You enter your favorite offline retailer and recognize a breeze of cinnamon and vanilla in the air. A feeling of warmth strikes you – it is Christmas times anyway.
In the next aisle, you find the product category (e.g. pullovers in apparel) of your choice with premium and non-premium product options. How do you think about your product choice?
Madzharov, Block, and Morrin (2015) found that warm scents make customers perceive a greater sense of social density (i.e. it appears more crowded) which makes them feel more powerless. To compensate this powerlessness, customers resort to purchasing premium products to underscore their social status and, thereby, restore their perceived power (technical term “power-compensatory preferences”).
The researchers found in two studies involving actual customer purchases that warm scent (cinnamon, vanilla) vs. cool scent (peppermint) changed customer behavior.
More specifically, when customers were exposed to warm scents (vs. cool scents)
- they spent a higher share of money on premium brands (study 1: 11.4% vs. 3.2%, study 2: 37.0% vs. 26.3%,
- bought more items per trip (study 1: 1.22 vs. 1.07, study: 2: 1.91 vs. 1.57), and
- spent more money overall (study 1: $132.85 vs. $108.92, study 2: $32.75 vs. $25.44; difference only statistically significant in study 2).
What does it mean for your business?
If you have a portfolio of mixed products/ brands or a luxury brand store, set up essential oil diffusers in your environment to nudge customers towards status-inducing product choices (or find alternative measures to make customers mitigate perceived powerlessness).
On the latter: another study found that rude sales representatives might have a similar effect as oil diffusers (Ward & Dahl 2014): customers feel the need to restore their status and power, and are more likely to buy premium/ luxury products.
Madzharov, Adriana V., Lauren G. Block and Maureen Morrin (2015). The Cool Scent of Power: Effects of Ambient Scent on Consumer Preferences and Choice Behavior. Journal of Marketing, 79(1), 83-96.
Ward, Morgan K. and Darren W. Dahl (2014), “Should the Devil Sell Prada? Retail Rejection Increases Aspiring Consumers’ Desire for the Brand,” Journal of Consumer Research, 41 (3), 590–609.