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Psychology, Uncategorized

The smells and sounds of Christmas

It always seems too early in the year when stores start playing Christmas music. I get it, they want to put you in the mood to buy and having a pleasant store environment is part of that encouragement. But, what I have never thought of is stores using the smells of Christmas to encourage spending, sorry to encourage a pleasant and enticing atmosphere.

There is one particular store that I cannot stand the smell of. I tend to not only avoid the store but avoid shopping in the section of the mall where the store is. So, it makes sense that smell can have a big impact on how you are feeling. But that is a situation where the smell of the products the store smells is creating the atmosphere. Apparently some retailers are purposely using particular scents to attract and influence customers. But the scent they choose can have a significant influence on their success. If a smell is not what a customer expects for the store and the products it sells, it can actually have a negative effect.

Spangenberg, Grohmann, and Sprott (2005) studied the effects of combining Christmas scents with Christmas music. They did a pretest to identify a scent that made people think of the holidays. They chose Enchanted Christmas (manufactured by Greenleaf). Then they exposed participants to one of the test conditions: Christmas scent/non Christmas music, Christmas scent/Christmas music, no scent/non Christmas music, no scent/Christmas music. In order to rate the participants responses to the different conditions they showed them slides of merchandise in a department store and asked them to rate the store (they told participants they were testing to see if there was a market for the store in the area).

They found that the Christmas scent depended on the presence of Christmas music. With both variables present the participants rated the presence of the scent favourably. With scent only and non Christmas music the participants were ambivalent to the scent or even turned off by it.

This kind of makes me want to go shopping to see what scents stores might be weaving into their environment.


Spangenberg, E., Grohmann, B., & Sprott, D. (2005). It’s beginning to smell (and sound) a lot like Christmas: the interactive effects of ambient scent and music in a retail setting. Journal of Business Research, 58(11), 1583-1589. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jbusres.2004.09.005

About Tai Munro

I am passionate about making science, sustainability, and sport accessible through engaging information and activities.


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