I Smell a Deal?

December 13th, 2012 by Andrea Bennett

Delightful scents, clever placement, enticing deals and your holiday spending.

Brought to you by Liberty Mutual's
The Responsibility Project

Common wisdom has it that you shouldn’t go to the grocery store when you’re hungry or without a list. Researchers say some of the same logic applies to holiday shopping: If you’re watching your retail dollars, the responsible way to go shopping is to come armed with a plan.

Why the call to personal spending vigilance? New research shows that while lighting and music can play a big role in how much people spend, certain kinds of smells can also be powerful spending motivators.

According to a new study from Washington State University, simple smells – such as citrus or pine – don’t require much mental processing for shoppers, and free their brains to focus on spending money.

For the study, the researchers developed two scents: a simple orange scent and a more complicated one blending orange with green tea. For 18 days, the researchers watched more than 400 customers shop in a home decoration store in the presence of the simple scent, the complicated scent and no scent at all. The study revealed that, on average, the 100 consumers who shopped in the presence of the simple scent spent 20 percent more money. A Business News Daily story reported that in a different series of experiments, researchers had students solve word problems in the different scent scenarios. Students solved more problems in less time when the simple scent was in the air.

Of course, scent isn’t the only enticement vying for your dollars this holiday season. On Bankrate.com, Naomi Mannino reported on other, more time-honored techniques via retail researcher Paco Underhill, author of “Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping,” and personal finance author and talk show host Dave Ramsey. While you’re contemplating the scent in the air, watch for these other retail tricks: tempting table displays and small items near the register designed to capture impulse buyers; BOGOs (buy one, get one), two-fers and bundled promotions designed to raise a store’s sales numbers; and clearance items in the back of the store that require you to pass all the tempting, more expensive items on the way.

Less obviously, Underhill notes that retail-shopping studies find that most people turn right when they enter a store since the majority of the population is right-handed and right-oriented. Because of this, retailers highlight new times and trends to the right of the entrance, and often display the most expensive items there. According to the experts, you should even watch for messy clearance displays, since they can be designed to repel you – and drive you toward the more expensive items.

What do you think of these various retail techniques – fair game in a season of heightened purchasing or unnecessary and manipulative? Have some advice for budget-minded holiday shoppers? Share it here.