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Sniff the air in your shop. Are you missing an opportunity to create the sort of shopping experience that will encourage customers to choose you over the competition, and keep them coming back? Liz Swanton reveals how smart retailers are using new technology to tap into our most powerful sense—smell.

Researchers have long recognised the effect our sense of smell has on our behaviour. It’s the one sense that can’t be ‘switched off’ and it’s the body’s most definitive tester in terms of evaluating whether an environment is good or bad.

The direct connection is between the olfactory gland, which registers smells, and the limbic system, which is responsible for memory and emotions.

Trials in the retail environment prove that a quality scent will encourage shoppers to browse longer and spend more, but not just any scent will do the job. Smart retailers will call on experts to help create the atmosphere they need.

"You don’t want to be hit in the face with a fragrance, you want to create a gentle ambience that works with and helps brand your business, so that people recognise and remember it," explains Victoria Ruhan, business development manager for Ecomist Australia, which has been in the aromatherapy and in-store fragrancing business for 12 years.

The company, which manufactures its products in New Zealand, services clients in a wide range of industries including childcare centres and nursing homes, but the growth area is in retail. "We’ve had a number of customers in the retail sector over the last 10 years, but it’s definitely increased over the last two years, and I think that’s because of all the research and media stories about in-store fragrancing and building a whole retail experience," Ruhan says.

Ecomist offers three types of dispensers, depending on the size of the building that requires fragrancing. The smallest is a battery-operated model which covers about 45 square metres (from $80); the next size up involves mains power and a fan and covers around 200 square metres; and the top of the range product works in tandem with the air conditioning system and is leased through a contract (around $22-30 per month) that covers servicing, maintenance, and fragrance.

Ecomist provides more than 100 different fragrances including copies of classic perfumes such as Chanel No 5 or Paco Rabanne, and ‘evocative’ scents such as lavender, vanilla, cedarwood, leather, hot bread, coffee, baby powder and newly mown grass.

Clients can select an existing scent or have one tailor-made to suit, and they may choose to have one evocative fragrance that becomes synonymous with the outlet, or change scents regularly depending on the seasons or various marketing activities.

Ruhan says there are several issues to consider when choosing a fragrance—it’s not as simple as choosing a scent you love. "It must be something you and your staff can work in, because you will be living with it every day, and it must work with what you’re selling, rather than fighting it. If you’re selling candles or soap, you need to be a bit careful.

"It’s also about whether you’re choosing something to suit the season, whether it’s a new product line you’re wanting a fragrance to work with, or whether you want a signature fragrance that is constantly with you. For example, if you have a young, funky, trendy homewares store, you wouldn’t use lavender because it’s calming and probably more an older person’s fragrance, whereas if you are catering to an older market it would not be appropriate to use the latest J-Lo perfume.

"It really comes down to knowing your customers and knowing yourself, or you as the ‘label’ or ‘image’ your customers come to. It can take trial and error to find the right fragrance, but we offer a two-week free trial and we work with our clients to get it right," Ruhan adds.


Misty Solutions

Another leading company in the fragrancing field is Air Aroma International which was founded in Europe in 1998 and supplies international clients but is now based in Australia. It offers a cold diffusion technology developed by founder and CEO, John van Roemburg.

"We don’t heat essential or aroma oils. We believe that heating damages essential oils. It’s like cold-pressed olive oil—you get a better quality," Roemburg says.

The Air Aroma system uses a compressor to compress air and oil into an atomiser which breaks up the fluid into an extremely fine micro-mist. The tiny little droplets travel through the air, giving off the fragrance.

The company uses scents based on blends from essential oils and has around 60 different blends designed in-house. They also offer ‘aroma oils’—man-made in the laboratories of the major European fragrance houses—such as bread, chocolate, and coffee.

Air Aroma’s diffusers come in a range of different sizes, from the smallest unit (Aromax) which can sit on a table and is suitable for areas of 100-150 square metres, through to the portable Aroscent which services up to 1,000 metres, and at the highest level, their Ecoscent model, can stand alone or connect to the air conditioning system to cover an entire office building. The bigger units have a timing system which pumps and releases the fragrance, then cycles off, allowing control of the strength of fragrance.

In terms of pricing, the Aromax is $235 and available through the website, as are the oils, while the Ecoscent unit is used under a lease or rental contract, which starts from around $30 per week and includes full fitting and maintenance as well as the fragrance of the client’s choice. This can be tailor-made or off-the-shelf.

