CHICAGO — Deploying scent in-store can enhance the shopping experience, extend the visit and boost sales, though few brands or retailers use it as a marketing tool today.

This story first appeared in the March 25, 2008 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

That soon will change as success stories become more widely known, said speakers on a scent marketing panel here at last week’s GlobalShop, the branding conference. A promotional test staged in a department store setting increased sales of one product by 30 percent over a control store, and other research found shoppers will linger longer — up to 40 percent longer — in a scented store than an unscented one.

“Scent has the number-one recall of all five senses,” said panelist Christine Belich, vice president of visual merchandising at Sony. The electronics giant infuses a proprietary, citrus-based scent across two zones within 41 of its Sony Style stores. Belich, a former visual merchandiser for Neiman Marcus, said the tactic is all about enhancing the in-store experience, with a focus on female shoppers.

“We knew if we made a positive impression, they would remember us,” she added.

Customer response to a scent-based campaign tied to the “Spider-Man 3” movie — and scented sachets packed with online order shipments — reinforced Sony’s commitment to its signature scent since first experimenting with it in 2004. “It’s part of our DNA now,” she said.

Sony does not calculate return on investment in scent marketing, but other panelists said it’s measurable.

Richard Weening, president and chief executive officer of Prolitec, a Milwaukee-based company that provides ambient scent solutions, said using aromas to promote scent-based products, such as fine fragrances, delivers a direct ROI through increased sales.

On the other hand, calculating ROI for scent used to enhance the brand image or store experience takes some study, he said, and research shows consumers linger longer in scent-enhanced locations. Shoppers interviewed after visiting stores located in 19th-century buildings with no scent management overestimated the duration of their stays by at least 20 percent, he said. Shoppers interviewed following a visit to a scent-enhanced store consistently underestimated the length of their stays.

“Scent has a ‘time compression’ impact,” Weening said, and that translates to greater sales opportunities and ROI.

Russell Brumfield, chairman and ceo of Whiff Solutions, a Clearwater, Fla., marketing company, cited research indicating that scent-based environments can keep shoppers in stores up to 40 percent longer than control stores. “I personally believe ROI is imperative,” he said. “Scent is one of the least expensive things you can do,” he added, noting that a $100- to $400-a-month scent program that lifts sales a 10th of a percent will pay for itself.

Brumfield said brands already are involved in scent marketing, if only passively and by default. “In a retail operation, you have a scent policy. You just don’t know it,” he said. “You either decide to actually control the scent in your store, or you don’t. Every environment has a smell. It’s up to you to take it on.”