Shai Smith, EJ Song, Karolina Muchova, and Michael Barbera, PhD
THE PERCEPTION OF CLEANLINESS
Cleanliness and positive sanitation can improve a person’s healthcare and overall quality of life. Cleanliness, positive sanitation, or perceived sanitation have the ability to influence and persuade consumer decisions. It is probable that humans would remove themselves from a retail environment if there were a perception of unsanitary conditions, and probable that the customer would not complete a purchase. Our sensory perception of a store’s sanitary state can have a powerful effect on our willingness to interact with that space. It is potentially useful for retailers to identify if the reverse is true: sensory stimuli associated with higher levels of sanitation, or perceived sanitation, could affect consumer decisions.
Many studies suggest that scents, sights, and other perceptions related to cleanliness have an effect on the consumer. The presence of the scent of citrus in the store, for instance, which people generally associate with freshness and cleanliness, can influence customers to purchase more units or spend more money per transaction. In addition, many researchers found that the presence of multiple sensory stimuli related to sanitation (i.e. visual cues such as cleaning supplies and the smell of bleach or citrus) have a greater effect on the consumer because it creates the overall perception of cleanliness. Here, we explore the different findings of studies and research conducted upon the effect of smells, visual cues, and other senses related to sanitation in retail environments.
Consumer decision-making has shifted from utilitarian to experiential preferences. In order to maintain pace with the rapidly changing consumer decision process, retailers are investing in unique store atmospheric cues to capture the attention of consumers and capitalize on their emotions and heuristics. Several researchers investigated the relationship between store environment and purchase intention, and found that pleasant in-store environments were more likely to produce positive consumer attitudes towards the brand. Typically, these factors that mediate the environment are various sensory modalities; therefore, understanding the mechanisms of sensory modalities and their impact on consumer decision-making could provide actionable insight to retailers.
Researchers at Clicksuasion Labs found the likeliness of a positive brand experience increases with each additional sensory dimension. Additional research suggests the sensory experience can influence emotion and behavioral intentions in the service and CPG industries. The researchers assessed the impact of the five traditional sensory modalities in eliciting positive emotion; however, taste, sight, sound, and touch likely contribute to more positive reactions from consumers. The significance of visual stimuli has been a replicable finding in the tourism and CPG industries. As hypothesized, researchers found evidence to suggest that happiness and excitement were partially generated in response to physical surroundings that can affect the consumer’s behavioral intentions, including their intention to linger in the store, spend more per transaction, and revisit the store at a later date.
Scents are likely processed through the olfactory system, which is closely linked to the limbic system responsible for emotion and memory regulation in the human brain. Thus it is often olfaction that is directly linked with both positive and negative memories. Five minutes of exposure to an unpleasant smell is likely to induce a negative emotion and mild anxiety, whereas a similar length of exposure to a pleasant odorant is likely to induce calming sensations, and potentially other attributes of positive emotions. This serves as evidence to suggest that odors are able to modulate emotion and mood when processed cognitively.
Given that positive moods are known to influence a person’s willingness to purchase, the presence of positive olfactory cues would indirectly influence purchase behavior in a retail setting. More specifically, researchers found that the presence of olfactory cues had a positive impact on purchase behavior; however, only amongst consumers who were categorized as contemplative rather than impulsive. The effects of olfactory cues on consumer behavior appear to have long-lasting impacts. A recent study suggests ambient scents have positive short-term effects on a consumer’s perception of the product or service; however, these effects are likely to persist months after the scent has been removed from the product or service. Therefore, olfactory stimuli appear to be salient sensory cues that can have lasting effects on consumer behavior.
The olfactory system and perceived cleanliness are likely to exert a powerful influence on emotion and behavior. When participants were exposed to a citrus-scented, all-purpose cleaner, the cognitive accessibility of the concept of cleaning was enhanced along with individual cleaning behavior. Thus, the influence of olfactory sanitary cues on behavior and cognition appears to be robust. In addition to the sense of general cleanliness, the researchers found the scent of citrus increased the length of time customers were willing to spend at the retail location, as well as the amount of money they were willing to spend. People are likely to associate bleach with cleanliness, beauty, efficiency, and love due to impressions and lived experienced with historical marketing campaigns for bleach products.
WHAT WE’VE FOUND
As a result, the presence of bleach or other similar cleaning products could have a physical reaction to the sensory stimulus of bleach and a cognitive reaction to the associated constructs. In a recent study at Clicksuasion Labs, researchers applied 22 variables to identify how consumers react to cleanliness and perceived cleanliness. The study was conducted at a brick and mortar fashion-retail boutique in North Carolina between April 2020 and May 2020. The research consisted of four study groups, (1) control group with no overt COVID-19 safety precautions, (2) visual stimuli (bleach bottle), (3) visual and olfactory stimuli (bleach bottle and scent), and (4) motion-based visual and olfactory stimuli (bleach bottle, scent, and employee cleaning).
The first study group consisted of a traditional brick and mortar fashion retail boutique in North Carolina where there were no known overt COVID-19 safety precautions or cleaning supplies. Study number two consisted of the same brick and mortar fashion retail boutique in North Carolina; however, a cleaning bottle labeled ‘bleach’ was placed on the counter, adjacent to the point of sale. Study number three consisted of the same brick and mortar fashion retail boutique in North Carolina; however, a cleaning bottle labeled ‘bleach’ was placed on the counter, adjacent to the point of sale, and a bleach scented candle, unbeknownst to the consumers, was lit behind the counter. The candle omitted a bleach scent throughout the store. Lastly, study number four consisted of the same brick and mortar fashion retail boutique in North Carolina with the same conditions as study number three, with the addition of an employee actively cleaning the counter, adjacent to the point of sale.
WHAT IS MEANS
There are several significant results of the study. Figures 1 – 3 highlight the significant results for an immediate impact on sales and brand experience. As shown in Figure 1, the mean dollar amount per transaction increased with the addition of cleaning supplies and the visual cue of an employee actively cleaning in the store. As shown in Figure 2, the Net Promoter Score (NPS) increased between each group as an additional cleaning variable was added to the store. The NPS was collected within 24-hours of the customer’s purchase. Figure 3 suggests that consumers are more likely to increase the total number of units per transaction with the addition of cleaning agents.
Brick and mortar retailers were more likely to increase sales and loyalty with perceived sensory stimuli of cleanliness. The bleach scent was created by a candle that offered no sanitary properties. The bleach scent provided a perceived trust reaction that can be as influential as full-trust. Perceived trust can be achieved by a brand when consumers believe their safety is considered and valued. Lastly, maintaining sanitary conditions and attempting to keep customers safe when engaging with a brand is likely to have a positive impact on the customer’s brand experience, willingness to purchase, and willingness to refer.