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Does smell sell? Overview study provides evidence of ambient scent effects in consumer settings

Within the scope of a detailed meta-analysis, Holger Roschk has examined 64 studies with 71 samples and a total of 15,000 test persons to find out to what extent ambient scents have an effect on experiences and activities in shopping and service environments. Results show: Under ideal conditions, scents can have a positive influence on customer behaviour. 

“The results of the 64 examined studies are equivocal”, lead scientist Holger Roschk (Service Management Unit) explains. Nonetheless, having conducted comprehensive calculations of previous experimental results, researchers were able to draw new conclusions. The meta-analysis is published today in the highly regarded Journal of Marketing.


In this study, Holger Roschk and Masoumeh Hosseinpour, a doctoral student at the University of Klagenfurt, were able to demonstrate that, on average, positive reactions from customers could be elicited: They tended to experience more positive emotions in fragrant consumer settings, evaluate product and service quality more positively, and express greater satisfaction with the shopping experience. Scents can also have an effect on the level of commercial success, though this is contingent upon favourable conditions. “We estimate that consumer spending can be increased by up to 23 percent, but only if scents are deployed in an ideal manner. In essence, the scents and the store environment as well as the products and services must be congruent, the fragrances must be familiar to the customers, and jarring blends of different scents should be avoided”, Holger Roschk elaborates. He goes on to explain this in more detail: “Women tend to respond more to ambient scents. In service environments such as restaurants and spas these scents are more likely to lead to increased consumer behaviour than in settings where goods are sold.” On another note, music that does not harmonize well with a scent tends to act as a deterrent. In other words, a stimulating orange fragrance should not be combined with mellow jazz.


However, the use of scents in consumer settings can also lead to negative effects, though the results of the study do not provide any information as to why this is the case. Holger Roschk suspects that the scents used in some settings may be too intense or incongruous, or that there are stores that overstimulate their customers by appealing to all the senses at once. As a further limitation he also notes that there are few concrete findings to date, which adequately explain why scents lead to positive customer reactions. This promises to be an exciting field for future research.

The results also show that scents can enhance the customers’ belief that time flies and can induce them to linger for longer periods in the environments studied. Moreover, according to the findings of the study, many customers tended to demonstrate better recall of products in instances involving scents.


In view of these findings, Holger Roschk concludes: “A pleasant ambient scent by itself will not be enough to turn a poor shopping experience into a great one. Still, in these times of fierce competition for the perfect in-store experience, scent may be the decisive factor when it comes to offering customers a sweet-smelling deal.”


Roschk, H. & Hosseinpour, M. (2019) Pleasant Ambient Scents: Their Influence on Customer Responses and Their Situational Contingencies. Journal of Marketing,