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NEW YORK (MainStreet) — When Deborah Fowler, a retail management professor at Texas Tech University, went to sell her North Carolina home, she knew just what to do to entice a buyer: bake chocolate chip cookies.

The smell of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies makes you want to live there, Fowler explains. “It’s the same thing retail stores do,” she says.

Fowler’s house sold quickly, she says.

Fowler used a sales strategy similar to what’s being used in the

retail industry


particularly prevalent this time of year


The Smell Test 

"Scent is our most primal – and powerful – of the five senses," says Roger Bensinger, executive vice president of business development at Prolitec, which provides ambient scenting and scent marketing for retailers, hotels and other businesses. "We know that scent is processed in the same part of the brain that handles our emotions, memory and creativity. Research shows that the mere presence of ambient scent in a store can cause visitors to feel better served by associates."

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“[A]t Abercrombie and Fitch where we are scenting all of their stores worldwide, the scent is an airborne rendition of their top-selling men’s cologne, Fierce,” Bensinger says.

The scent is being diffused into the air at a sensory level matching the music volume, lighting, and visual graphics.

“This sensory combination has not only sold a lot of fine fragrance but has presented a cohesive brand image,” he says.

Atmospheric Pressure

It’s all about creating atmosphere, Fowler says. In fact, atmospherics is the term used by the retail industry, and there are many papers written on it, because creating the right atmosphere attracts customers and entices them to buy. Fowler had just returned from Dillard’s, a retail store, where Christmas music was putting customers in the shopping mood with fond memories. Tables had stacks of soft clothes to touch and make customers feel comfortable.

Even stores where food is sold will pump the scent of baked goods, real or synthetic, into the air to entice shoppers into purchasing goods, Fowler says. And there’s research to back these assertions.

“They go after all your senses,” Fowler says.

Retailers set the stage with lighting to make products look better. Some high-end stores, such as bridal boutiques, offer champagne, which involves yet another sense. Colors are also used. McDonald’s, for instance, uses yellow to excite customers and get them in and out quickly, Fowler says.

And then there's music. It's thought to enhance cognitions, at least at times, and low and moderately interesting music has been shown to make customers more open to talking with a salespeople and accepting their sales pitches. Another study showed that online shoppers “had a higher level of pleasure, arousal and approach behavior intention” when music was played at certain points during the shopping experience. 

—Written by S.Z. Berg for MainStreet