Can you smell the (virtual) roses? The influence of olfactory cues in Virtual Reality on immersion and positive brand responses

Kirsten Cowan, Seth Ketron, Alena Kostyk, Kirk Kristofferson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Virtual reality (VR) has grown in popularity and technological ability, offering wider potential for retailers to immerse consumers in branded experiences. On the industry side, experts argue that integration of olfactory cues is the next big development for VR as such cues have the potential to improve immersion – the feeling of being ‘plugged into’ the experience – and possibly elicit positive brand responses. Despite its promise, integration of olfactory cues also has its challenges, such as financial costs and conflicting evidence of their effects in traditional retail contexts. Unfortunately, research has yet to explore the integration of olfactory cues in VR and offer insight to retailers and scholars. To address this deficit, this research builds upon the concept of immersion and integrates flow theory to explore the interplay and additive nature of olfactory stimuli and VR. We employ four studies using a variety of both ambient (i.e., actual scents) and imagined (i.e., prompted through description) olfactory cues in field (i.e., Facebook A/B testing), online, and laboratory settings. Our findings show through both measured mediation and moderation that in retail-centric VR environments, the presence (vs. absence) of olfactory cues heightens immersion. In turn, immersion elicits flow, which improves brand responses. Our research contributes to the sensory marketing and VR literatures and offers recommendations to retailers seeking to build or expand their VR strategies.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)385-399
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of retailing
Issue number3
Early online date14 Aug 2023
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2023

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • Virtual Reality
  • sensory marketing
  • olfactory
  • immersion
  • flow


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