Every December, people around the world are affected by the enchantment of the holiday season. Whether it’s Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa, this time of year brings people together, finding ways to show loved ones that they care or traveling to spend time with those who matter most. It may not be time to deck the halls or drink spiced lattes just yet, but as the holiday season rapidly approaches and plans are made, is your business ready for the opportunities this year’s festivities bring? 

Following years of restrictions and lockdowns, current trends in retail and transport sectors suggest people are returning to in-store retail and travel with renewed enthusiasm. With customers ready to get back to the spirit of the holiday season, the pressure for businesses to get people through the door is easing. The focus for many instead turns to enhancing people’s experiences in their premises and harnessing the excitement and nostalgia of the holidays to generate sales and positive impressions of their brand.

One way to capture the mood of the holiday period is through scenting, with 80% of people saying that familiar seasonal scents help put them in a festive mood.[1] This blog will explore why smells associated with the seasonal winter holidays are so linked to our memories and emotions and how businesses can leverage these connections this holiday season. 

holiday shopping

Remembering that festive feeling

Do you know that feeling when you smell a warm, cozy scent from childhood that lifts your mood and comforts you? Or those moments when a particular scent jogs your memory and instantly transports you back to a moment from your past? That fuzzy feeling isn't just happy memories; it's the power of scent and what's often referred to as 'odor-evoked.’    

If you’ve ever wondered why scents can do this, popular thinking suggests it’s all down to our sense of smell’s unique biological mechanism. Generally, the senses travel to a brain region called the thalamus, where information about what we see, hear, or touch is relayed to the rest of the brain. However, our sense of smell is different. Instead, smells travel directly to the limbic system, which houses the amygdala (where we process emotions) and the hippocampus (where our learning and memory formations occur). As they both use the same area of the brain, it’s possible for signals related to smell to become associated with the memories and emotions that are processed at the same time.

When memories are good, the smell associated with them can evoke both the memory and the pleasant feeling it brings. For example, in 2011, Matsunaga et al. also investigated the 'Proust phenomenon' – the process where a scent evokes a specific memory. Their research suggested that when people are exposed to nostalgic scents, memories associated with them can increase positive mood states such as comfort and happiness. These memories could also decrease negative mood states such as anxiety.  

If we think about the link between smell and memory in the context of the holiday season, many scents have become synonymous with the seasonal festive period. Therefore, regardless of the holiday you celebrate, certain smells of food, drink, or decorations can instantly evoke memories of past holidays and their associated emotions. For example, in a 2022 study that explored emotional states in relation to specific smells, pine was linked to Christmas and happiness.  

Young child with Christmas tree

Why does this matter for businesses during the holiday season?

As pre-pandemic levels of retail and travel return, scenting can provide businesses with opportunities to gain or retain customers over the holiday season and beyond. By dispersing familiar, recognized seasonal scents in their premises, businesses can link their brand to memories and emotions associated with the holidays, encouraging feelings of comfort, nostalgia, or happiness and creating more personal connections with their customers. This can lead to the following benefits:

Scenting can enhance customer experiences

Careful and strategic stimulation of the senses is an important consideration for brands, especially during the holiday season. The multiplier effect refers to the idea that creating experiences that stimulate multiple senses simultaneously can multiply the effects of individual sensory elements to create a more significant impact. With thoughtful choices, businesses can use festive music and decor combined with scents to embody a real sense of the holiday season.

With the established relationship between smell and emotion, scenting can also positively impact profit. Capgemini's research found that retailers who are able to foster loyalty through higher emotional engagement with consumers could increase their annual revenues by 5%.

Scenting can encourage return visits

By making your customers or visitors associate your business with pleasant memories, scenting can encourage them to choose you again. A recent study in Portugal found that introducing an ambient scent in a passenger bus resulted in more positive memories of the travel experience and increased intentions to reuse or recommend the bus service.

Additionally, scent can help people remember a brand. A study found that scenting pencils with tea tree oil dramatically increased participants' ability to recall the pencils' brand and other details. In contrast, those given unscented pencils experienced a 73% decline in the information they could recall two weeks later. Perhaps this established link means that scenting can even help associate a brand with the festive season and therefore encourage return visits year after year. 

 Scenting can boost sales and increase dwell time

Of course, when people enjoy an environment more, they're more likely to want to spend their time and money there, and scent can also play an additional role in this. A pleasant smell can actually alter people's perception of time, increasing their dwell time within a setting. In terms of sales in retail and service settings specifically, scents have been found to influence customer behavior positively, with scents increasing consumer spending by up to 23%.  

Woman looking festive

Find the perfect Seasonal Holiday Fragrance for your premises 

With a range of benefits associated with festive scenting, where do you start when choosing the perfect scent for your business? Whether you’re in a retail store, hotel, travel business or office reception, below is a pick of scents to make your environment smell like the festive holiday season and help your business harness the power of the holidays.

Pine cone

1.      Christmas Tree – classic, outdoorsy, fresh

Comfort people with the familiar, classic holiday scent of a fresh-cut Christmas Tree.

Mulled wine and spices

2.      Mulled Spices – friendly, inviting, warm

Extend an invitation to people that reminds them of fond memories of the magic and anticipation of the holidays.

Peppermint latte

3.      Peppermint Latte – natural, peaceful, comforting

A classic holiday beverage scent that creates a warm and friendly atmosphere


[1] Global Ambius Research, 2018