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Use of scent in a naturally odourless store

Andrew G. Parsons (AUT Business School, Auckland University of Technology, Auckland, New Zealand)

International Journal of Retail & Distribution Management

ISSN: 0959-0552

Article publication date: 24 April 2009




The purpose of the paper is to introduce the concept of associated scents for retail stores that are normally odourless, and provide an understanding of how associated scent can be used by these non‐scented retailers to influence shopper behaviour and the appeal of the store.


The study involves both an experiment and a field study. The experiment is design to see if scents that have been identify as associated with different store types differed in their influence on behaviour and affect from scents that are not associated with the store. The field study involves an actual store where scent is manipulated, with an associated scent during one period, and a non‐associated yet pleasant scent present during another period. Customer perceptions of the store are measured, their purchase behaviour is measured, and actual year‐on‐year weekly sales are compared.


Previous studies have suggested that simply having a pleasant scent present can enhance liking for the store and encourage positive sales behaviour, however, this study shows that for a store that is normally odourless, the scent needs to have a perceived association with the store‐type to gain positive responses. Presence of a pleasant but non‐associated scent can actually lead to negative affective or behavioural responses.

Research limitations/implications

An important research implication is that the association of a non product‐specific scent with a particular (normally odourless) store might mean that encountering that scent elsewhere may trigger in the person thoughts of the store, which further research could show to be a motivator for visiting the store. Another implication is the need to identify best performing associated scents, and whether a retailer through a marketing campaign can create an artificial association, thus gaining a unique, sustainable competitive advantage.


Because it is expected, the naturally scented store (e.g. the florist or bakery) gains no competitive advantage through the use of scent, but this study shows managers of normally odourless stores that they can gain a competitive advantage in their category through the identification and use of scent customers would associate with the store‐type. Furthermore, because the store is not stuck with the scent, unlike the naturally scented stores, and because there may even be multiple associated scents, managers can vary the use of scent so that desensitisation can be mitigated.


The paper introduces for the first time to the literature the concept of associated scents for stores, and demonstrates the managerial value that use of an associated scent in a normally odourless store can have with regard to enhanced shopper behaviour and liking for the store.



Parsons, A.G. (2009), "Use of scent in a naturally odourless store", International Journal of Retail & Distribution Management, Vol. 37 No. 5, pp. 440-452.



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Copyright © 2009, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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