Sensory Identity: The Impact of Olfaction on Consumption

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

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter



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.


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.


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.


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 languageAmerican English
Title of host publicationConsumer Culture Theory
StatePublished - 2015


  • Consumer sensory identity
  • olfaction
  • smell
  • olfactory sensitivity
  • coping strategies


  • Business
  • Marketing
  • Behavioral Economics

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