Air-Design: Exploring the Role of Scents in Retail Environments

Anja Stohr, Universitat Paderborn, Germany
ABSTRACT - One of the most important advances in business thinking is the recognition that people, in their purchase decision making, respond to more than simply the tangible product being offered. Specifically, by what mechanism do ambient and congruent scents influence the consumer-environment interaction? While many studies have been done on the effects of olfactory cues, little research has been addressed to the specific use of scents in retail applications. There is a growing interest in understanding and predicting the impact of a scenting environment on consumer responses. Although practitioners and environmental psychologists have long been aware of the impact of environmental stimuli on human behavior, consumer research has lagged behind in this field. The empirical research focused on a model exploring the impact of congruent and ambient scents in a retail environment on customer responses. In conclusion, the empirical findings suggest that olfactory communication-stimuli can have the perceptual qualities that affect store and merchandise affective quality and the potential to enhance mood states, and affect customers behavior and evaluations. Furthermore, the state of the art in research is to be highlighted as well as a discussion of the practical applications of the findings to provide guidelines for managers of retail and service outlets concerning the benefits of scenting store environments.
[ to cite ]:
Anja Stohr (1998) ,"Air-Design: Exploring the Role of Scents in Retail Environments", in E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 3, eds. Basil G. Englis and Anna Olofsson, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 126-132.

European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 3, 1998      Pages 126-132

AIR-DESIGN: EXPLORING THE ROLE OF SCENTS IN RETAIL ENVIRONMENTS

Anja Stohr, Universitat Paderborn, Germany

ABSTRACT -

One of the most important advances in business thinking is the recognition that people, in their purchase decision making, respond to more than simply the tangible product being offered. Specifically, by what mechanism do ambient and congruent scents influence the consumer-environment interaction? While many studies have been done on the effects of olfactory cues, little research has been addressed to the specific use of scents in retail applications. There is a growing interest in understanding and predicting the impact of a scenting environment on consumer responses. Although practitioners and environmental psychologists have long been aware of the impact of environmental stimuli on human behavior, consumer research has lagged behind in this field. The empirical research focused on a model exploring the impact of congruent and ambient scents in a retail environment on customer responses. In conclusion, the empirical findings suggest that olfactory communication-stimuli can have the perceptual qualities that affect store and merchandise affective quality and the potential to enhance mood states, and affect customers behavior and evaluations. Furthermore, the state of the art in research is to be highlighted as well as a discussion of the practical applications of the findings to provide guidelines for managers of retail and service outlets concerning the benefits of scenting store environments.

GENERAL INTRODUCTION

Can instore scents be used as a tool in retail environment to improve the well-being of customers? Can scents have a role to play in tomorrow’s retail strategy? The aim of the studies is firstly to examine scientifically the effects of scents on the shopping behavior in a labor- and field-experiment, and secondly, to make a contribution to both the substantive theoretical body of knowledge in retailing and consumer behavior, and to the more pragmatic side of marketing based on potential outcomes of another study, to derive out of this the role of scents in retail strategy.

Emotional Benefit Orientation: Influence of Store-Environment-Design on Experience. The approach of emotional benefit marketing belongs to the differentiation strategies. A shop has to offer a specific 'emotional benefit’. This is the subjectively experienced contribution to the quality of life of the consumer conveyed by the place of purchase (Weinberg, 1986; Gr÷ppel, 1991). Only the understanding, how and under what conditions consumer perceived a retail-environment, make it first possible, to set up the right actions, which improve the well-being of the consumers. An important aspect of indoor air quality is odor because odor is a characteristic of a majority of the indoor air contaminants (Berglund 1981, 10). Weinberg (1986) and Gr÷ppel (1991) point out that consumption experience begins with the shopping act itself and a sensual consumer will perceive the shopping experience as a part of the product if the shopping atmosphere is experience-orientated. The atmosphere is 'always present as a quality of the surrounding space. ... Atmosphere is the air surrounding a sphere’ (Kotler 1973, 50). The general atmosphere, surrounding a product, is often the determining element in the judgement of the product’s qualtity. 'One of the most significant features of the total product is the place where it is bought or consumed. In some cases, the place, more specifically the atmosphere of the place, is more influential than the product itself in the purchase decision. In some cases, the atmosphere is the primary product’ (Kotler 1973, 48). The impact of store atmosphere was examined scientifically by Donovan and Rossiter (1982). Their results suggest that store atmosphere indeed affects purchasing behavior within the store. Following Kotler (1973), the atmosphere can be considered as a marketing tool and as a result, he developed a systematic exposition of atmosphere as a buying influence.

