(2005- 2008)

Team Members

Principal Investigator
Bianca Grohmann, Department of Marketing, John Molson School of Business

Constance Classen, Loyola International College
David Howes, Sociology and Anthropology, Concordia University

Brief Project Description

The proposed research investigates the role of the senses (touch, olfaction, vision, and audition) in affecting consumers’ perceptions and interpretations of retail environments. Extant research in marketing suggests that sensory stimuli, such as color, background music, or ambient scents, influence consumers’ evaluation of the retail environment and the merchandise presented therein, and affect consumers’ behavior (e.g., purchase amount, time spent at a store). While this stream of literature is theoretically informative and rich in managerial implications, most of it has focused on one sense at a time, and thus ignored the joint impact of sensory stimuli on consumers’ evaluations and behaviors. Only recently have marketers begun to theorize the multi-sensory consumer experience in retail environments. The empirical literature supporting this theoretical activity remains scarce. For example, to date there are only two studies on the interactive effect of background music and ambient scent, both of which demonstrate that congruity (or “fit”) of two sensory stimuli is important in evoking positive consumer responses.

According to Virginia Postrel in The Substance of Style, "sensory appeals are becoming ever more prominent in our culture" - a "new age of aesthetics" has arrived. The proposed research extends the as yet scarce empirical literature on the multi-sensory consumer experience in retail environments by
1 examining interactions between multiple sensory modalities, such as ambient scent, background music, visual stimuli (color, lighting), and availability of tactile information
2 investigating the mechanisms underlying interactive effects.
This investigation of theoretical mechanisms underlying the multi-sensory experience in retail environments will involve careful analysis of the history of the senses, and the meaning of sensory information to consumers, in addition to a focus on psychological mechanisms usually investigated in the marketing literature (e.g., arousal, pleasure, attention in response to presence of sensory stimuli).

To achieve these goals, the proposed research draws on complementary methods
1 historical analysis of the senses and the use of sensory stimuli throughout the history of retailing
2 ethnographic research to capture the meaning of sensory stimuli in retail environments, and
3 laboratory and field experiments to investigate interactions of sensory modalities and underlying psychological processes
The proposed research has the potential to provide directions to retailers and consumers skeptical toward the use of sensory stimuli in retail environments.

Reports of Findings

Click here to view some of the published and unpublished reports of the findings of the "The Sensory Marketing" project.


This research is supported by a generous grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.