The smell of freshly baked bread, a whiff of chocolate chip cookies, the scent of cinnamon rolls: these comforting aromas gave an early advantage to food retailers attempting to gain the attention of shoppers in the highly competitive environments of shopping malls and high streets. By the third quarter of the 20th century, everyone had awakened to the lure of visual merchandising, but only a few, like Famous Amos, Mrs. Fields, and Crispy Crème, explored appeals to our other senses – and it easy for them since they merely replicated the enticement of neighbourhood bakeries by taking production of their goods back from factories and into the shop. Moreover, their products smelled so good! How was a department store, fashion boutique, furniture retailer or car dealership to compete?

Fast forward a generation: from Sony Style stores, a vanilla and mandarin orange flagrance, designed exclusively for Sony, stimulates shoppers. Shirt-maker Thomas Pink releases a scent of clean, pressed shirts into stores. Lavender essence wafts from L’Occitane and Bloomingdale’s uses different essences in different departments such as aroma powder in the tots and toddlers section, suntan lotion in the area for swimwear and lilacs in the lingerie department.

ONE MAN WHO HAS a nose for bettering retail business is Simon Faure-Field, (CEO of Equal Strategy), which advises global brands across multiple industries how to achieve consistency in brand atmospherics. ‘Atmospherics’ are the physical elements in a store’s, hotel’s or other company’s design that appeal to consumers’ emotions and encourage them to buy. Why appeal to emotions? Because, for many consumers, shopping provides excitement, adventure, stimulation, stress relief, social interaction and personal gratification. Smart retailers appeal to these emotions so that customers will like the store and spend more time in it. The more time spent in the store, the greater the chance of increased spending and unplanned purchasing.

We meet Simon Faure-Field at Courts Bukit Timah to explore the atmospheric systems he has recently installed there.

“A lot of people just focus on pulling people into their shop and what they are taking at the till without really looking at who their customer is, how often they get business from the customer how much does he spend,”‘ says Faure-Field. “It’s ‘a question of raising awareness.”

“‘One of the challenges we have seen in Singapore, indeed throughout Asia, is companies knowing who calls them and who visits them – it’s not as scientifically-run, not as clinically researched or vetted as it is in America or Europe,” he states. “There is a significant difference in Asia in retailing, an inconsistency from what’s happening in other mature markets’ that look at their retailing from a scientific angle and also from an artistic angle, exploring what makes people go to the shop, spend more time there, spend more money but also return. You know customer loyalty is not based on how many points you get and there’s a free toaster. ‘Oooh, that’s a nice freebie!’ People ultimately will buy based on their emotions; they will go where they prefer to go and on the basis they have that spending ability.

“LOOK AT SOME OF THE BANK ads: they focus on giving away freebies. The customer says ‘Oh, that’s nice’ and signs up. Then there is no further interaction with the customer. The customer sees another ad from a different bank and says ‘Oh, that freebie looks nice’ and they sign up for that. This is not a way to create customer loyalty. If the banks developed multi-product customers, they would find that the customers would think twice before changing. There would be too much hassle to change. For example, about 10 years ago I banked with one of the top local banks in Singapore. In 10 years, they never offered me a credit card. I went somewhere else for credit cards, somewhere else for a car loan. In the end, I changed banks and it was so easy to.”

Faure-Field knows a lot about communicating with customers. He initially focused on the customer touch-point of the telephone at Cityphone Communications (“I was engaged to increase market share of the company’s message on hold service in hospitality and IT verticals”), which eventually appointed him to the role of managing director of Phone Impact Sdn Bhd, with their expansion into Malaysia. “Phone Impact was the first operation based in Malaysia providing telephone message on hold services to Fortune 500 companies,” he points out. He left them in March 1998 to start his own consultancy. “I developed Equal Strategy’s blueprint service model which deploys cutting-edge Internet technology to deliver music, telephone and now ‘fragrancing’ solutions to business premises,” he says.

“’On the fragrancing side of the business, we found a company called Brandaroma and they developed a patented technology to take a liquid fragrance, pressurise it and turn it into a dry vapour that can then be diffused within the air conditioning system and carried to the target area. The computer that is delivering that allows you to control the fragrance level, the intensity, time of the day that there is fragrancing and provides a consistency level month after month” he says.

Brandaroma is the world’s leading provider of aroma marketing and ambient scent solutions for retail outlets, hotels and gaming venues. It provides a sensory approach to branding through the use of patented fragrance delivery systems. These fragrance delivery systems can fragrance any size indoor area. Brandaroma gains its edge over its competitors through its strong alliance with an international fragrance house, Belmay Inc., which enables the company to design a fragrance specifically to suit customer demographics and brand image.

