How Retailers Use Your Senses Against You

Color schemes, music, even scents and furniture — business are using all the sensory tricks to make you more inclined to spend money.

As you go on your shopping runs this ho-ho-holiday — whether at malls or on the Internet — you're probably not thinking much about the smells, colors and textures around you. But retailers certainly are, according to findings collected this month by Kate Stephens, the mastermind behind the London-based commerce site

Using neuromarketing expert and author Roger Dooley's research as a springboard — which notes that 95% of our buying decisions are made subconsciously — Stephens and AlterantivesFinder collected a host of fascinating facts. Among those she cites:

You Red Right: An eBay study shows that a red background used on the Pages Results made people bid higher.

Touch-Screen: Apple Store managers believe that by leaving their display notebooks half open, customers have to touch the lid to take a peek, and that shops will sell more laptops.

Shopping Warm-up: A Harvard Business Review study found that holding a warm pad made people feel safer and more trusting. They invested 43% more than people with cold hands. Translated to retail that makes sense, especially if the sale is hot.

Tantalize, Infantilize: The smell of baby powder makes you feel nostalgic and, perhaps, encourages you to buy that cushioned reading chair you don't need.

Who's the Boss? Hugo Boss uses a musky smell with hints of citrus as a signature memory trigger. Even with eyes closed, shoppers can tell they're in a Hugo Boss store. Loading up those new suit pockets with oranges and Old Spice is left to the discretion of the buyer.

It's important to note that some of these findings are disputed. For example, AlternativesFinder cites the work of scent researcher Dr. Alan Hirsch, some of which has been criticized by colleagues and rebuked by the Federal Trade Commission. Translation: Go buy those Nikes without deep suspicion.

Yet others have had success using smells to alter perception and performance in positive ways. Connie Kadansky, a sales coach in the Phoenix area, uses essential oil scents to help salespeople overcome sales call reluctance. "We had a golfer who, when he'd hesitate to make a call, would smell the essential oil of cut grass," Kadansky says. "It made him happy, he picked up the phone, punched that number and made that call."

To check out all of the ways that your senses can be used by retailers, check out the full AlternativesFinder infographic below.

Black Friday deals

So if you're having, let's say, a little bit of retail sales reluctance this month, use seasonal stimuli to your advantage. Put on your favorite holiday music, stare at a mall Christmas tree, or take in the scent of fresh sugar cookies. Get happy — and get shopping while there's still time.

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Lou Carlozo
Contributing Writer

Lou Carlozo is a DealNews contributing writer. He covers personal finance for Reuters Wealth. Prior to that he was the Managing Editor of, and a veteran columnist at the Chicago Tribune.
DealNews may be compensated by companies mentioned in this article. Please note that, although prices sometimes fluctuate or expire unexpectedly, all products and deals mentioned in this feature were available at the lowest total price we could find at the time of publication (unless otherwise specified).


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