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Passing the Smell Test: Hardware stores can take control of the scent dimension

By Roger Bensinger

Faced with tough competition from the likes of Amazon and eBay, retailers everywhere are focused on giving people a reason to put down their devices and visit their stores. Naturally, one component of this strategy is to try to create a truly compelling in-store experience, with best-in-class customer service, helpful way-finding systems, complementary lighting and much more. But while many retailers do a lot to appeal to shoppers’ eyes and ears, they often neglect another hugely important aspect of the sensory experience—the nose.

And yet research shows that the mere presence of ambient scent in a store can cause visitors to feel better served by associates. One top chain in Europe diffused an ambient scent in its checkout areas and found that this contributed to a sense of time-compression among shoppers in the space. Another study showed people stayed longer, spent more money and felt more satisfied when in a scented retail environment. Imagine two hardware stores—one that smells strongly of pesticides from the garden section and another that has a subtle and pleasant outdoors aroma like pine. In which store would you be likely to spend more time?

Before rolling out an ambient scenting program you need to find a fragrance that works well for your store environment. Typically, this involves matching your store’s brand with adjectives that apply to particular fragrances. For example, if your brand description involves the energy and motion associated with the DIY spirit, you might consider working with scents that are known to have energizing effects as opposed to lavender, which is relaxing. In fact, some scent providers keep exhaustive databases of scents and their known attributes. If your brand has five or six different brand attributes, the provider would be able to show you three or four different scents that have high matching scores. Or maybe your brand’s particular story could play a role. For example, if your company got its start 100 years ago in a cedar, A-framed store up in the mountains, the pleasant aroma of cedar could be a great fit.

It is important to note that ambient scent doesn’t need to smell feminine. There are many scents specifically designed for a male, or non-gender specific, customer. Adding scent to your store won’t make it smell like the perfume section of the local department store.

What if you aren’t entirely sure about your store’s brand attributes? Interestingly, the very process of brainstorming about scent often has a side benefit of bringing the store’s most important differentiators into focus. In figuring out which scents are “us” and which ones are “not us,” you get a better idea of who you really are. A Naturally, you will also need to take your customers into account. What is the median age and gender? Selecting scents appealing to your unique customer base will enhance their shopping experience and opinion of your store. Scents that match your customer’s preference may also be the best scent for your brand,

Nine times out of ten, the scenting provider will have off-the-shelf fragrances that suit your needs. But some larger retailers do choose to take the more expensive and time-consuming approach of working with a fragrance designer to create a “signature scent.” Here, the process of matching brand and scent attributes is similar, only the fragrance designer has a bigger palette to work with.

All of us prefer pleasant-smelling places, and we associate scents with specific people, places, products and experiences. This is why ambient scenting represents such a promising opportunity for retailers, hardware stores included. The key is to take an informed approach that matches brand attributes with the primal power of smell.

In the next column, we’ll explore how to boost ROI by tying scent to specific product displays.

Roger BensingerRoger Bensinger is Executive Vice President of Prolitec, Inc., which develops advanced technologies to improve indoor air quality. Prolitec’s AirQ service is the world’s leading provider of ambient scenting services, with over 60,000 installations in North America and 90 countries across the globe. To learn more, visit, www.airq.com. To contact the author: rbensinger@prolitec.com.

About Liz Lichtenberger

Liz is the special projects editor for Hardware Retailing magazine. She reports on news and trends, visits retailers, and attends industry events. She graduated from Xavier University, where she earned a degree in English and Spanish and was a member of the swim team. Liz is a Louisville, Kentucky, native who lives in Indianapolis with her husband and two children. She enjoys swimming, reading, doing home improvement projects around her house and cheering on her two favorite basketball teams, the Kentucky Wildcats and the Xavier Musketeers.

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