Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


chocolate-melt

(PHOTO: RVLSOFT/SHUTTERSTOCK)

Chocolate: The Scent That Could Save Struggling Bookstores

• July 18, 2013 • 4:00 AM

(PHOTO: RVLSOFT/SHUTTERSTOCK)

Belgian researchers report the enticing aroma of chocolate inspired bookstore shoppers to stick around longer, and boosted sales of certain genres.

Great news for independent booksellers striving to keep their shops profitable in an Amazon-dominated marketplace. Researchers in Belgium have discovered a simple, inexpensive way to keep customers in the store longer and, quite possibly, boost sales.

They report shoppers are more likely to engage in leisurely browsing—and ultimately purchase books in certain popular genres, including romance novels—if the store is infused with the scent of chocolate.

Writing in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, a research team led by Lieve Doucé of Hasselt University describes a 10-day experiment conducted in a general-interest bookstore in Belgium.

“Retailers can make use of pleasant ambient scents to improve the store environment, leading consumers to explore the store.”

For approximately half of its open-for-business hours (either morning or afternoon, depending upon the specific day), the scent of chocolate was dispersed into the store from two locations. The smell was subtle enough that it wasn’t immediately noticeable, but strong enough so that it could be instantly identified once it was pointed out.

Researchers tracked the actions of every fifth customer to enter the store—a total of 201 people. They report that when the scent was activated, shoppers showed a greater tendency to take their time, check out a variety of titles, and/or chat with an employee.

Specifically, “customers were 2.22 times more likely to closely examine multiple books when the chocolate scent was present in the store, compared with the control condition,” they write.

In addition, when the aroma was present, shoppers were less likely to search out one specific book and take it directly to the cash register. Something about the store’s environment made them want to hang out a bit longer than they perhaps had planned.

The researchers tracked sales of books in four popular genres. A panel of students had previously ranked two of them (food and drink and romance novels) as congruent with the smell of chocolate, and another two (history books and mysteries/crime thrillers) as particularly incongruent with that aroma. Altogether, 119 of the 201 tracked shoppers bought at least one book in one of those categories.

They report sales for books in the first category increased by an impressive 40 percent when the chocolate smell was in the air. Perhaps even more encouragingly, those in the second category also rose, by a more modest but still substantial 22 percent, over the hours when the store was scentless.

Interestingly, the customers were more likely to check out the crime thrillers and history volumes when the aroma was absent. The scent of chocolate apparently steered people away from those genres.

But after controlling for the gender of the observed shoppers, sales of those books increased anyway during the chocolate-scented hours, apparently because those who did peruse the mystery or history aisles were more likely to buy multiple volumes.

These results lead the authors to offer some practical advice: “Retailers can make use of pleasant ambient scents to improve the store environment, leading consumers to explore the store.” Ideally, they add, the scents should be congruent with the merchandise on sale—say, the salty smell of the sea for a surf shop.

It’s certainly worth a try for hard-pressed independent bookstores—or even for a certain struggling chain. Indeed, the customer-pleasing power of chocolate might even inspire thoughts of a merger. Who wouldn’t want to shop at Barnes and Nestlés?

Tom Jacobs
Staff writer Tom Jacobs is a veteran journalist with more than 20 years experience at daily newspapers. He has served as a staff writer for The Los Angeles Daily News and the Santa Barbara News-Press. His work has also appeared in The Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and Ventura County Star.

More From Tom Jacobs

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

December 20 • 10:28 AM

Flare-Ups

Are my emotions making me ill?


December 19 • 4:00 PM

How a Drug Policy Reform Organization Thinks of the Children

This valuable, newly updated resource for parents is based in the real world.


December 19 • 2:00 PM

Where Did the Ouija Board Come From?

It wasn’t just a toy.


December 19 • 12:00 PM

Social Scientists Can Do More to Eradicate Racial Oppression

Using our knowledge of social systems, all social scientists—black or white, race scholar or not—have an opportunity to challenge white privilege.


December 19 • 10:17 AM

How Scientists Contribute to Bad Science Reporting

By not taking university press officers and research press releases seriously, scientists are often complicit in the media falsehoods they so often deride.


December 19 • 10:00 AM

Pentecostalism in West Africa: A Boon or Barrier to Disease?

