grocery store photo

If a grocery store looks inviting, with good lighting and vibrant colors, you’re probably inclined to enjoy shopping there. If the temperature is comfortable and the music playing over the speaker system isn’t too objectionable, maybe you’ll stay awhile.

But what about the way your store smells?

And we’re not talking about the inviting scents wafting from the bakery or the deli counter. Instead, how does your store smell when you’re walking down the aisles where they keep the canned goods, cereal or cat food?

One would hope that sealed cans of cat food don’t smell like anything. But a new study says a smelly store (in a good way) could make your shopping experience much more pleasant – and make you spend more in the process.

That’s according to “Ambient Scent As a Mood Inducer in Supermarkets,” a research report due to be published in an upcoming edition of the Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services. “Scent has a significant positive effect on shoppers’ store evaluations, time spent in store and store level sales,” the researchers found.

Previous studies have examined the effect of subtle scents in places like clothing stores, shopping malls and casinos, which are believed to put patrons in a better mood and get them to stay awhile. But these researchers wanted to find out how ambient scents affected supermarket shoppers – and what happened when the scent was not so subtle.

So they set up electrostatic aroma diffusers throughout a test supermarket, chose a pleasant melon scent – and cranked it up.

“Scent intensity matters,” they concluded. When the scent was subtle, it had no noticeable effect on shoppers’ behavior. But when the scent was strong, customers’ evaluations of the store, its merchandise and their overall shopping experience improved. Shoppers also lost track of time, underestimating how long they spent in the store. As a result, the researchers found an increase in impulse buying, and a corresponding increase in the amount of money spent.

A more subtle scent, the researchers theorized, ends up competing or getting cancelled out by the other scents already present in a grocery store. If you’re smelling fresh-baked bread or prepared foods as you’re ambling through the store, you might not notice that hint of melon drifting through the toilet paper aisle.

But if the smell is strong enough to be noticed, it could put you in a better mood – even when all you want to do is get in and get out as fast as possible. “A pleasant scent appears to improve quite effectively the relatively bad mood of hurried customers,” the report reads. It can “make them stay longer and behave more like unhurried shoppers, significantly increasing shopping times of this group.”

So if your local store suddenly starts smelling like melon, and your grocery bills swell in response, now you’ll know why. A pleasant scent could make your shopping trip more enjoyable. But if you’re not careful with your spending, your store may find that the smell of melon could end up smelling like money – yours.

Photo by Grand Canyon NPS

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