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How Experiential Retail Tactics Are Evolving and the Power of Scent

Last week, BoF and Integra Fragrances invited executives from the likes of Kering, Armani, Sunnei, Ginori and La Double J to discover how experiential retail is evolving and the growing significance of scent and sensory marketing.
Attendees making perfurmes at a table during the Integra Fragrances x BoF executive breakfast and fragrance workshop.
Attendees of the Integra Fragrances x BoF executive breakfast and fragrance workshop. (Integra Fragrances)
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As the fashion industry seeks to draw consumers back in-store following the pandemic and its significant impact on footfall, optimising physical retail is increasingly important to the industry’s recovery. After all, 48 percent of consumers said they prefer to shop in-person when possible, according to a 2021 survey by Raydiant, while 47 percent testify to spending most of their shopping budget in physical locations rather than digital channels.

However, evolving consumer expectations, shaped in part by the pandemic and its lockdowns, is seeing consumers prioritise experiences and services that are engaging and offer an emotional connection to brands. In 2020, 60 percent of European consumers wanted to see or touch products in-person before buying, while 50 percent shopped in stores so they can take items home immediately, according to The State of Fashion: Technology report by BoF and McKinsey & Co.

These expectations are placing greater demand on fashion brands and retailers on delivering a physical retail experience of difference.

Last week, BoF and Integra Fragrances, a Made in Italy scent branding and services company, co-hosted a breakfast and fragrance workshop with executives from the likes of Armani, Kering, La Double J and Ginori 1735 in Milan. The conversation explored experiential retail tactics, often optimised through innovative technologies and digital touchpoints, as well as the impact of scent and sensory marketing in creating a holistic and enhanced brand experience in retail.

An attendee smells a fragrance sample at the Integra Fragrances x BoF workshop and event in Milan.

Indeed, technology is allowing retailers to augment stores and how consumers are interacting with products and services, transforming engagement and dwell time. In-store, customers who engage with technology spend up to four times longer shopping.

However, as new technologies offer exciting opportunities to meet consumer expectations in the retail space, many brands and retailers are increasingly discovering sensory tactics as an opportunity to connect with their consumers.

Smell informs about 75 percent of decisions made in the day, BioMed Central reported in 2015, and often subconsciously. “Embodied Cognition” is the idea that our senses inform our decision-making without our conscious awareness, and amplify one another when congruent.

“The Nike Experiment,” conducted in 1991 by Hirsch & Gay, saw two identical pairs of shoes placed in two identical rooms, with one scented with a floral fragrance while the other was not. The results saw 84 percent of the respondents preferred the shoes in the scented room, and estimated their value to be on average $10.33 higher than the identical shoes in the unscented room.

Scent marketing can actually raise retail store sales by 11 percent, and increase customer satisfaction scores by 20 percent, Shopify reported in 2021. Scent can also cause people to linger up to 40 percent longer in stores, according to a study by C. Russell Brumfield, James Goldney and Stephanie Gunning in the 2008 book ‘Whiff!: The Revolution of Scent Communication in the Information Age’.

The development of a signature scent used across the value chain is a branding lever that builds positive associations for the consumer, strengthening their sentiment towards the brand. Olfactory branding looks to create an emotional bond between the brand and its customers, which in turn helps build loyalty over time.

What’s more, sensory marketing experiences are also powerful as consumers do not typically perceive them as a marketing tactic, and therefore do not react with the usual resistance to advertising and other promotions.

‘Embodied Cognition’ is the idea that our senses inform our decision-making without our conscious awareness, and amplify one another when congruent.

As a result, appealing to the senses — including olfactory in marketing efforts, as it is intrinsically tied to memory and emotion — presents an opportunity to increase conversion rates through multi-sensory marketing.

Integra Fragrances works with partners across different industries, from Fendi and Bulgari to Salvatore Ferragamo and airline company Emirates. The company analyses the brand’s DNA, including values, target consumers and locations, synthesised into a bespoke fragrance by internationally known perfumers with whom they collaborate. The scent is then disseminated across brand touchpoints and points of sale — stores, corporate spaces, public and private events, scented store facades, e-commerce deliveries and gifting, exhibitions and other major scale brand activations.

Lorenzo Cotti, CEO of Integra Fragrances, holding a fragrance samples at the Integra Fragrances x BoF workshop and event in Milan.

Bulgari is one example of a luxury brand that uses sensory marketing to provide an augmented customer experience. The Roman brand partnered with Integra Fragrances to deliver their perfumes across the scented windows of the Italian department store La Rinascente, within their latest exhibition with Refik Anadol, in totem dispensers in Milan’s Duomo square, as well as in specialised products across VIP gifting, so the olfactory brand experience extends to consumers’ homes.

Re-exposing customers to the scent at different aspects of the brand experience enhances brand equity — the more scented touchpoints, the more opportunities to create positive brand associations and reinforce them.

“Experience cannot exist without the olfactory element. The definition of ‘experience’ itself is linked to perception through all five senses. It is powerful because it is innate, the sense of smell sends multiple signals to our brain, so we must be careful about what and how we are communicating through scent — especially with physical stores becoming places that need to deliver fully immersive experiences, as unique and memorable as possible,” Integra Fragrances founder and CEO Lorenzo Cotti told BoF.

Integra Fragrances own and operate all scent dispenser-connected devices independently and remotely, monitoring their liquid levels and operating hours to offer immediate assistance and maintenance. The company has also developed eco-designed scent identities, which are vegan, allergen free, responsibly and ethically sourced, and contain upcycled ingredients, to help their brand partners meet consumer expectations in sustainability. Sustainability represents a real value for the company, which became a “Benefit Corporation” in 2021 and is working towards B-Corp status for next year.

“We strive for constant innovation, constantly adapting our technology to new applications and unseen frontiers in branding,” added Cotti.

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