“If you look at less sophisticated delivery methods – think of aromatherapy, an oil burner with a candle beneath it – every hour they need to top it up and there is the danger, the safety issue, of open flames. That was the very old-fashioned way of several centuries ago,” explains Faure-Field. There are other systems which use a cartridge that has been soaked in the fragrance and then that cartridge is sealed until the client decides to open it and then he inserts it into the fan unit. You may have a very strong fragrance level when that cartridge is new but after a couple of weeks, it starts to tail off and eventually you smell nothing. That’s the system which they use in the Westins and the Sheratons, something that came out from America, but it doesn’t allow you to manage and control the intensity. The system that we use, the Brandaroma system, allows us to provide a consistent fragrance level day after day after day, which is a far more sophisticated way of doing it. More manageable.

“For a commercial application, it needs to be running, providing peace of mind, reliability, consistently. We’re talking about the human factor, and cost – the difference between running around every hour, topping it up, and then the safety issues. All you need is something to fall over…

Brandaroma developed the technology. The fragrances are the product of Belmay. Belmay is a fragrance house a medium-sized fragrance house – they’re not one of the giants like IFF (International Flavours & Fragrances), which provides companies like Colgate-Palmolive, Proctor & Gamble.

These guys are middle range and all they do is create fragrances. We decided we won’t go into creating concoctions. We leave that to the experts. We try to understand what the client is trying to do with the business, the strategy, find out what they like, what they don’t like, what they are trying to achieve in that environment and we create a brief. That then goes to the evaluation team who then work with the perfumers so then they create the fragrance to do it: something like the Shangri-la fragrance (he shows a vial).

”You’ll find that this is what we tend to think of like a mid-range end of the scale. At the bottom end, you have air fresheners, the type that squirt, squirt: they have a very high fragrance level for about two minutes and then there is nothing for about 28 minutes until the next squirt. Also, the smell is very cheap, very chemical. They have about three to five ingredients, cost-effective ingredients to cater to that end of the scale. If you look at the opposite end of the scale you have your fine fragrances: they have around 55 ingredients. Ours contain between 25 and 45 and supply a nice sophisticated fragrance.

“We have also developed a portable delivery system as well, a unit that is the size of a briefcase that has a bottle of fragrance that goes inside and there is a fan built into it that blows and diffuses the fragrance: that is probably good for up to 100 square metres, but it doesn’t create as even a fragrance level as the air-conditioning system device.”

“This is one of my favourite this one, developed for the Shangri-la Hotels,” he stated as we smell the different scents from a special box of vials. “I look at where we are in the world; we should try to retain an Asian element here, such as the scent of lemongrass, versus what we would use in Europe or Australia.”

“Of course, we are not rigid about it: ‘No, no, no, you have to do it this way.’ We try to understand the way they want to work; we can guide, we can put ideas on the table. We can try to share with them industry best practise, understanding their business, but if they want to take a slightly different angle, we are open. If we think they are going in a negative way we will wave a very big red flag and say don’t. It’s important because if the clients hang themselves, they also hang us as well. We are not in business for the short term: we are looking for long-term relationships with our clients, helping them where they need our help so they can focus on what they do best. Let us work on the areas that we do best and in the end they end up with a stronger business. It is what I call a Microsoft approach. They stick to what they do best and they work with partners who can provide those other areas and do a better job than they can.

“You go into The Body Shop, you buy The Body Shop products and smell them and say: ‘Oh, that’s nice.’ That fragrance came from Belmay. They provide for Watson’s and others. Working with them, they have a creative centre in Hong Kong, so I went up there for some training and spent a couple of days with their evaluators and going through how things work at that back-end of the business and got some sample fragrances to play around with. You can’t always take it smack-dab from ready-made you need to get people to smell, maybe like a bit of that, like elements of that, we put that into the brief and take that back to the perfumers and they will then create something based upon this guidance. It comes back down, we can sit down with the client and then we go through some panel testing of fragrance.”

