Skip to content

Shopping with your nose: How body odors influence your buying behavior

Sniffing out a deal.
Credit: Annelisa Leinbach, SciePro / Adobe Stock
Key Takeaways
  • Decades of research on consumer behavior show that odors can affect what we buy and how much we’re willing to pay.
  • A new study examined the effects that smelling body odor had on the speed with which consumers purchased products.
  • Overall, participants exposed to body odors decided to buy faster, and chose closer to the real price, than those exposed to none.

Our sense of smell is often considered to be weak and unimportant, but it’s stronger than you might think it is. Smell can influence our mood, evoke emotions, and influence our behavior. And new research shows that body odors can also affect the speed of buying decisions.

Sniffing out a deal

We’ve known that common odors can influence buying decisions for over 30 years. For example, a 1990 olfaction study placed two identical pairs of Nike sneakers in rooms containing either a floral or a neutral scent, and those in the floral-scented room reported that they were 84% more likely to buy the shoes.

A more recent study showed that restaurant-goers who smelled the relaxing aroma of lavender stayed longer and spent more than those who smelled a lemon aroma. This new study is the first to examine the effects of body odors on consumer decisions. 

Mariano Alcañiz of the Universitat Politécnica de Valencia and her colleagues collected body odors from people under conditions that made them happy, scared, or relaxed. They then exposed 66 others to these odors as they decided whether they were willing to pay for each of a range of products and, if so, to choose between several different pricing options.  

Overall, participants exposed to body odors decided to buy faster, and chose closer to the real price, than those exposed to none, regardless of the type of odor they had been exposed to. Food products produced the shortest response times, followed by clothing and then technology products. 

The researchers did, however, observe that each odor influenced buying decisions about specific categories of products. For example, the “happiness” odor encouraged participants to make faster decisions to buy drinks, while the “fear” odor encouraged them to buy health products faster.

Body odor and buying behavior

The researchers note that the study was performed after the first worldwide COVID lockdown, when hygiene took on great importance, and suggest that this may have influenced response times for decisions to buy health products. 

They argue that body odors influenced the speed of participants’ responses because they implicitly signal the presence of other people. After all, body odors play an important role in our social behavior, as they can convey information about age, sex, emotions, and health status. Human chemical signals can also influence how we perceive faces and facial expressions. 

The new findings extend earlier work showing that the sense of smell can influence buying decisions, by showing that human body odors also influence consumer behavior. This could be exploited for marketing purposes, especially in sectors based on social interaction, such as services and tourism.


Up Next