Keith Kelsen’s Scent Narrative: Scent & Virtual Reality Retail

Scent in Retail

Scent & Virtual Reality Retail may seem an odd combination. However, in previous Scent Narratives, we have discussed the impact of Scent on Virtual Reality. From mitigating nausea (VR sickness) to creating a “holodeck” realistic experience, Scent rules.  Scent is playing a major role in retail now.  Forbes reported this year that the “Pumpkin Spice” business alone is over half a billion dollars a year, most of it Scent related.

Scientifically, we know the best way to reach customers is through their nose, not their eyes. The sense of smell is our most direct sense and is tied directly to memory.  The successful retailer must distinguish itself in a consumer’s memory, thrilling them and be embedded in their imagination. Retail sales are dimming worldwide as online shopping grows. What is the answer to distinguish shopping experiences as the great shift to online retail occurs?

 Virtual Reality is What’s Next in Retail

Now, Virtual Reality Retail (VRR) has launched in China, creating a new format for a shopping experience. Virtual Reality has come to shopping, although it has a way to go before it’s a default. Last year about this time, Alibaba announced VR shopping. The race to a virtual shopping experience is on. Big companies like Amazon are also working on adding virtual reality shopping to increase sales. Experiential marketing has been proven to be more impactful with Scent.  Can Scent be the next step?

VR Retail Is a Coming Trend

According to vice, 30,000 people had already tried buy it an hour after its launch. Proof that this phenomenon is growing, YouTube has many examples of VR and AR in Retail.  Last year, the video:  The 10 Best Uses of Virtual Reality VR Marketing, Mbryonic lead VR Marketing for retail. However, those efforts only get people excited about the VR and increase brand recall. But what if Scent were added to the experience? As we know, the addition of Scent creates a more memorable experience.

Pumpkin Spice is a $500 Million a Year Holiday Experience

In 2015, Forbes pegged Pumpkin Spice by itself at being a $500 million holiday industry in 2015, and growing. Why? Simply because the Scent was pegged in early childhood memories as “good & pleasing”.

“Since these are popular spice combinations, it’s very likely we would have encountered some or all of them combined in a favorite baked good in a comforting situation, like a family gathering, early in life. It’s not just the pumpkin spice combo, but that we’ve already wired a subset of those spices as ‘good’ very early in life.” Catherine Franssen, Director of Neurostudies Longwood University

Retailers seeking to distinguish themselves in the rapidly growing VRR can learn to leverage Scent to achieve greater success. Forbes Magazine contributor, Pam Danzinger, recently profiled how scent is becoming more and more pervasive and persuasive in retail, from Pumpkin Spice to new Lincoln Navigators. While her preference isn’t for the taste of Pumpkin Spice Late, she believes the appeal is in the scent and spoke to a scientist to prove it:

“The aromas in these holiday products are crafted to trigger emotions and feelings…. food marketing people are trying to take advantage of those warm fuzzy feelings, and…the secret is in the scent.”  MaryAnne Drake,  Food Scientist at North Carolina State University.

VR Shopping Experience launched by Masterpass & Swarovski

Known for their holiday Chrystal experiences, Swarovski teamed up with MasterCard to create a new VR experience.  According to the press release,

“Consumers can shop through the VR app on mobile phones and checkout with Masterpass  Mastercard and Swarovski launched a virtual reality (VR) shopping app. The app immerses consumers in a designer home where they can browse and purchase the pieces with Masterpass, Mastercard’s digital payment service. The depth of this new shopping app brings a new and engaging experience, at an expert level, providing the story behind the inspiration, the complex manufacturing process, and the designers’ creative journeys in way.” Mastercard And Swarovski Launch Virtual Reality Shopping Experience

“Atelier Swarovski Home is a masterfully crafted collection that is most dynamic when experienced first-hand.  As our e-commerce business continues to grow, this partnership allows consumers a fully immersive shopping opportunity to interact with the product and then purchase seamlessly within the experience.” Nadja Swarovski, Member of the Executive Board, Swarovski Crystal Business.

