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10.12.2019 09:57

Christmas shopping frenzy through cinnamon scent

Katharina Vorwerk Presse- und Öffentlichkeitsarbeit
Otto-von-Guericke-Universität Magdeburg

    Marketing experts at the Otto von Guericke University Magdeburg demonstrate scents’ influence on consumer behavior

    Economists at the Otto von Guericke University Magdeburg have shown in a study that consumers tend to buy expensive luxury products when exposed to warm scents such as cinnamon, vanilla, and caramel. The researchers explain the behavior by the fact that people feel hemmed in by warm scents, as if they were in a large crowd. “We buy status products to compensate for this oppressive feeling and to stand out from others - so the SUV rather than the compact car,” explains Junior Professor Dr. Marcel Lichters of the Faculty of Economics and Management at the University of Magdeburg. This gives the consumer a "perceived" sense of regaining control over the situation, he continues.

    The marketing experts presented the test subjects with a selection of coffee products from different manufacturers - from cheap coffee-to-go to premium products. Those who were exposed to a warm vanilla scent preferred the expensive coffee significantly more often. “It seems plausible to me that these findings can also be applied to the Christmas season, because cinnamon and caramel are typical scents for this time of year and therefore we’re likely to spend more on presents,” says Prof. Marko Sarstedt, Head of the Chair of Marketing at the University of Magdeburg.

    There are also other tricks that the retailers use to sell certain goods. “Among other things, we have also demonstrated that consumers tend to be 'in the middle' in terms of price and quality when choosing products,” Sarstedt continues. In the case of gifts in particular, there is a high degree of uncertainty when buying, which is why a balanced price-performance ratio is even more important and a happy medium is perceived as a safe bet. This is also the reason why we often notice products that we classify as simply unaffordable, he goes on to say. These change our idea of the “happy medium”. “Companies know that, of course, which is why they offer other products, especially at Christmas, and alter prices to direct us towards a specific product".

    The researchers had already demonstrated the extent to which scents can influence our perception in a comprehensive study with Deutsche Bahn. A specially developed scent sprayed in the train compartments whose intensity was below the threshold of perception caused passengers to perceive the journey as being more pleasant. This is particularly critical from the consumers’ point of view because they are completely unaware of any manipulation, so they could not escape it. “We make 80 to 90 percent of our daily decisions intuitively. They are controlled by external stimuli such as light, time of day, and music. Many of them are not consciously perceived,” notes Prof. Sarstedt.

    This is why the economists at the University of Magdeburg have set themselves the task of conducting research in this field to elucidate the various mechanisms involved. “We would like to initiate a public debate based on our research. In particular, this should also address ethical and legal aspects,” says Junior Professor Lichters. However, the results will first be validated in further studies and then tested in real retail environments. The relationships between scents and product placement will also be investigated in more detail over the coming months.

    Wissenschaftliche Ansprechpartner:

    Prof. Dr. Marko Sarstedt, Otto von Guericke University Magdeburg, Chair of Marketing, Tel.: +49 (0)391 67-58725, Email:

    Jun.-Prof. Dr. Marcel Lichters, Otto von Guericke University Magdeburg, Junior Professor of Business Administration, Consumer Behavior, Tel.: +49 (0)391 67-51636, Email:


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    Jun.-Prof. Dr. Marcel Lichters (left) and Prof. Dr. Marko Sarstedt (right) at the Magdeburg Christmas Market

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