Sensory identity: The impact of olfaction on consumption

Samantha N.N. Cross, Meng Hsien Jenny Lin, Terry L. Childers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Purpose-The authors broaden the scope of consumer identity by introducing individuals' olfactory abilities and discussing its impact on perception of the self, consumption behaviors, and consumer well-being. Methodology/approach-The authors took a mixed-method approach by embedding smell tests during in-depth interviews. A total of 36 interviews were conducted, involving individuals with varying olfactory sensitivity levels, from decreased sensitivity, normal sensitivity, to heightened sensitivity to smell. Findings-Emergent themes from the interviews include compensation, perception of self and control under three key areas: levels of olfactory sensitivity, the impact of olfactory sensitivity, and the coping strategies used by participants and their families. These findings show that olfactory sensitivity can either enhance or detract from the consumption experience or trigger memories of people, locations or experiences, indirectly affecting consumer well-being and quality of life. Practical/social implications-Findings reveal that olfactory abilities not only shape and form an individual's identity but also have a profound impact on (1) consumption behavior: time spent browsing or lingering, purchase order, product choice, or shopping venue which has immense practical implications for marketers; and (2) consumer well-being: developing coping strategies at both the individual and family level to mitigate the issues faced in consumption. Originality/value-Unlike the other senses, olfactory abilities are often overseen and neglected. The authors show that olfactory abilities are both relevant and salient. The paper is forefront in demonstrating how sensory abilities shape individuals' identities and in turn influence consumption practices and experiences.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)331-347
Number of pages17
JournalResearch in Consumer Behavior
StatePublished - 2015
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 by Emerald Group Publishing Limited All rights of reproduction in any form reserved.


  • Consumer sensory identity
  • Coping strategies
  • Olfaction
  • Olfactory sensitivity
  • Smell


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