old Spice. Is there any evidence in their study that a splash of Old Spice would amp attractiveness, spark conversation and build trust?  The commercials look promising. 
    Seriously.  When I sold new homes we used an Orange scented spray through out the models, we had positive comments galore and I would say it had a definite positive impact on how we were perceived relative to our competitors.   Sales were brisk but I think it was combo of great product and salesmanship;-)  But I believe the Orange scent also had an influence.
    Thanks for sharing, something to add to our secret weapon toolkit.  Cheers.

    • AGBeat

      November 29, 2012 at 4:41 pm

      @kenbrand I think people die on the spot if you spray Old Spice, right?

  2. bestedusystem

    November 30, 2012 at 7:03 pm

    @CENTURY21 From today I’m planned to go to a half day course in FC

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