What would adding smell to virtual reality tech mean to retail?

Oct 20, 2022

Demonstrating the potential of adding smell to virtual reality (VR), researchers led by Stockholm University recently created a “wine tasting game” in which the user smells wine in a virtual wine cellar and gets points if their guess on aromas in each wine is correct.

The researchers hope their open-source technology can not only elevate game development, but expand smell-VR technology to other areas, such as commercial applications like retail.

Adding scent to virtual worlds has been explored since soon after the first virtual reality headsets arrived in the nineties, but a number of startups are recently drawing attention for experimenting with the technology. With the metaverse drawing skepticism, some feel virtual reality needs to move beyond only sight and sound.

“It’s critical that scent be [part of] metaverse development. . . or we’re completely limiting the potential,” Aaron Wisniewski, CEO at OVR Technology, a Vermont-based smell-VR tech start-ups, recently told Fast Company. “Smell has this profound effect over who we are, how we feel, what we do, what we buy, who we love.”

Smells are believed to have a stronger link to memory and emotion than any of the other senses. According to a study reported by the Marketing Society, approximately 75 percent of all the emotions experienced are generated by what people smell rather than what they hear or see.

Recent studies have further linked the loss of smell due to COVID-19 to depression and anxiety.

To old-timers and some skeptics, infusing smell into VR recalls Smell-O-Vision, Hollywood’s failed attempt from the late 1950s to incorporate smells into films.

In a recent article for Wired, Jude Stewart, author of “Revelations in Air: A Guidebook to Smell,” writes that while smell-VR tech has become more “convincing,” challenges include limits on the number of smell cartridges per headset. He advises a go-slow approach.

Mr. Stewart wrote, “Inserting smells into VR can distract, overwhelm or repulse. But used sparingly, and designed to fit the right context and coordinated with the other senses, playing with smell — even distorting it — can render a strange world more human.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What would adding smell to virtual reality tech mean to retail? Does the metaverse need scent to succeed?


“Candle companies, A&F, and many other concepts have understood the power of scent in stimulating shopper demand. VR will follow suit.”


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