BACKGROUND

The empirical research focused on a model exploring the impact of congruent and ambient scents in a retail environment on customer responses. Therefore it is important to explain the process of olfactory stimulation and to discuss models/frameworks exploring the impact of environmental stimuli on behavior:

Impact of olfactory stimulation: From Sensation to Perception. Solomon (1996, 56-67) point out that 'sensation’ is the immediate response of our sensory receptors to such basic stimuli as light and scent. 'Perception’ is the process by which these stimuli are selected and interpreted. Previous studies have examined the impact of olfactory stimulation on the human brain (see especially Engen 1982, Van Toller and Dodd 1992, Wright 1982). Scent-stimuli lead to an immediate reaction in the brain as they go directly to the limbic system. The limbic system is responsible for vegetative processes, influences emotions and mood. The close connection between the sense of smell and the limbic system explains why olfactory impressions affect physical and mental states to a relatively higher degree than eyes or ears; smells of the most varried sorts can trigger deep feelings such as pleasure and disgust, even unconsciously. 'Some smells cause the limbic system to activate the hypothalamus and pituitary gland, stimulating the production of hormones controlling sex,appetite ... and other functions. The limbic system also reaches into the neocortex, site of the brain’s higher processes, to stimulate conscious thoughts and reactions’ (Gibbons 1986, 337). Following Hines (1977) and Van Toller (1992) olfactory input is processed primarily by the right celebral hemisphere. These results support the neurophysiological findings of hemisphere specialization. Wolpin and Weinstein (1983, 7(1), 63-74) consider in their study how olfactory stimulation affects imagery. Imagery is defined in Paivio’s dual coding theory (1971), as the processing of internal images. In addition, odors could probably be used to evoke pleasant images, and effect the mental and physical states positively.

Ehrlichman and Bastone (1991, 1) explain, that olfactory stimuli trigger feelings, which can influence cognitive and conative processes: 'these feelings states do not interrupt our thoughts, but subtly color and redirect them often without our notice’. 'Pleasant odors stimulate ... pleasant thoughts and positive mood states, whereas unpleasant odors prime unpleasant thoughts and mood states. Furthermore, odors are less dependent on higher cognitive processes to produce these effects than auditory or visual stimuli’ (Warren and Warrenburg 1992, 3). After results from Kirk-Smith et al. (1983, 221) olfactory stimuli can 'acquire values through pairing with emotionally significants events’. Through olfactory stimuli evoked memory-processing can be characterized as 'highly emotional, vivid, specific’ (Herz and Cupchik 1992, 519). Following Ehrlichman and Halpern (1988) ambient odors can evoke ambient memories. Furthermore, Herz and Cupchik (1992) found out, that 'the most familiar odors were found to evoke the greatest number of personal memories’ (Herz and Cupchik, 1992, 519). The controlled laboratory settings from Mitchell, Kahn and Knasko show, that 'Subjects in the congruent odor condition were more holistic in their processing than subjects in the incongruent odor condition. ...individuals exposed to congruent ambient odors may display more exploratory behavior in both single and multiple decision-making situations compared to individuals exposed to incongruent odors’ (1994, 521) and that 'Subjects in the congruent conditions were more likely ... to seek variety than subjects in the incongruent conditions’ (Mitchell, Kahn and Knasko, 1995, 237). In Marketing, scent researches has often been conducted in the areas of product-planning. Scents are being added to products as dolls, because consumers will gravitate more readily towards a product that smells nice. While it seems likely that scents could affect consumers moods, willingness to shop, and purchase behavior, little research has been addressed to the specific use of scents in retail applications.

In order to test the specific influence of scents in retail applications a labor- and field experiment was conducted. The findings suggest that atmospheric scents can physically and psychologically attract shoppers towards a retail environment: An ambient instore-scent affects positively the perceptions of the store-environment-atmosphere, the well-being from the persons and the emotional and cognitive evaluation of the sortiment and the approach behavior (St÷hr 1995).

