Smells (and bad smells especially) are an emotive subject for consumers – and nowhere is that more evident than in washrooms, an often neglected part of the user experience in retail outlets.

“It’s something they [consumers] like to talk about and talk about frequently during the research that we do,” Chris Bisset, head of category at Rentokil Initial, told a recent conference.

“Bad smells, a lack of cleanliness, poor facilities – all these impact the washroom user’s personal hygiene.”

And there’s a knock-on effect, he added, in how users then view a brand, in how they perceive its reputation and on their willingness to return.

Restaurant owners, for example, are often so focused on the food and front-of-house experience that they neglect the washroom. “This is the part that really lets down the overall user experience,” Bisset said.

“Time and time again, we will be doing research globally and the word ‘disgust’ comes up. It’s key to washroom hygiene and mitigating the power of disgust is essential.” (For more, read WARC’s report: Mining emotions via voice and smell with Johnson & Johnson and Initial.)

But for all the powerful emotions that smell can induce, people “have little introspection” into its impact on their behaviour, according to Dr Andy Myers of Walnuts Unlimited, who devised a research test around the washroom experience to assess the impact of smell.

Two washroom environments at Initial’s offices, one based around a ‘good’ smell, the other around a ‘bad’ smell, offered five possible ‘experiences’ at different levels of cleanliness. Participants visited each ‘smell condition’, fitted with eye trackers and galvanic skin response monitors to track arousal levels.

In the bad smell condition, as one would expect, people just wanted to get out quickly and were more likely to rate their emotions as very negative.

“In the good smell condition we saw a significantly lower level of physiological arousal compared to the bad smell condition,” Myers reported. “What that basically means is we were able to dampen even the most horrible environment.”

Initial took the findings and created “easily digestible nuggets” that sales teams in international markets could use to talk to customers with the backing of science. This approach has generated 10%+ uplift revenue across the company’s entire air care category globally.

Sourced from WARC