"For example, if it’s a coffee shop, they might choose to use a coffee scent, so that’s not too hard—although we do have five different coffee blends," Roemburg laughs.

"If they want to change fragrances during the contract, that’s fine too. One of our clients is a car company which changes fragrances in its showrooms every quarter. We have developed four signature fragrances for them, one for each season."

Roemburg says the quality of the fragrance is the key to getting the right result—the higher quality the scent, the more evocative it is. "There is chocolate and there is chocolate, and you want to choose the quality scent, the one that is really evocative for your customers. You want to elicit a reaction from them, the same as if you walk past a restaurant and smell something wonderful cooking, you feel hungry and you want to satisfy that feeling."


Scent Image

The third major player in this growing market is Brand Aroma which counts retail outlets, hotels and resorts among the clients for its fragrance diffusion systems.

According to national sales and marketing manager, Rachael McMillan, the company’s delivery systems range from an Ambient Diffusion System (five different sizes, covering up to thousands of square metres) that links with the air conditioning system, down to a smaller portable fan-forced scent-jet diffuser style, and a solid scent cone for very small areas or more personal use. Prices range from around $100 for the scent cone up to hundreds of dollars (contract arrangement) for a system that reaches a huge area, such as an entire shopping centre.

Brand Aroma sources its fragrances exclusively through the multinational flavour and fragrance supplier, Belmay. "The fragrances are a blend of natural and synthetic ingredients to maintain stability and quality and minimise sensitivities, and are all designed to meet international safety guidelines. They’re created in America, Europe and Hong Kong, and they can create any fragrance imaginable," McMillan says.

Brand Aroma works with their clients to decipher the brand image and customer demographic, and then liaises with Belmay to come up with recommendations, which they take back to the client. They will first trial a fragrance to assess customer feedback.

"The fragrance needs to fit in with what they are trying to achieve," says McMillan. "I
t has to work with their customer base but it also needs to be something the owner is happy with. We always make sure it’s subtle enough, so it’s not overpowering. It needs to be noticed when the customer first enters the store, so it triggers the memories and emotions you want to trigger, but then it needs to disappear. Neither you nor your customer wants to be taken over by the fragrance."

McMillan says using fragrance is all about creating a comfortable environment for the customer, but it’s just one element of the process. "Everyone is trying to enhance customer experience in any way they can. They stimulate the visual and auditory impact of their stores with the dÈcor and a sound system, and now they’re turning to the olfactory, the sense of smell.

"People are more aware of its power. Fragrance is really the final branding frontier."


It Makes Sense

SUPR… has 170 retail fashion outlets across Australia and New Zealand and has been using in-store fragrancing for three years.

According to†Cathy van der Meulen, the company’s international brand manager, the decision was based on research. "We were working with Professor Michael Morrison at Melbourne’s Monash University about the impact of the five senses in the retail environment. At the time, the products were quite expensive even though the concept had been in the market for some time. Then we discovered Ecomist and found a more cost-effective dispensing unit.†

"We†started with a vanilla†fragrance after testing this with the youth market. Now we have a different scent every month in conjunction with various in-store brand campaigns," van der Meulen says. "For example, we have a J-Lo†perfume in-store campaign in March and we have been able to match this scent to the in-store fragrance.

"The research we have done after using the fragrances has revealed that it seems to keep our customers in the store longer, and it creates a nice ambience and feeling in the store.

"It’s hard to say that just scent has impacted on profit but it definitely is one key factor in overall in-store experience."

Grant Olver, owner of the 12-store women’s fashion label, Pilgrim, is also a satisfied user of in-store fragrancing. "Every second customer who walks through our doors comments on the great scent. They want to know what it is and how to get it," he says.

"The retail industry is so competitive, particularly in women’s fashion, so it’s important that our retail outlets provide a total shopping experience. To us, scenting is the final element in an experience that offers quality products and service as well as paying attention to the look and design of the store including lighting, surfaces, and sound."

The concept of store scenting is not new to Pilgrim. Before they decided to install Air Aroma’s cold diffusion technology, the company had used oil burners with candles. Olver soon realised that apart from the danger, the burners only diffused scent in a very small area.

Air Aroma has now created a signature scent for Pilgrim, which will be used in all the company’s stores, and is also available for customers to buy.

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