Models/frameworks to explore the impact of environmental variables in retail setting on consumer behavior: The physical retail-environment-atmosphere includes factors such as temperature, illumination, noise level and scents. The environmental psychology examines how these variables influence affect, cognition, and behavior. Research in these areas has demonstrated that components of an atmospheric shop-layout are important in creating retail stores. Many studies concerning store design based upon environmental psychology have been done in the last decade. Environmental psychology can be defined as 'that branch of psychology concerned with providing a systematic accounting of the relationship between person and environment’ (Russell and Ward 1982, 652). A fundamental fact of environmental psychology is the place-specificity of behavior, that means, persons react in different envronments with different behavior (Russell and Ward 1982, 652). A familiar way of thinking about the relationship is that a person (P) in some environment (E) produces some behavior (B). The assumption is that the behavior is a function of the person and the environment, or other B=f(P,E) (Russell and Ward 1982, 652). From this perspective, following Russell and Ward (1982, 652), the environment appears to exert a powerful causal influence upon behavior. Environmental theories can be divided roughly into cognitive and emotional approaches (Kroeber-Riel 1992, 423). Emotional approach: Mehrabian and Russell (1974) proposed the following framework: Stimuli in an environment directly affect the emotional state of a person, thereby influencing his behaviors. The Mehrabian and Russell’s (1974) framework centers on the use of emotional responses to environments as intervening variables linking the environment to the variety of behaviors it elicits. Using a Stimulus-Organism-Response paradigm, Mehrabian and Russell offer a valuable model of environmental psychological behavior appropriate for exploring environmental variables in retail setting. On the practical side, retailers may be able to influence instore stimuli systematically and to predict the probable behavioral consequences of such variations (Donovan and Rossiter 1982). Consciousness-emotion-value approach: 'To reconcile the behaviorist-cognitivist dichotomy in consumer research’ (Babin, 1991, 27), he proposed the following general Consciousness-Emotion-Value framework (see Figure 1) for the study of consumer-retailer Experiences (Babin 1991, 26).

Babin (1991, 100) summarizes: 'The model recognizes that people constantly interact, in some conscious way, with an environment (real or imagined). ... People have emotional reactions, and these emotions are capable of influencing subsequent activities, behaviors, and satisfactions. By attempting to account for emotion-based phenomena, this model of consumer-retailer-interactions allows for an explicit recognition of congenial behaviors in a retail context’.

INTEGRATIVE S-ERV [Scents in a retail setting (s) can enhance emotion state (E), affect so reactions (R) (behavior including evaluation process) and shopping values (V).] MODEL/CONCEPTUAL FRAMEWORK ASSESSING THE INFLUENCE OF INSTORE SCENTS ON CONSUMER BEHAVIOR AND PERCEIVED SHOPPING VALUE

While many studies have been done on the effects of olfactory cues, little research has been addressed to the specific use of scents in retail applications. Therefore a model for evaluating and analysing the effects of scents in retail-environments is developed (see Figure 2). First, the S-ERV Model is based on the emotional approach to environmental psychology of Mehrabian and Russell (1974). In doing so, it extends the adaption of environmental psychology to retail settings as called for by Donovan and Rossiter (1982). Second, the environmental psychology approach is extended to include an additional endogenous measure: shopping value in accordance to the consciousness-emotion-value approach by Babin (1991). This is based on the idea that people do form ideas of how valuable the time they have spent on some activity, and on how consuming this time has helped them to accomplish intrinsic and extrinsic goals. Consumers become conscious of their environment.

The S-ERV Model is situated at a high level of generality. The objective is the identification and detailed study of concrete influential factors and causal relations in all their complexity. Therefore physical and psychological variables are used in order to analyse the effects of instore-scents on emotional, conative and cognitive processes at the point of sale. Figure 2 presents the framework proposed for studying the effects of instore-scents.

The S-ERV Model implies a number of specific hypotheses (see Figure 3). Each link and note included in the model is based on previous empirical and/or conceptual evidence.

The main assumed relations: A scented environment (stimuli) directly affects the emotional state of a person, thereby influencing his behaior and the perceived shopping values. According to Mehrabian and Russell’s (1974) framework three emotional response variables (pleasure, arousal and dominance (PAD)) summarize the emotion-eliciting qualities of the scented environment and also serve as mediating variables in determining a variety of approach behaviors such as physical approach, exploration and evaluations. As posited by Holbrook (1986), emotions are expected to mediate relationships between a person and the environment. In reviewing the literature, this view is clearly supported (e.g. Lazarus 1982, Mehrabian and Russell 1974).

SYNOPSIS: CONSTRUCTS AND THE ASSUMED RELATIONS

The stimulus factors (S): There are various physical stimuli (such as color arrangements, noise and scent levels, lighting and so on) in every environmental setting. Based on the information theory, Mehrabian and Russell (1974) proposed a nonspecific measurement of environmental stimulation: the information rate of an environment. The load of an environment is defined as the quantity of information perceived in the environment per unit of time. It is the degree of novelty and complexity. Differences among environments are expected to influence consumer emotions depending upon their affective quality (Kotler 1973; Ghosh 1990). A store’s affective quality can be defined as: 'The emotion-inducing quality that persons ... attribute to that place’ (Russell and Pratt, 1980, 311). The range of emotions evoked by consumers can be accounted for using PAD. In general, a high level of affective quality is expected to lead to increased consumer perceptions of arousal, pleasure and dominance. In the present approach, the stimulus categories are response-defined and are distinguished from behavioral responses to the environment. To which extent do the POS-related factors (information rate and emotional quality) contribute to the explanation of emotional states in a scented retail environment?

