News - May 11, 2017

Tickling the senses does nothing for sales

Tessa Louwerens

The aroma of freshly ground coffee, and soft lighting around the wines. Retailers tickle our senses to get us to spend more. In vain, shows Wageningen research.

Photo: Shutterstock

Over 18 weeks the researchers observed the behaviour of people shopping in a medium-sized supermarket in Oosterbeek. To do so they positioned cameras in the ceiling, enabling them to see precisely how people moved around the shop. ‘The next step was to see whether we could influence this,’ says René de Wijk of Wageningen Food & Biobased Research. Can you, for instance, lure people to the coffee shelves with the smell of a cappuccino? And do they then buy more?

No they don’t, the study showed. De Wijk was surprised by that himself. ‘Marketers make so much use of these methods that you expect it to work.’ But the result does not mean it never works at all, he says. ‘We only tested this locally, on specific shelves and products. If you spread an odour throughout an entire shop, for example, you will reach far more people and there is more chance that it will have an effect.’ Also, the study only looked at how much of a product was bought per day, and not at what individual people bought.

The results are interesting for shopkeepers and marketing experts, thinks De Wijk. ‘Because we know how people move around a shop, we can see where the bottlenecks are, for instance. Shopkeepers can use this to optimize the layout of the supermarket.’ According to him, the main message is that the influence of scent, light and sound is complex. ‘There is no simple one-size-fits-all formula.’