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mhhe016496Cinnabon and Panera want more. Lush Fresh Homemade Cosmetics want less. And Starbucks wants only a particular kind. In this case, we’re talking about scents, a key element of the retail atmosphere and a significant influence on consumers’ intentions, behaviors, and purchase decisions.

Retailers have long known that an appealing scent can attract customers and keep them in the store. This central lesson is exactly why Cinnabon locates in enclosed malls and airports, where the scent of baking cinnamon rolls spreads readily through the space, rather than in independent storefronts, where the addictive smell would escape. It also explains the layout of Cinnabon’s sites, with ovens placed strategically near the front of the booths, to bring the scent in closer proximity to customers.

A little more slowly, Panera Bread Company is taking the lesson to heart as well. After some experiments in a single test location, it realized that customers expected and appreciated the smell of bread inside restaurants with the word “bread” in their name. Therefore, an ongoing remodeling process will bring the bread ovens into the open, where customers can see bakers at work and snag a fresh pastry, right out of the oven. The move also will alter Panera’s staffing policies: Whereas once bakers came in on the night shift, so they could do their work without getting in the way of the frontline staff, now they will do their time in the daylight hours. They also will be encouraged to interact with customers and explain the baking process to interested patrons.

But while cinnamon and bread scents appear almost universally appealing, other scents are more controversial. In the seesaw history of Starbucks’ breakfast sandwiches, the first downswing occurred when the company’s CEO Howard Schultz realized that the smell of cooked cheese was overwhelming the signature scent of roasted coffee. He also considered that smell pretty gross, so the sandwiches were yanked (for the first time) from the menu; they reappeared only after they had been engineered to be less smelly as they came out of the oven.

Even as these exemplary retailers are trying to find ways to expand the reach of their signature scents, makers of fragrances and scented products often seek out and install exhaust systems that are powerful enough to remove at least some of the strong smells from their stores. Customers vary in their preferences—a gardenia might epitomize beauty for one but feel cloying and overly sweet to another—and in their sensitivity to scent. For a shopper with allergies or just a sensitive nose, a candle shop that overwhelms with its scents is the last place they want to be.

Source: Sarah Nassauer, “Using Scent as a Marketing Tool, Stores Hope It—and Shoppers—Will Linger,” The Wall Street Journal, May 20, 2014, http://online.wsj.com