FIGURE 1

CONSCIOUSNESS-EMOTION-VALUE FRAMEWORK FOR THE STUDY OF CONSUMER-RETAILER EXPERIENCES (BABIN 1991, 26)

FIGURE 2

INTEGRATIVE S-ERV MODEL / CONCEPTUAL FRAMEWORK ASSESSING THE INFLUENCE OF INSTORE-SCENTS

The personality variable (P): An individual’s response to the load of an environment is dependent on the way of responding to external informations. According to Mehrabian (1978), the people vary especially in the degree to which they are sensitive to environmental stimuli. Therefore the measure of arousal-seeking tendency respectively sensitivity is of special interest.

The situation-related factors (SF): Although retail-marketers are able to enhance the persuasiveness of their communications, the ultimate impact of any communication will depend on how consumers respond to it. The responses are shaped by a multitude of consumers situational dispositions. Is the antecedent state [Antecedent state are distinguished 'from those momentary states which occur in response to a situation as well as from more enduring individual traits (e.g. personality)' (Engel et al. 1990, 205).] respectively are the situation-related factors (attitude, involvement, expectation) which the consumer brings to the situation of interest in understanding and explaining consumer emotional reactions in a scented environment?

The emotional states as intervening variables (I): The stimulus variables influence the emotional state of an individual. Mehrabian and Russel (1974) propose that the emotional responses may be described on the basis of three fundamental emotional dimensions: pleasure or displeasure, arousal or nonarousal and dominance (free in act) or submissiviness. These emotional states can provoke approach or avoidance behavior and influence the perceived shopping values?

The reaction variable (R): The reaction variable can be classified in two basic categories of 'approach’ and 'avoidance’ behavior towards and within an environment (Mehrabian and Russell, 1997). Approach behavior describes: a desire physically to move towards, stay in, look around and explore the environment. Avoidance behavior means just the opposite of the facts described above. These reactions can be seen as quite appropriate for describing consumer behavior in retail environment (Donovan and Rossiter, 1982). To which extent do the reaction contributes to the explanation of the perceived shopping values?

The perceived shopping values (V): People have emotional reactions, and these emotions are capable of influencing behaviors, and shopping values. Shopping activities represented by approach/avoidance are also capable of directly creating a rewarding experience for the consumer (Babin 1991, Darden and Dorsch 1990). Approach tendencies are required to complete a shopping task and to obtain the desired things. Although pleasure is expected to create hedonic value, it has also been shown that pleasure is associated with increased efficiency in completing various tasks. The perceived functional value determines the produced 'happiness’ (Russell and Snodgrass 1987) respectively the perceived hedonic value.

The following aspects are presented to gain an insight: The theoretical framework of the study is based on Mehrabian and Russell’s (1974) model of environmental psychology. The consideration of the emotional quality of a retail environment as a model variable is innovative. Next to the information rate the emotional quality is an equally important determinant. The emotional quality of an environment also influences cognitive processing respectively the evoked inner pictures of a retail environment. The integration of this construct considers the connection to cognitive-orientated approaches of environmental psychology. The innovative character further involves the integration of situational influences respectively concrete situation related predispositions (attitudes, involvement and expectations) in addition to personality related sensitivity, meaning openess to stimuli. Moreover, this model integrates the perceived shopping value (in a functional and hedonistic perspective) as a further reaction variable in accordance to the consciousness-emotion-value approach by Babin (1991).

RESEARCH METHOD: OVERALL MEASUREMENT MODEL TESTING THE STRUCTURAL RELATIONSHIPS

Specifically, by what mechanism do ambient and congruent scents influence the consumer-environment interaction? The core of the inquiry involves the analysis of the relational structure between the latent variables of the model. The question is: to which extent do

B the PoS-related factors (information rate and emotional quality)

B the personality-related factor (sensitivity) and

B the situation-related factors (attitude, involvement, expectation)

contribute to the explanation of primarily emotion-directed reactions (behavior and evaluation process) and perceived functional and hedonic shopping value in a scented retail environment?

The causal analysis enables the test of a causal or functional network of hypothetical relations between constructs, that form the substantial structure of theory by using empirical data.

