How odours push your buy button - MoneySense

How odours push your buy button

Scents, music and food affect buying patterns, studies show.


Selling a house? Bake some chocolate-chip cookies, or better yet fresh bread, before the open house and watch the multiple offers come in. Our sense of smells speaks directly to the part of our brain we have no control over, and it influences us to be impulsive.

Did you know that we can recognize pretty close to 10,000 odours? Wow! That’s a lot of room for manipulation. And you better believe that the work behavioural psychologists have done can be used by smart marketing mavens to push your buy buttons.

Lest you think the whole cookie smell trigger is an urban myth, it’s been researched and proven to work. In one experiment, the aroma of cookies influenced women to spend more on clothing. Then there’s the case of the shampoo that went from last place on general performance to “easier to rinse out, foamed better and left the hair more glossy,” when only the fragrance had been changed. U.K.-based SIRC published The Smell Report in 2009. And when fragrance of sweet citrus was pumped into a mall’s air for a week in amounts so small that shoppers couldn’t tell the scent was even there, sales jump by $55-$90 per customer. Geeze, does that mean we’re now going to have to walk around with clothespins on our noses in order to get out of stores with our budgets intact? Read more about Jean-Charles Chebat’s findings on the relationship between smells and spending here.

But it’s not just smell that grabs us by our purse strings. Our eyes and stomachs work against us too. In another study, participants were asked to assume the role of magazine photo-editors, choosing among either appetite stimulating pictures of food or non-appetite stimulating pictures of nature. They were then asked to participate in a lottery that would either pay them less money sooner or more money later. Guess who went for the more immediate payoff. Yup, those exposed to the food photos. With appetites at attention, it seems we cannot wait to be satiated.

Even our ears can be used against us. Music in a major chord makes people buy more than music in a minor chord? Some obsessive marketer actually measured this so now when you’re listening to all that music as you shop, you can be sure it’s been designed to engage your buying impulses.

The next time you’re bopping down the aisle and you slow down to examine a new product or attractive item, keep in mind you’re marching to some marketer’s drum. Mix in the right visual stimulation and a scent that moves you to feel open to new ideas and you don’t stand a chance of getting out the door without blowing your budget. The solution: Never shop without a list and stick to it.