Rebirth Of Luxury Retailing – Olfactory Stimulation

Smell is one of the five senses, and some retailers take this into consideration by integrating the sense of smell when drafting a store environment strategy. Modern retailers seem to use odour to influence consumer behaviour.

When visiting the Selfridges store in London, it was very clear that the retailer had an offering “for everyone” according to Ms. Ruth Towmey: they sell everything from basic necessities to designer and luxury products. Other than being on different floors within the retail selling space, these departments are separated by a few key elements.

For instance, the designer and luxury sections have less clothing displayed on the shelves, ensuring better visibility for other luxury products. However, the most marking distinctive characteristic was the smell in the designer area. At first, it feels like someone passed us wearing a nice fragrance. However, after spending some time in the men’s designer department following by the private shopping area we realized that the smell was specific to this area. The general manager confirmed this by explaining that the perfume was sprayed two to three times daily. She explained that this smell was specific to the designer, personal shopping and luxury departments in the store. Although the general manager jokingly said that the smell was chosen because of staff preference, she admitted that it was in fact chosen based on research conducted by the retailer.

This association of olfactory stimulation with symbol of luxury at Selfridges suggests that luxury could have a smell that distinguishes itself from the rest of the retail offering. In this context, we can appreciate how some perfumes are deemed more luxurious, while others are more common. Selfridges is not the only retailer that includes smell as part of the store environment. Abercrombie and Fitch are known to have a strong perfume at the entry of the store. It is part of their nightclub store environment, characterized by the potent perfume, loud music, dimly lit store environment and model-like sales associates. During our time in Paris, we visited the outdoor retailer called Nature et Découverte also spray a cedar fragrance at the entrance of their store. When I asked the sales associate why they did this, he inferred that the smell was used to reinforce the concept of nature in an outdoor accessory store: “le cèdre, c’est ce que l’on trouve dans la forêt”, thus, associating cedar smell with cedar trees commonly found in the French forests.

Although Selfridges is not the only store that uses smell as an important part of their store environment, they use it to differentiate between the common departments and the more upscale department; by doing this, they associate a smell with luxury and influence consumer choice. Some research has proven that the inclusion of scent provides a point of differentiation that helps retailers establish a “clear, consistent and coherent brand identity that is communicated and vested in the store itself”. This means that the scent sprayed in these department reinforces the “exclusivity” of those departments while differentiating them from the remaining departments in the store.

Which in-store scent to you recall most?


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