Retailers using influential sense of smell to distinguish themselves

Chicago TribuneApril 29, 2014 


Benetton shopper Maggie Avila stands under a scent diffuser in the retailer's Chicago flagship store on Michigan Avenue. Scenting is becoming more common as companies try to distinguish themselves with customers.


— Between the bouncy music and stacks of colorful jeans, visitors to the Benetton on Michigan Avenue might catch a whiff of a blooming marketing trend.

Mounted high in the corner beside the store entrance, a scent diffuser, installed in November, spreads a bright spring fragrance modeled after Benetton’s Verde cologne.

“It finishes the emotion we are trying to create in the store,” said Robert Argueta, director of visual merchandising for the United Colors of Benetton, who is testing the scent in Benetton’s Chicago and New York flagships and has been so pleased with the feedback, and the inadvertent increase in cologne sales, that he plans to roll it out in more stores. “It’s the first and last impression a customer gets.”

Long the domain of casinos and hotels, scenting is increasingly catching on among retailers and in car showrooms, sports stadiums, airports, banks and apartment buildings that seek to distinguish themselves with customers via the deeply influential sense of smell.

“It’s a way to market above the clutter,” said Roel Ventura, a Seattle-based ambient designer with Ambius, which designs business environments. “We are bombarded with so many messages, so this creates an experience that will last longer than the music at the mall.”

The tactic also is gaining traction among businesses hoping to drum up sales thanks to research that has shown the right scent can open people’s wallets, project a sense of comfort and home (think hotels), shorten the time you believe you’re waiting (think banking), or even improve your sense of performance (think gym).

While smells can be a turnoff or cause health problems for some people, the global scent-marketing industry is on the rise, grossing an estimated $200 million in revenue last year and growing around 10 percent annually, said Jennifer Dublino, vice president of development at ScentWorld Events, the industry’s trade group in Scarsdale, N.Y.

Scent marketing is divided into two main categories: ambient scenting, which fills a space with a pleasant smell, and scent branding, which develops a signature scent specific to a brand, like an olfactory logo.

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