The S-ERV Model also was tested using a causal-model. Aim: Testing the hypothesized theoretical structure on the data (459 Persons were interviewed on their evaluation of a scented retail environment) to examine its overall fit and the structural relationship. The latent variables and their indicators follow in Table 1 and the statistical results follow in Figure 3.

The S-ERV Model (see Figure 2) includes a measure of the retail related stimulus factors (S), the personality related factor (P) and the situation related factors (SF) as exogenous variables. Furthermore this model includes a measure of the emotional states factors (I), the reaction factor (R) and the perceived shopping values (V) as endogenous variables. The following Tale 1 displays the latent variables (constructs) and the measurement through one or more observable indicators, such as responses to questionnaire items that are assumed to represent the construct adequately.

STATISTICAL RESULTS

The output from the structural program provides a lot of information useful for S-ERV Model evaluation. The following Figure 3 displays the parameter estimates [For further information (statistical significance of parameter estimate (t-Values...)) see Stohr (1998).] (ML-Method) and the measures of overall fit.

Statistical Results: Testing the Conceptual Frameworks assessing the Influence of Instore-Scents. Ambient and congruent scents influence the consumer-environment interaction: On the basis of the overall measures of fit and other consideration, it is concluded that the S-ERV Model does fit sufficiently well. The results indicate that the PoS-related factors (information rate and affective quality) most strongly determine the emotional processes. The emotional processes (pleasure, arousal and dominance) provide a relatively strong explanatory contribution to the approach behavior which especially determines the hedonic shopping value. Thus: Olfactory stimuli have a positive influence on the perceived functional and hedonic value of a PoS.

TABLE 1

S-ERV MODEL/LATENT VARIABLES

SOME IMPLICATIONS FOR RETAIL-STRATEGY

From the retail-marketer’s perspective, a scented environment can have a number of desirable effects on consumers: the store setting can elict particular emotional reactions from consumers (e.g., arousal, pleasure and dominance), which can influence the amount of time consumers spend while shopping and the perceived shopping value. The physical prosperities of the retail environment are of interest to retailers for one fundamental reason: They have the ability to create the retail environment. Odors in synchronization with sight and sound make it possible for customers to smell and to feel what they see. It’s about how scents enrich and complete the messages and impressions transmitted by other human senses and so they may influence the shopping behavior. Only if the scent is perceived as an integral element of a retail setting the customer will associate the evoked experiences with the retail setting. Concerning the use of scents for shopping atmosphere major attention has to be paid to the choice of the right fragrance. By the specific choice of scents certain emotional experiencesBadjusted to different target groups, specific products and retail environmentsBcan be created. The scented retail environment can express various aspects about the store to consumers, such as its intended audience and positioning. Accordingly, an emotional tie to the product and the retail environment can be aroused with the scent as medium of sympathy thus supporting the sales of the product. The use of scents in store aisles can act as a signal drawing attention to certain products or sales-rooms. Scent-marks are especially important for departments of stores or shopping centers where they can help consumers to orientate quickly. Scents can influence the consumer’s general decision to patronize the store because it is more appealing to the nose if stores smell good. The consumer will gravitate more readily towards a retail environment that smells fresh and nice than towards one that has a bad or no smell at all. The shop layout should display the product in an inspiring and stimulating environment. It is vital important to create pleasant and exciting shopping experiences which mainly determine the shopping behavior. Scents are an atmospheric variable and so they should be recognized in planning a retail environment. The coordination of all components has to be harmonic in order to complement each other and to arouse synergy effects (see Weinberg, 1992). A selective use of fragrance in stores may be a way for retailers to create and to support shopping experieces in order to maintain and win consumers and to gain competitive advantage.

FIGURE 3

THE STATISTICAL RESULTS

SUMMARY

In conclusion, the empirical findings suggest that olfactory communication-stimuli can have the perceptual qualities that affect store and merchandise affective quality and the potential to enhance emotion states, and affect customers behavior and evaluations. It emerged that the PoS-related factors (information rate and affective quality) most strongly determine the emotional processes. The emotional processes contribute to explain the approach behavior which in turn especially determine the perceived hedonic shopping value. Scents can support a positive perception and judgement of the supply and furthermore they may cause a preference for a retail environment. This result carries strategic relevance because as the information rate and emotional quality may be influenced and controlled by PoS-Managers. The trend towards emotional and multi-sensual product- and shopping experience should also lead to an increasing use of scents in retail environment in order to stimulate and to improve the well-being. The fragrance-inspired customers will feel better.

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