Scent & The Most Hated Retailer

Abercrombie & Fitch (A&F) has often been portrayed as an iconic case of scent marketing.  It was one of the first brands to make scent a crucial part of its identity.  Even Charles Spence, head of the Crossmodal Research Lab at Oxford, referred to A&F’s dominant multisensory experience as “very popular among younger shoppers“.  In fact, following the opening of its flagship store in Tokyo, A&F employees reported in online discussions that trucks drove around the area and sprayed the streets with its signature fragrance, ”Fierce”.

ILLUSTRATION : Universal Studios - Los Angeles - 14/04/2014

However, among critical consumers A&F has already long been discussed as a negative example of how retailers manipulate sight, smell, and sound to trigger purchase behavior in consumers. The secret power of subliminal forces backfired as a perception of manipulation. Even Time magazine popularized a study, which argues that the cologne sprayed throughout the stores actually causes consumer anxiety.  Building on the same study, a Fast Co. magazine even concluded that A&F should simply change its store signature scent.

This week, business media published the results of the most recent American Customer Satisfaction Index. A&F scored the lowest out of 22 specialty retailers. Forbes speaks of A&F as the most hated retailer in the US.  Much has been written about the brand’s problematic overtly sexual advertising. But what Forbes and other media do not talk about is the role of the prominent use of scent and its promotion in a large part of the business community. It is high time to get beyond gut feelings and naive beliefs about the use of scent in service settings.

Further Reading:

Spence, C., Puccinelli, N. M., Grewal, D., & Roggeveen, A. L. (2014). “Store Atmospherics: A Multisensory Perspective.” Psychology & Marketing, 31(7), 472–488. http://doi.org/10.1002/mar.20709

-C.N.

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