NEW YORK — Walking into the Bebe store at Menlo Park Mall, Heather Sanchez couldn’t help but sniff an appealing scent. When she inquired about it, she was introduced to the retailer’s new fragrance.

This story first appeared in the October 30, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

“What I liked is that I wasn’t attacked by someone spritzing me with something I didn’t want,” said Sanchez, who added she is allergic to some scents.

With the fragrance business stuck in the doldrums, merchants are trying myriad marketing ideas to move the sales needle. In-store fragrance delivery is catching on for some merchants.

“I think we are at a point with scent where music was 10 or 15 years ago,” said Roger Bensinger, executive vice president of marketing and business development at Prolitec, the company providing the system Bebe uses to scent its stores. A decade ago, retailers were just experimenting with specialized music and in-store radio advertising. “Now you wouldn’t think of going into a store without hearing music,” Bensinger explained.

Bensinger said rather than scenting the entire store with the fragrance, Bebe uses an easy-to-hide, 5-inch cube that disperses the essence of the scent around the visual displays that help introduce the fragrances. “This allows Bebe to marry its visual marketing efforts with the olfactory experience of the fragrance itself — a very powerful combination.”

Manny Mashouf, chairman and chief executive officer of Bebe, said the scenting helps create an emotional connection to the scent. “Based on initial results, we are encouraged by the overwhelming response,” Mashouf said of the Inter Parfums-created scent.

Andy Clarke, president of Inter Parfums USA LLC, specialty retail division, added that ambient sampling is catching on because it is cost-efficient. “Ambient scenting is one of the hottest trends in retail, and many companies are keenly interested in new approaches to ambient sampling that are more efficient than, say, paying a person to spray a new perfume on shoppers’ wrists as they walk in the store,” he noted. “At the same time, many retailers do not want any remnant of an in-store fragrance to last on the ready-to-wear clothing they sell. These stores need to be able to control the intensity and range of the automated ambient sampling technology they use to an extraordinary degree.”

Bensinger said smell is a powerful sense that is sometimes overlooked in marketing. “But for those looking for an innovative way to reverse the fragrance trend, this could be an inexpensive way for mass sampling of a fragrance,” he explained. His firm has worked with beauty powers including Inter Parfums as well as L’Oréal, Elizabeth Arden and companies that have launched fragrances at Abercrombie and Hollister.

While there are no hard figures on what the sampling can do to spur sales, the Scent Marketing Institute reports scent sampling can result in double-digit sales. Harald H. Vogt, the founder and chief marketer of the organization, said scent is emerging as a brand-building tool.

Prolitec doesn’t only delve into the fragrance business, but it is also helping retailers spur sales by filtering the air with the scent of a loaf of bread in grocery stores. The company also helps remediate foul odors such as smoking in casinos. Just this week, the company announced it was using scent to banish birds from buildings.

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