I visited Perth on the weekend with a ‘to-do’ list as long as my arm. At the top of my list I had penciled in a visit to my favourite fashion store for some old fashioned retail therapy and, as I had recently moved to Busselton and would not be visiting the store on such a regular basis anymore, I intended to spend up big. As I made my way down the main street of the eclectic suburb where my beloved store is located I ignored the windows of other high end boutiques vying for my attention, nothing could distract me from my mission.

Over the years this little shop has developed into so much more than a store. It was where I went to find something unique and fabulous, all displayed on gorgeous shelves and counters, under wonderful lighting reflecting the slight shine in the wonderfully kitsch (yet somehow tasteful) wallpaper. Though I liked to believe I was a completely unique customer, the truth is there were hundreds of girls (and some men!) in Perth who have the same feelings I have for this store, none of us flinching as we hand over enough cash for a weekend away for a pair of trousers.

As I turned off the busy main street into the store, my heart skips a beat. Stepping through the doors to the boutique was like entering a mother’s embrace. It is just as I left it! I greet the wonderfully friendly and efficient sales staff and begin shopping. However, not long into my long awaited shopping endeavour, I notice something different about the shop. I looked about me. Have they redecorated? No, still the same stylish furnishings and decorating. Was it the music? No, still the same ambient French jazz just perfect for lulling shoppers into the perfect mood for spending. As I peered around the store looking for the point of difference which was upsetting my shopping trip my brain registered what my nose had picked up as soon as I stepped foot in the door. I could smell patchouli. Patchouli! I would like to say was strong enough to fight this massive distraction and just shop for what I came to buy, but I wasn’t. I left the store not long after, with empty hands and a heavy heart.

What happened? Psychologists and market researchers alike have agreed for quite some time that all facets of sensory perception are involved in decision making processes and, as a result, consumer behaviour. But why did the scent of patchouli drive me from my favourite clothing store? Here at Jack in the box, we advise clients that standardization across all facets of a business is extremely important. If you are a client with a store or an office the olfactory impression you present to your customers can be a driving force behind their behaviour and their spending habits. The reason I left the store without making a purchase was simply that I was confused. To me, patchouli conjures dusty little shops selling crystals and saris. It reminds me of bartering with Balinese ladies over the price of a fake Gucci handbag. It does not match the high end impression the fashion store was presenting.

In “Effects of a Product Display and Environmental Fragrancing on Approach Responses and Pleasurable Experiences” the authors investigate the role of fragrance as a marketing tool and highlight the importance of appropriate fragrancing in retail environments. The term ‘appropriateness’ used in this context refers to the congruity between consumer perceptions of an environment or object in the world and their personal mental representations of the environment or object stored as a cognitive schema. The integration of multisensory information over periods of time create schematic ‘scripts’ in our cognitive expectations; priming us to know how to act in certain situations, what to expect from different encounters and so on. When congruity between schematic information and environmental information does not match, we witness schematic incongruity; the features we expect to witness, as primed by the relative cognitive schemas, come into conflict with environmental cues leading to confusion. On the other hand, when these two factors match up the benefits for retailers and business owners can be immense with research showing that customers shopping in an environmentally and cognitively congruent area have an increased sense of favourability towards products, increasing their time browsing products and spending more money than in environments which are incongruent. I was confused by the use of patchouli scent in this store. The environmental cues did not fit my schematic knowledge of the store. I wanted the scent from the elaborate flower arrangement to drift through the store. I wanted the earthy smell of the leather purses and satchels to mingle with the delicious aroma of the imported soaps and lotions. I did not want patchouli and all that it signifies in my schematic understanding.

So, if you have a high end fashion boutique such as the example used in this blog, or a store of any description, please don’t scent it with a fragrance that does not match customer expectations. Examine your merchandise, your target markets, the i mage your store presents and use that data to find your store’s perfect ‘fragrance fit’. Then sit back and let your customers follow their nose.