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The effect of ambient scent on consumer behavior: Implications for retail atmospherics

Charles Simon Gulas, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Managers of retail stores, restaurants, and hotels take great care in creating physical environments that are conducive to their business goals. However, little empirical research has been conducted regarding the extent to which manipulations of the environment affect consumer behavior. This study examined the effect of one aspect of the ambient environment on consumers, namely ambient scent. Scent is a component of the environment, and a growing body of olfaction research indicates that it may effect human mood and behavior. To explore the effects of pleasant ambient scent, a laboratory experiment was conducted. The experiment measured the responses of 308 female undergraduate students to a series of multiple item scales completed under one of three scent conditions, coconut, muguet, and a no scent control condition. In addition to the scale items, the data collection instrument also included an open ended thought listing task. Observational analysis also was conducted, as was a series of follow-up interviews. The data were examined both quantitatively and qualitatively. The findings from the study are best described as equivocal. Contrary to the expectations, pleasant ambient scent was not found to have a positive effect on product evaluation. However, pleasant ambient scent did appear to have a slight positive effect on the evaluation of the room in which the study was held. Ambient scent also appeared to have a slight relaxation effect on the respondents. This effect was evidenced by respondents' lower levels of thought listing and lower likelihood of intensive product evaluations in the scent conditions. The results also suggest a slight interaction effect. The evaluation of products that respondents perceived to be high in personal relevance appeared to be less affected by the relaxation effect. The results imply that ambient scent does affect consumer behavior, but this effect is very slight.

Subject Area


Recommended Citation

Gulas, Charles Simon, "The effect of ambient scent on consumer behavior: Implications for retail atmospherics" (1994). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9510478.