Scent is a slightly uplifting character to the dynamics of a space. Time Warner’s new Samsung technology space has a expression of light citrus blown in. The entries of Hotel Costes, and perhaps by contrast, W, Mandarin Oriental and Schrager’s offerings utilize fragrance in the form of candles. They are built by perfumers – either in the classical tradition, or through services of one kind or another, consulting in the range of it.

The key of course, is delicacy, and control. How to offer the character of the enriched space, a hinting detail of – the court, rubber and sand (Nike), the burnt bamboo and fruit of the Mandarin, the gusting cinnamon of Cinnabon, without so overwhelming the space with a gushing rush (Sephora) that all of the benefits of the experience are stamped with a memory of excess.

The dissemination of scent does influence consumers to spend money. In A Chicago–area study, consumers in a scented room had a significantly more positive impression of a pair of Nike shoes than consumers who were in an unscented room examining an identical pair of shoes. One out of 10 consumers in the scented room said they would pay a purchase price of $10 more than consumers in the unscented room. *

Even though the use of scent can make a dramatic impact on sales, in a way, it’s still one of the most underutilized. Why? Because the control of scent – how it’s actually distributed – applied, aerosol or burnt is one of the most difficult to control. And because it’s so poorly understood. It’s also subtle, easily overdone – and, given the power of memory, once it’s overdone, the effect of it can be ruined.

I am aware of a study conducted by Dr. Eric Spangenberg, dean of the college of business and economics at Washington State University. He ran a test in a clothing store to determine how scent affected customers by gender. He disseminated a subtle scent of vanilla in the women’s department. In the men’s department the scent of rose maroc was disseminated. Rose Maroc is a (a spicy, honey–like fragrance that has, in the past, tested well with men). The results were evidenced in the sales. On the days when the right scent was used, the cash–register tapes receipts almost doubled. However, if the scents were reversed—and vanilla was used with men while rose maroc was used with women, customers actually spent less than average.

Like the distant fragrance of your grandmother’s soap, scent is an unforgettable component of experience. People’s recollection of scent has been called one of the most powerful aspects of memory and recalled comprehension. The use of scent enriches the brand, the retail experience for the consumer, and enhances sales, but only if the right scent in the right amount is being used for the right audience.

*Dr. Alan Hirsch. “The Effect of Olfactory Stimuli on the Evaluation of a Common Consumer Product”, Chemical Senses Volume 16, Issue 5 (1991)