SIMON FAURE-FIELD’S EQUAL STRATEGY has already developed special in-store music for Courts. We linger in the electronics department as I sniff the lightly scented air (it smells like a masculine fragrance) and listen to the music coming from small speakers mounted overhead. “Courts has quite a good understanding of the market and who their customer is and what they are trying to do. We’ve seen some interesting things and I find being part of that good fun because they are always looking for new ways to do things and make things better. For example, in the Courts Mega Store, all the MP3 players, we’re going to be providing all the content that will be going into those MP3 players in the store. So when you want to go and look at an I-Pod or a Creative MP3 player, all the music in there will be licensed and we’ll be developing them and there’s another way that they want you to not just have MP3 players there that people can look at and think they feel nice but actually experience what that product’s got to offer and its sounds, that are licensed because other stores tend to pass a bit of a blind eye to that musical licensing and it isn’t just performing rights, there’s mechanical rights. So one of the things we provide, we’re doing something special for them, maybe we’ll entwine some messages within the music, you know, a bit of Courts branding in there as well, and it won’t just be sort of 30 minutes of classical music; maybe we’ll have a collage of different pieces of music.

“No one’s going to want to go shopping to a shop where they have no memory attached to it. No preference. I’ll give you a good example of that. When my wife and I were preparing to get married and we went looking for wedding rings, the Cartier ones where standing out because their design were distinct. We had the Tiffany store on the opposite side of the street and we had the Bvlgari one too. Each outstanding. But all the others, the mid-market ones: they all looked the same. And you walked away from them, after you go to 10 stores, and you ask which ones you like and you say they all mean nothing to me because they are just bright bits of jewellery. Nothing really connected with me on an emotional level. So what we are trying to help out clients do is create an environment that doesn’t just look visually appealing but someone will actually go on and they’ll feel good; it appeals to them from a multi-sensory perspective.

SCENTS ARE SUBJECTIVE: I think the lemongrass and green tea is very nice. Some mass retailers may want customers not to linger too long: then they would need a high arousal scent. Vanilla is low arousal; grapefruit is high arousal.

“Working with clients on the music side, you have a lot more room to play around with things. Working on the fragrance side, we’ve found people a lot more cautious about it; ‘Oh this is quite nice but people might not like it, they may be allergic to it,’ they say. The general rule of thumb is: the more distinct the fragrance, the more memorable the experience,” explains Faure-Field.

“If you are looking for something safer, with wider, broader appeal, it’s not memorable. It’s all about educating the market, trying to lead them forward, trying to say try a bit of this, try a bit of this, what do you think of this and gently lead them forwards and try to do things that are out of norm.

“Using fragrance to pull people into a specific area is the next step. First step is understanding what they can be doing within their retail area. The natural progression from there is maybe in this area we can do something like this and in this second area we can do something like that. Furniture can be very different from electrical. With electrical you want something very refreshing and high arousal.

“Once I was speaking with one customer and she said: ‘Fragrance, oh I don’t think anything of it.’ Then we got to talking about different shops she liked and she said: ‘Oh I just love Shanghai Tang.’ Whenever she goes down to Ngee Ann City, she always wants to walk into Shanghai Tang because ‘Ah, it smells so nice.’ I said: Hang on, a minute ago you were telling me how fragrance wouldn’t create any memory or recall or any emotional attachment to a retailer and here you have this one example. The store looks nice and has a very distinct smell that you just love, and every time you are in that mall you go to the shop deliberately to have a smell and eventually, sooner or later, you are going to spend some money in there you know!

“The key point here is the idea behind creating signature fragrances, and this is what Shangri-la has in a contract arrangement with Brandaroma and we work with them locally and in Malaysia: key is whenever customer smells the scent, they will associate it with Shangri-la. Now Belmay also provides scented candles, body lotions, sunscreens that retailers can have fragranced with their signature fragrance and then their customers can buy it. You go home, you get your candles out, you have that emotional recall and reconnection with the fragrance and you are back to that retailer. Now think of that with private banking: private banking is where the big money is at the financial industry and their customers make them a lot of money: it wouldn’t cost a lot for the private bank to have a signature fragrance in their banking lobby, and then also for that bank to send out statement fragranced with their signature fragrance. Now when you usually receive your bank statement in the post and you open it up, oh here’s my bank statement, blah, blah, blah, it’s not that exciting and not an emotional experience unless it comes with a very big total. Now imagine if it came with that fragrance, you open that envelope and you get a waft, and the emotions! You will have that memory of standing in the lobby when you first had that fragrance, you are there – you are touching the customer on an emotional level. It’s really, really powerful stuff.

“It’s all about creating awareness and it’s about developing sales and customer loyalty,” he concludes. “If scent is another way to engage the customer and communicate, then great. Business are starting to realise there are other ways of doing this. We are looking at ways for companies to gain a stronger engagement with their customers.