Even just walking on the sidewalk outside an Abercrombie or a Hollister store is enough to nearly drown you in an invisible wave of store-brand cologne. The sibling stores’ odors are as tied up in their identity as clothes loudly bearing their own logos. But Abercrombie announced last week that it is dialing back the scent, and researchers from Concordia University in Montreal have some theories about why Abercrombie might need to do even more than that.
Abercrombie blasts its stores with two different colognes: Fierce and So Cal, which Abercrombie refers to as “iconic” scents. Bianca Grohmann of Concordia would define it somewhat differently. Grohmann’s work classifies scents used in retail spaces as evocative of either enclosed spaces or open spaces. Neither is objectively good or bad; the idea is that retailers have to thoughtfully design their scent profiles just as carefully as they’d design a store’s layout.
According to the researchers, a scent like wood or buttered popcorn creates an enclosed feeling, best used for wide-open, emptier spaces. Outdoorsy scents like the beach or green apple create a feeling of openness, which better balance the feel of an enclosed retail space, Grohmann says. The whole game is balance. That’s why Abercrombie’s scent doesn’t work well, the Huffington Post reports: the custom colognes are musky and masculine, which is an “enclosed” scent. But the stores are dark and crowded, creating a feeling of claustrophobia and discomfort.
Abercrombie’s revenues have been declining lately; last quarter it had a net loss of $23.7 million. Scent obviously isn’t the primary culprit. But changing it–or at least reducing its power–probably wouldn’t hurt.