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Keep Your Customers Shopping...With Chocolate!

By Roger Dooley

What does a bookstore smell like? If you frequent used or antiquarian booksellers, you probably think of musty paper, perhaps with an occasional mildew note. In big-box bookstores like Barnes & Noble, the predominant aroma is often a pleasant espresso smell from the coffee bar. But, all of these retailers need to rethink their scent environment – a new study to appear in the Journal of Environmental Psychology shows that infusing a chocolate scent into a bookstore kept shoppers browsing longer and inspecting more merchandise.

Researchers in Belgium monitored customers in a bookstore both with and without a subtle chocolate aroma. They found a significant effect on shopper behavior. When the scent was present, shoppers were:

  • More than twice as likely to examine multiple items
  • More than twice as likely to read synopses for multiple books
  • Nearly three times as likely to interact with store staff
  • Less than half as likely to seek out one item and go directly to the register

The scientists also found that items “congruent” with the aroma of chocolate, food-related books and romance novels, saw an uptick in interest from female shoppers. There was an indication of a positive effect on sales, but the data was insufficient to draw a conclusion. They did note that customers browsed non-congruent categories less when the scent was present, so the chocolate scent isn’t a panacea for every retail sales environment. Still, this study offers more evidence that subtle changes in the environment can affect customer behavior. Music, too, can have an impact. In Audio Branding: ‘Tis the Season, I describe how a wine shop sold four times as much French wine when French music was playing in the background.

What should retail stores do? While chocolate scent might be a good choice for a generally pleasant smell, dispersing an aroma that relates to the products for sale would likely be better. Selling hunting gear? Perhaps a woodsy pine scent. Similarly, a seaside aroma might work for a swim shop. The chocolate scent may not be enough to reverse the decline in bookstore sales, but this study points the way to keep customers in any retail environment shopping longer and looking at the merchandise more closely.

Roger Dooley is the author of Brainfluence: 100 Ways to Persuade and Convince Consumers with Neuromarketing (Wiley, 2011) and one of the speakers of last year's edition of the Neuromarketing World Forum in São Paulo. Find Roger on Twitter as @rogerdooley and at his website, Neuromarketing.
This article originally appeared at Forbes.com: Keep Your Customers Shopping... With Chocolate!