The Global Gold Rush to Virtual Reality Retail

As the rush to create VR Retail experiences  begins to accelerate, a couple of other companies have ventured further into VR with the goal of getting people to buy things: Ikea has a vr store that you can stroll through to gather inspiration for your home.  Alibaba launched buy+, a very immersive mall like experience that allowed users to explore a virtual store such as Macy’s to view and buy products.  India, too, is matching the US, Sweden and China VRR race with their “Urban Ladder”:

“In Bangalore, I got a chance to try furniture superbrand urban ladder’s new virtual experience…that uses an oculus rift headset and controller to let you check out beds and sofas in preset rooms, with the option to change upholstery fabrics and wall colors to get a better sense of what these products might look like.” Abhimanyu Ghoshal — 3 months ago in virtual reality

“In the long term, we want to make it more ubiquitous across our stores, and release downloadable apps for customers to use on their own because the platform will be far more mainstream in the next three years – at least a lot more than it is today. we want to enable them to visualize the products outside the store.”  Rajiv Srivatsa, CPTO & Co-founder, Urban Ladder

VR Sickness Could be a Major Barrier to VRR Adoption

Moving around in immersive virtual worlds can be a queasy experience; a problem that needs to be tackled before headsets replace phones and tablets. According to an article in Science News, Under the right circumstances, anyone with a functioning vestibular system can experience motion sickness — nearly everyone stranded on a lifeboat in choppy seas will get sick.

“A lot of VR, people today cannot tolerate. Search for “VR sickness” on Twitter, and you’ll see that people are getting sick every day.” Kay Staney, Human Factors Engineer at Design Interactive

Gizmodo explains the Science behind motion sickness—you can read more on that here—the cause to motion sickness is sensory mismatching. Basically, your body thinks it’s sitting still because you’re not flexing muscles or showing other signs of motion. Scent has been proven to override the conflict between that and your vestibular system.

VRR will never really catch on if it makes people sick. According to the article, while VR companies and developers are confident that they’ll find solutions, many motion sickness experts are pessimistic:

“My hunch is that [the solutions] are extremely limited. There’s always going to be some sensory conflict, and so the VR is going to be more successful in people who can tolerate that.” Steven Rauch, Director of the Vestibular Division at Boston’s Eye & Ear

While very little motion sickness research has been done on VR, research points to Scent as a potential cure.  Scent enabled headsets, when available to consumers, may accelerate the boom in VRR. Perhaps it might be the launch of Scented Virtual Reality, or SVR.

Virtual Reality Retail is the Future of Shopping

According to “lifehacker” Lily Lou, with online shopping, you miss the experience of going into a store and picking up items. Enter virtual reality shopping, which tries to give you the convenience of online shopping and the experience of being in a store. Today’s Virtual Reality Retail was predicted over a decade ago in a hybrid of AI, VR and AR:

“Do you remember that decade-old Tom Cruise movie, Minority Report, where walking into a store would prompt a personal message from an automated system? For many, this would enhance the process of shopping. No longer would l need to trudge through endless stacks and rows of pants to find one that fit. this personal attendant could easily direct me toward what their systems indicate I wanted either by my input of preferences or based off previous purchases.”

We know that people are already shopping through virtual reality, yet in its early stages, we are witnessing the opportunities to improve it.  Imagine the power of including scent in the experience.  Even the Perfume industry could shift, with samples available by mail.  VRR’s still in its beginning stages, imagine the convenience and ability to avoid the crowds and just relax in the retail experience.

Adding the Mix of Scent and VR with AI

The AI (Artificial Intelligence) potential linked with scent could help in future purchases as well.  Family members would be easier to buy for if you know their Scent and color preferences. Even though Virtual Reality Retail is still in its earliest days, VR’s utility for influencing perception has been studied for years. Now, combining VR and scent has been explored, both in a previous Scent Narratives, and by Stanford University, studies that demonstrate how anxiety could be relieved with VR and Scent, both by academics and companies.

Researchers at Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab are exploring how scent—like that of a doughnut—can be combined with virtual reality. The Virtual Human Interaction Lab at Stanford University is doing some breakthrough research on Scent and the VR/AR experience.  I’ve mentioned them in previous Scent Narratives.  They have scientifically proven that, even in a Virtual World, the combination of sight, smell, and touch stimulates humans just like the real world. In simulating doughnuts, for instance, subjects reported getting their salivary glands stimulated by the appearance and smell of doughnuts.

Coming of Age

The breakthrough is the beginning of AI and VRR coming together, according to Ad Age. Still, virtual commerce has the noticeable hurdle of consumer adoption.  42% of U.S. online adults have never heard about VR headsets and an additional 46% said they don’t see a use for VR in their lives. (a report by Forrester Research)  Only 8% of marketers are using VR in their ad campaigns.  Scent might be the missing Secret ingredient to VRR success.



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