Beware the Scent of Orange When Shopping

scentFlickr/AbbyN/CC BY 2.0

In the name of not buying more needless junk, especially when being bombarded by the frenzy of holiday shopping madness, here’s a tip: If you smell orange, don’t inhale. Walk away from the citrusy aroma, if you must shop, find a store without fragrance.

Scent sells. Scientists, marketing departments and retailers have known for decades that particular aromas – think pine at Christmas and cookies baking at a real estate open house – can nudge shoppers into spending more. So-called scent marketing is an invasive sales tactic, it’s subtler than visual and audio approaches, and is duly effective. (And just kind of creepy if you don’t like people tinkering with your subconscious.)

Eric Spangenberg, Dean of the Washington State University College of Business and a pioneer in the field of scent marketing, has been working with colleagues at WSU and in Switzerland to discover the most effective scents for sales. With findings recently published in the Journal of Retailing, the researchers reveal that significant boosts in sales occurred when an uncomplicated scent was in the air, notably, a simple orange fragrance.

The team created two scents – an uncomplicated orange aroma and a more complex orange, basil and green tea scent. Over the course of 18 weekdays, the researchers analyzed more than 400 shoppers in a St. Gallen home store as the air was scented with either one of the scents or no scent at all.

The researchers discovered that the groups on average spent 20 percent more money when they shopped when the simple scent wafted about, the complicated scent and lack of scent did not have the same effect. The team noted that the simple scent is more easily processed, allowing the customer's thoughts to focus on shopping-shopping-shopping, and that when that "bandwidth" is filled up, like with the more complicated scent, customers don't perform cognitive tasks as effectively. Cognitive tasks like shopping, apparently.

Which leads one to wonder, if you create a simple orange fragrance at home, will you have more bandwidth to make more homemade gifts?

Beware the Scent of Orange When Shopping
Retailers who pipe in a subtle orange aroma may be subliminally coercing you to spend more money.

Related Content on