Smart SpendingSmart Spending

Avoid stores that smell like grapefruit

Retailers can stimulate shoppers with loud music and certain scents to get them to make impulse buys.

By Karen Datko Dec 11, 2012 4:18PM

Image: Young woman clothes shopping (© Image Source/Getty Images)Some big retailers don't want you to feel all warm and fuzzy once you walk inside the store.


Au contraire. Research suggests that loud, fast-tempo music combined with the smell of grapefruit, considered a "high-stimulus" scent, makes people more likely to impulse buy.


The research, published in 2008, regained currency with a mention in a recent and widely read New York Times opinion piece by Oliver Burkeman.


So, what should a savvy consumer be on the lookout for? The executive summary of the research, conducted by Anna Matilla of Penn State and Jochen Wirtz of the National University of Singpore, says (.pdf file):

"A high level of excitement in a store enhances the loss of self-control, and high arousal reduces people's ability to think through the implications of their actions. It's also likely that many people's ability to resist temptation is at its lowest level at the end of the day."

Stores can achieve the desired effect by combining loud, upbeat music with "warm colors such as orange, yellow and red" and also grapefruit or other citrus smells.


The point is not to make the customer feel stressed or uncomfortable, but rather a bit charged up -- all the while providing a pleasurable experience.


In fact, other research by Matilla and Wirtz, from 2001, emphasized (.pdf file) that retailers should look at a number of interrelated factors when setting the proper tone for their stores.

It said low-stimulus music paired with a low-stimulus scent (i.e., lavender) created a much more pleasant (and spend-inducing) environment for shoppers than mixing low-stimulus music and a high-stimulus scent (grapefruit). High-stimulus music plus a high-stimulus aroma is, likewise, an anti-frugal combination.


The 2008 research also advises that retailers should want you to feel good about being in their stories. Thus, the 2008 study recommends that retailers counter the negative effects customers feel when they're in a crowded store by having employees be extra friendly and solicitous. (When was the last time you can remember that happening to you?)


Retailers also shouldn't go overboard with the music stimulation, which could backfire if it's considered inappropriate. For instance, most people wouldn't expect to jam with Funkadelic or AC/DC in a bookstore.


"Any deviation from the desired level of stimulation (i.e., both over- and under-stimulation) led to fewer of the desired behaviors of spending time and money," the executive summary said.


More on MSN Money:

Dec 12, 2012 8:38AM

I hate shopping in a store that is blaring music - any kind. I really hate the strong beat music - rock and rap.

I agree about enjoying a warm store much better but I get a headache if it smells too much - especially perfumy. I can't stand walking into candle stores - too much smell...

Stores like Abercrombie make me sick - between the loud music and weird smell - you'll never catch me in there!

Dec 11, 2012 9:27PM
I absolutely cannot shop in a store that is freezing cold.  Want me to linger?  Turn up the temperature!
Dec 12, 2012 12:14PM
Dec 14, 2012 6:33AM
I know exactly the kind of stores this article is referring to--the stores that attract girls age 12 to 26.  I avoid those stores--they don't sell anything that is appropriate for a woman my age anyway.  I tend to hit resale stores in upscale neighborhoods instead of stores that advertise designer clothing for less.  First of all, the clothing in those stores is made over seas by the designer's Asian division because manufacturing them here would be cost prohibitive. Second, they're mostly factor seconds (i.e., a seam may not be sewn completely straight or a button hold isn't standard size.) Going to resale shops, I can still find designer and name brand clothing that was sold new from very up scale clothing stores at a fraction of their original price.
Dec 12, 2012 9:56PM

What about abercrumby and Hollistur?  They smell like a perfume factory that's on fire.  If I get within 20 feet of the entrance of either one of those stores, my sinus start draining retroactively.  I went into a Hollister store when it opened in our mall.  I had to find the restroom very fast after that.  I guess they researched what 14 year olds like to smell and got it.  Its like the colors that appeal to tweens that are highly researched by the retailers.  Then you also have the sounds that teens hate.  Some cities have learned to pipe those sounds into streets and certain stores.  It does not affect people above age 20.  But below that, its like pipping in Michael Bolton to a high school and hoping that arson doesn't happen.

Dec 14, 2012 11:35AM
I, too, was wondering what groups of people were used to come up with this "frenzy formula" as I am never attracted to stores with loud music and weird smells.  I went to a grand opening of a big box chain store that a friend insisted was the "greatest."  I was only in there for 5 minutes until the loud music and overly solicitous employees chased me out!
Dec 12, 2012 7:39PM

"Avoid stores that smell like grapefruit"



This year's winner for most bizarre headline.

Dec 12, 2012 2:42PM

studies show that humans are weak minded and can easily be manipulated with the smell of citrus



I laff in your face...HA!   I don't know who is more stupid...the person writing this crap or those that think it has merit......oh, yea...and there will be a" problem posting at this time" because this site rarely works propewrly

Please help us to maintain a healthy and vibrant community by reporting any illegal or inappropriate behavior. If you believe a message violates theCode of Conductplease use this form to notify the moderators. They will investigate your report and take appropriate action. If necessary, they report all illegal activity to the proper authorities.
100 character limit
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?


Copyright © 2014 Microsoft. All rights reserved.

Fundamental company data and historical chart data provided by Morningstar Inc. Real-time index quotes and delayed quotes supplied by Morningstar Inc. Quotes delayed by up to 15 minutes, except where indicated otherwise. Fund summary, fund performance and dividend data provided by Morningstar Inc. Analyst recommendations provided by Zacks Investment Research. StockScouter data provided by Verus Analytics. IPO data provided by Hoover's Inc. Index membership data provided by Morningstar Inc.


Smart Spending brings you the best money-saving tips from MSN Money and the rest of the Web. Join the conversation on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.