Most retailers know that creating the “Wow” factor for their stores is becoming more difficult. The market – especially that centered around smaller, privately owned stores – has become increasingly competitive. Store owners can no longer rely only on their products, location, prices and special promotion efforts to increase brand recognition.

Savvy store owners are looking further than the traditional retail store elements such as decor, lighting and visual merchandising to influence shoppers’ buying decisions by using specially selected music to set the mood and atmosphere of their shops. While the store’s brand should naturally dictate which musical genre to choose, the pace or tempo of that ambient music can have a significant effect on shopper behavior. While your only concern should not be “What music will make people buy things?”, you should be aware that choosing your background music wisely can help to drive business over the long run.

Happy Shoppers - retail music

The Power of Musical Genres

The one thing retail shopping has over online shopping is the ability to provide a multi-sensory experience. Most, if not all, stores now play either foreground or background music, which shoppers always hear, whether consciously or unconsciously. Simply choosing a generic playlist will not cut it when it comes to influencing shopping patterns. It’s vital to choose the right genre of music to trigger the appropriate emotions in shoppers. Considerations should include the predominant age, gender, ethnicity and cultural influences of shoppers.

Gathering as much information as possible about your customer base will significantly improve the odds of choosing the right music genres to play in your shop.

For example, unobtrusive classical music is most often associated with luxury and sophistication – far more than a modern popular hit. But how can that influence shopping patterns? According to a 1993 study by Charles S. Areni and David Kim of Texas Tech University, classical music was alternated with top-40 songs in a wine shop for four days. It was noted that shoppers chose cheaper wines on the days when the popular music was played, yet spent more time shopping and ultimately chose more expensive types when classical music was played.

While classical music might be appropriate for a wine shop or one carrying high-end products, it’s not always the best choice for stores devoted to a specific line of products.

In 2009, a study by Céline Jacob, et al., tested the effects on consumers when playing specialized background music in a florist shop. Customers’ purchasing decisions were monitored while no music, popular songs and romantic tunes were played. This study found that the romantic music had the greatest positive effect on customers’ purchases.

While individual reactions to different genres will naturally vary due to each shopper’s personal taste and past experiences, overall, it’s best to match music choices for your shop based on your target customer base. If your store specializes in antiques and fine china, opt for classical ambient music. On the other hand, if you cater to the Gen X crowd, go for it with rock and roll.

Combining or Changing Music Genres

It may be possible to change the mood of your store according to which type of in-store music you play. Playing the right music at the right time can not only creating a lasting impression in customers, it can build and expand your brand awareness with both existing and potential customers. A personalized, yet varied music strategy may support a retail brand and may make a connection with a wider customer base by incorporating additional customer demographics and psychological criteria. Use music as a key element of your retail mix; it can drive shoppers towards visiting your store and making a purchase. The environment you create provides shoppers with informational cues about the uniqueness of your merchandise and service quality, while helping shape or change attitudes and perceptions about your store. When deciding to make a purchase, most shoppers respond to more than specific products and services being offered. Carefully chosen in-store music can draw in more consumers and influence browsing times, the purchase decision and brand recognition.

Tempo and Volume

In an early (1982) experiment conducted in a supermarket, Ronald E. Milliman, Associate Professor of Marketing at the College of Business Administration, Loyola University, played various types of background music with slow or fast tempos every day for nine weeks.  The data recorded showed that when fast-paced music was played, shoppers moved quickly through the store, while slower-paced music caused shoppers to slow down and ultimately make more purchases. As a result, notably higher daily profits were earned by simply playing slower background music.

This doesn’t mean that your target audience wouldn’t appreciate hearing some super charged, extremely powerful music while they shop. Louder music that’s full of energy may cause some consumers to shop faster, but has little effect on the number of purchases. Playing music in the background seems to influence older customers to spend more time shopping, while foreground music lengthens the shopping time for younger customers.

Include Additional Sensory Lures

As powerful as music is on its own, combining it with pleasant scents, visually pleasing product arrangement and being able to handle your products can produce an irresistible influence to increase both browsing and purchasing.

A 2005 study by Dr. Maureen Morrin, a psychology professor at Rutgers University, concluded that while in-store music influenced impulse buyers to purchase more, using only citrus scents encouraged non-impulse buyers to spend more time and money shopping. Of course, choosing the right scent for your brand is as important as choosing the right music.

When used the right way, carefully chosen music is a powerful marketing tool. It can elevate your customers’ moods while encouraging them to relax, browse and feel satisfied with both the shopping experience and their purchases. Choosing the right genre, tempo and volume for your store’s brand can help to positively influence the spending habits of many consumers who enter your shop.