Certain Scents Make Customers Anxious and Claustrophobic, Study


Concordia University researchers have identified reasons behind some people's claustrophobic and/or anxiety feelings in open, minimally-stocked retail stores.

Researchers said that the answer lies in the retailer's selection of scent. Certain perfumes, when sprinkled in retail environment, can increase the anxiety levels of consumers.

"Retailers need to carefully consider how they pair shopping space and ambient scent in order to decrease consumers' anxiety levels and improve their shopping experience," said study author Bianca Grohmann, a marketing professor from the John Molson School of Business, in a statement.

For the study, researchers tested the participant's anxiety levels in both packed and open spaces using different scents. They simulated the university's Laboratory for Sensory Research into both crowded and nearly vacant retail environment and then diffused them with one of three ambient scents.

One group of participants were exposed to aromas that indicate an enclosed space like the smell of burning firewood. The second group was exposed to 'open space' scents like the seashore, while the last group of participants was given no scent at all.

The participants were then asked to shop while the researchers measured their anxiety level.

The researchers found that the participants felt least anxious in jam-packed spaces when they smelled scents inducing spaciousness. On the other hand, customers felt peace of mind in an almost empty space when exposed to scents stimulating closed spaces.

The researchers observed highest anxiety levels among consumers in open spaces that were infused with a scent reminiscent of spaciousness.

"Our research shows that scents are best at fighting anxiety when they create feelings of openness in crowded retail environments or coziness in minimalist retail spaces," said Grohmann.

Researchers said that retail stores with large volumes of merchandise in crammed spaces can avert anxiety feelings by infusing space-enhancing scents. On the other hand, stores with minimalist goods and lots of open space are recommended to use scents that evoke a sense of cosiness to the environment.

The finding is published in the American Journal of Business.

The findings explain why retailer Abercrombie & Fitch, known for spraying its cramped and dark stores with its musky "Fierce" cologne brand, decided to ease back on the scent by 25 percent, Bloomberg reports.

"In terms of Abercrombie & Fitch's scent, it's one of their colognes called Fierce and it is a very masculine and strong scent," Grohmann told TIME.  "Although we did not particularly test this particular scent, this kind of scent is actually directionally more associated with enclosed spaces."

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