The sweet smell of Home Depot

Unexpectedly, it hit me square in the face – like walking by a bakery just as someone opens the door.  I can’t quite identify it….something between new tires and a lumber yard, though I’m sure I’ve encountered it a thousand times.  Walking into the Home Depot store today – I took a big whiff.  What an awesome smell.

Science tells us that the link between what we smell and the emotions and memories brought forward is due to the connection of the olfactory bulb to the amygdala and hippocampus.  Sight, sound and touch do not pass through the same area of our brain – hence the unique ability of smell to take us back in time and drum up a host of feelings along the way.  (For more, see “Smells Ring Bells: How Smell Triggers Memories and Emotions“, Pschology Today, 1/12/15).

Years ago, back in my college days, I used to frequent a small fly fishing shop on the outskirts of town.  The owner was a friendly, bearded fellow who shared his recent tales from the stream as he tied flies at a vise stationed on the front counter.  Being the novice that I was, watching him take bits of yarn and feathers and turn them into art-quality trout bait was magical.  My appreciation was compounded by the fact that each one he tied went for a buck a piece!  Upon opening the door to Fly Fisher’s Paradise in State College, PA you were greeted with the sweet aroma of Steve’s pipe tobacco.  I was transported there just the other day as I passed by a local smoke shop.  Made me want to dust off the old fly rod for some casting practice in the park.

Quite a different experience: a few weeks ago I bought a kitchen sink from for a remodel project.  Never thought that would happen – but they could deliver the same product the next day that would have taken Home Depot two weeks to fulfill.  No brainer.   Prime member…check.   No news that this is happening across the retail spectrum.  But the smell!  When I hit the homepage –   there’s nothing.  No memories of my late father and I rushing into the Depot before it closed so we could work late into the night remodeling the home my wife and I still love and adore.  There’s no new car smell.   Does an Apple Store have a smell?  I think it does!  Pottery Barn candles.  Gap denim.  REI…fleece and tents and kayaks….mmmmm.  It all smells so good…and can’t be replicated online.

The logic is simple but compelling.  Smell is linked to memory and emotion.  Emotion can equate to a powerful customer experience. These experiences drive customer loyalty…which drives revenue.  It’s this level of experience analysis – down to the smell of your stores – that can create an ongoing competitive advantage for bricks & mortar retail.

Clicking to a homepage is one type of experience.  Walking into a store is a different experience.  The bar for the physical retail experience no longer stops at friendly sales associates, neatly stocked shelves and cool jams over the sound system.

Visit a store and take a whiff.  What comes to mind?  How does it make you feel?


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