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By Paolo Zinatelli

Retail Management prof Richard Michon knows what profit smells like and he’s got the research to back it up.

So is it musty like the $5 bills crumpled in your pocket for too long? Is it metallic like a sack of unrolled change? Perhaps the sweet smell of success is like plastic–the scent of your maxed-out MasterCard. Wrong. Wrong. And wrong.

According to the Ryerson professor, profits smell like the tangy sent of citrus. Michon’s study was published in the Journal of Business Research this month.

Along with colleagues in Montreal and Kentucky, Michon studied what smell would make a shopper want to spend more money. The reasons for the study were simple, he said. First off, a study on scent and shopping had never been done before.

As well, the researchers wanted to clear up a few mysteries. “(There are) all types of urban rumours that a scent will make you shop more,” Michon said. Using a previous study that said citrus was the most arousing scent, the researchers set about their work. “Citrus should not be confused with lemon,” Michon noted. “Lemon is mostly associated with dish washing liquid.”

As a result, most people don’t have pleasant memories when they smell lemons. So they tested their hypothesis in a mall near Montreal with a mixture of lemon, orange and tangerine, “We had diffusers that automatically diffused a certain amount of ambient odour,” he explained.

On the days when citrus was in the air–even though shoppers reported not smelling anything at all–they enjoyed their shopping trips more and spent slightly more money than they would have otherwise.

Their mood and the perception of their environment were altered, Michon said.

Still, he added the experiment only worked on a mildly busy weekday afternoon. When the mall was busier, people were unaffected by the citrus. “If you’re loaded with environment cues, you have cue overload,” he said.

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