WSU researchers help boost business sales with scents

PULLMAN, WA - It's a well known fact that certain scents can affect the way people shop, but researchers at Washington State University set out to find which ones can actually help increase sales.

Whether it's the smell of old books in a used bookstore, or coffee outside a local cafe, there are a lot of scents that we associate with shopping. Especially around the holidays.

"Kind of puts them in the spirit, they come in, they comment, 'Oh, this smells like Christmas," said Neill's Flowers & Gifts Owner Mitch Chandler. "And since this time of the year, we're kind of a Christmas store, you know, it's important that they feel Christmas when they come in."

But could a certain type of smell make you spend more? That's what Washington State University doctoral student Manja Zidansek has been researching for the last couple of years.

"So we've known for a while that certain smells impact shopping behavior, and what we wanted to find out is which scents worked best," said Zidansek. "And to be able to do that, what we've done is created a simple scent and a complex scent."

A simple scent has only one component, while a complex scent is the combination of simple scents. For example, Zidansek used orange as the simple sent, and orange combined with basil and green tea as the complex scent.

"They were of the same pleasantness, the same familiarity, the same attractiveness, everything was the same," said Zidansek. "The only difference was in that simplicity or complexity."

Part of the research was conducted on the WSU campus.

Researchers brought participants into a lab, filled the room with a certain scent, and had them do word problems.

"In the presence of a simple smell, we see that they are able to solve more problems correctly, and they actually solve them in a lesser amount of time," said Zidansek.

The other half was done at a store in Switzerland. They observed how shopping behavior in the presence of a simple and a complex scent, while all the prices and products stayed the same.

"And what we found is that when customers shop in the presence of a simple smell, the sales increases by about 20%," said Zidansek.

In conclusion, business owners could increase sales by adding a pleasant scent to their store, as long as it's the right one.

"Simple scents free up customer's mind, if you want," said Zidansek. "So, it's what we call 'processing fluency,' they focus more on shopping, what doesn't happen in the presence of a complex smell or no smell."

This is helpful information for business owners because filling a store with a simple scent is easy and relatively cheap to implement, and if it's done correctly, it can significantly benefit sales.