Innovation: the use of scent within retail

Photo by Sara Kurfeß on Unsplash

You may remember our recent article about Shoes of Prey and their use of branded scent in their new flagship store in Australia. This week we take a look at how other innovators are using scent to attract customers or enhance the shopping experience.

Olfactory branding

In a recent article about fragrance entitled ‘fragrance by Design, internationally renowned fashion magazine ELLE, wrote about the use of ‘scent branding’, otherwise known as ‘olfactory branding’, within the fashion world. Fashion houses have recently begun to use fragrance to subconsciously stimulate their audiences into associating a particular scent with a brand. Starting in New York, but spreading across the fashion world, designers have been subtly perfuming the catwalks at their runway shows. They choose a signature fragrance that the audience will then associate with that season’s collection—and with the characteristics of the brand itself to create a lasting, multi-sensorial impression.

From the catwalk to the high street

Experts predict that this innovative trend of using scent in high fashion catwalk shows will inevitably find its place in the high street – especially as many fashion houses already have a range of branded scents – eg Vera Wang, Calvin Klein and of course, the iconic Chanel. The use of olfactory branding opens up further opportunity to create scents which are associated with particular collections and possibly time bound for the duration of that trend.

Hugo Boss are already using a signature fragrance throughout their stores. The smooth, woody scents were developed to compliment the minimalist interior design of their retail stores and evoke a luxurious atmosphere, which the Vice President of Visual Presentation describes as completing “the unique store environment and customer experience.”

Attracting passing trade

Scent is also used as a means of luring people into a store that they might otherwise walk past. A subtle yet pleasant aroma secreted from a shop doorway can often entice a customer as much as an effective retail window display. This technique has already been used by fashion stores as well as food and cosmetic retailers – with mixed results. Some scent-pumping stores have caused controversy. Lush cosmetics use very strong smells which often tend to waft down the high street and divide potential customers who either love or hate the aroma, with some complaining of headaches and calling for a ban on the ‘pollution’ whilst others cannot walk past a Lush store without being lured through the doors to make a purchase by the strong perfume.

In-store aromas

If a customer is relaxed and enjoying the atmosphere of the store, it stands to reason that they are more likely to browse for a longer period of time and the longer a customer remains in the store, the higher the chance of a sale. Some companies also manufacture pheromone scents for retail which not only lure with pleasant aromas but use synthetic compounds to trigger feel-good responses in the customer’s brain. For example in several stores in the US, a compound which mimics the ‘maternal sense of comfort piped to children when they’re crying or otherwise unhappy’ has been filtered onto the shop floor through air ducts or a small fan under the cashier’s desk. The substance is intended to relax customers so they stay longer, and buy more – this kind of subconscious marketing sounds sinister and the director of development at one pheromone supply company is quick to point out that the pheromone will only put customers at ease, not force them to do anything against their will.


Bloomingdale’s use scent to mark out the individual areas of their store, so that customers can distinguish the departments into individual environments, distinct from one another. Their intention is to create a unique and memorable shopping experience for their customers by dispensing different scents in multiple locations throughout their stores. In the baby department, the soft scent of baby powder wafts across the shop floor, whilst soothing lilac permeates throughout the lingerie section and the swimwear department is enhanced with the aroma of coconut, evoking thoughts of sun-kissed tropical holidays and exotic cocktails. By using scent in this novel manner, Bloomingdale’s are really delivering on their commitment to be a leading innovator in the retail industry.

The Aviator Hotel

The Aviator Hotel is a contemporary boutique hotel which overlooks Farnborough Airport in Hampshire. Rohan Slabbert, Rooms Division manager at the hotel describes how they use seasonal scent in the hotel reception area to reflect enhance their smart, sophisticated atmosphere to guests:
“[Using Scents] …has enhanced the sense of arrival, making it an indulgent and truly unique experience for our guests. With the wide range of fragrances available, we are able to tailor the ambience of the lobby to our needs – from fresh green bamboo in summer to pine and spice fragrances over Christmas.”