How has Ghana stayed Ebola-free despite being at high risk for infection? A look at their American-style Pentecostalism, a religion that threatens to do more harm than good.


December 19 • 8:00 AM

Don’t Text and Drive—Especially If You’re Old

A new study shows that texting while driving becomes even more dangerous with age.


December 19 • 6:12 AM

All That ‘Call of Duty’ With Your Friends Has Not Made You a More Violent Person

But all that solo Call of Duty has.


December 19 • 4:00 AM

Food for Thought: WIC Works

New research finds participation in the federal WIC program, which subsidizes healthy foods for young children, is linked with stronger cognitive development and higher test scores.


December 18 • 4:00 PM

How I Navigated Life as a Newly Sober Mom

Saying “no” to my kids was harder than saying “no” to alcohol. But for their sake and mine, I had to learn to put myself first sometimes.


December 18 • 2:00 PM

Women in Apocalyptic Fiction Shaving Their Armpits

Because our interest in realism apparently only goes so far.


December 18 • 12:00 PM

The Paradox of Choice, 10 Years Later

Paul Hiebert talks to psychologist Barry Schwartz about how modern trends—social media, FOMO, customer review sites—fit in with arguments he made a decade ago in his highly influential book, The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less.


December 18 • 10:00 AM

What It’s Like to Spend a Few Hours in the Church of Scientology

Wrestling with thetans, attempting to unlock a memory bank, and a personality test seemingly aimed at people with depression. This is Scientology’s “dissemination drill” for potential new members.


December 18 • 8:00 AM

Gendering #BlackLivesMatter: A Feminist Perspective

Black men are stereotyped as violent, while black women are rendered invisible. Here’s why the gendering of black lives matters.


December 18 • 7:06 AM

Apparently You Can Bring Your Religion to Work

New research says offices that encourage talk of religion actually make for happier workplaces.


December 18 • 6:00 AM

The Very Weak and Complicated Links Between Mental Illness and Gun Violence

Vanderbilt University’s Jonathan Metzl and Kenneth MacLeish address our anxieties and correct our assumptions.


December 18 • 4:00 AM

Should Movies Be Rated RD for Reckless Driving?

A new study finds a link between watching films featuring reckless driving and engaging in similar behavior years later.


December 17 • 4:00 PM

How to Run a Drug Dealing Network in Prison

People tend not to hear about the prison drug dealing operations that succeed. Substance.com asks a veteran of the game to explain his system.


December 17 • 2:00 PM

Gender Segregation of Toys Is on the Rise

Charting the use of “toys for boys” and “toys for girls” in American English.


December 17 • 12:41 PM

Why the College Football Playoff Is Terrible But Better Than Before

The sample size is still embarrassingly small, but at least there’s less room for the availability cascade.


December 17 • 11:06 AM

Canadian Kids Have a Serious Smoking Problem

Bootleg cigarette sales could be leading Canadian teens to more serious drugs, a recent study finds.


December 17 • 10:37 AM

A Public Lynching in Sproul Plaza

When photographs of lynching victims showed up on a hallowed site of democracy in action, a provocation was issued—but to whom, by whom, and why?


December 17 • 8:00 AM

What Was the Job?

This was the year the job broke, the year we accepted a re-interpretation of its fundamental bargain and bought in to the push to get us to all work for ourselves rather than each other.


December 17 • 6:00 AM

White Kids Will Be Kids

Even the “good” kids—bound for college, upwardly mobile—sometimes break the law. The difference? They don’t have much to fear. A professor of race and social movements reflects on her teenage years and faces some uncomfortable realities.



Follow us


Don’t Text and Drive—Especially If You’re Old

A new study shows that texting while driving becomes even more dangerous with age.

Apparently You Can Bring Your Religion to Work

New research says offices that encourage talk of religion actually make for happier workplaces.

Canadian Kids Have a Serious Smoking Problem

Bootleg cigarette sales could be leading Canadian teens to more serious drugs, a recent study finds.

The Hidden Psychology of the Home Ref

That old myth of home field bias isn’t a myth at all; it’s a statistical fact.

The Big One

One in two United States senators and two in five House members who left office between 1998 and 2004 became lobbyists. November/December 2014

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.