How Music Can Affect Shoppers

People have been making music almost as long as they’ve been making sounds. From lullabies to war chants, music has always served a purpose in the human experience. As civilization has grown, the purpose of music in our lives has changed, but its influence on our brains has not. Retailers with a sound knowledge of how music influences shopper’s attitudes can harness its powerful effects on the human brain.

Why Music Matters

One study on music’s effects on shopping behaviors – (Donovan and Rossiter, 1982), is also known as the pleasure-arousal-dominance (PAD) model. The results suggest that a store’s atmosphere affects the emotional states of consumers. For example, store music varies by volume, tempo, pitch and texture and by the specific songs played. The study found that retail owners who appeal to the pleasure centers of the brain (the parts that control feel-good chemicals like oxytocin, dopamine and serotonin) and the parts of the brain that control arousal (those that release stress-response chemicals like adrenaline and cortisol), cause shoppers to behave in different ways.

Use the Score to Set a Purpose

According to a 2013 paper published in Frontiers of Psychology, Thomas Schafer, et all, explained how previous research categorized the response to music into four psychological categories or dimensions: social, emotional, cognitive and arousal.

  • Music with a social function causes people to think about their role in society and self-expression.
  • Emotional music calls to the listener to feel something: happiness, sadness, excitement, for example.
  • Music with a cognitive function allows people to feel removed from the world, or more engaged in it.
  • Arousal-focused music excites the auditory sense and invites the listener to action.

Following an Internet survey of 834 people of various ages (from 8 to 85) who were asked to rate 129 distinct items, the majority of results revealed that people do consider music to be a personal relationship that affects their moods and emotions, the type of music being played can affect how a person views their social environment (such as a retail store) and finally, that it affects moods and relaxation.

So, choosing music for your shop involves sending shoppers the right message: you want them to feel positive and confident in their shopping choices, living in the moment and excited to make a purchase. Engaging the emotional, cognitive and arousal functions of music are some of the best ways to get shoppers to feel positive about their experience in your shop.

Pace and Tempo Matter

When choosing music to influence shopping behavior, pace and tempo are the easiest ways to control shoppers. Scientific findings on the matter generally agree that slower, more leisurely music causes shoppers to spend more time contemplating their purchases and enjoying the atmosphere. It also leads to a significant increase in sales. Up tempo or fast-paced music encourages quicker shopping and fewer purchases.

Clare Caldwell and Sally Hibbert of the Association for Consumer Research, explain in their analysis “Play That One Again: the Effect of Music Tempo on Consumer Behavior in a Restaurant,” that research indicates that loud, fast-tempo music that is more arousing or enervating influences people to spend less time on shopping.

Genre Changes Perception

The genre of music you play changes shoppers’ perception of your establishment. Classical music, for example, projects an air of expense and quality. In conclusions following a 2007 study on the effect of background music on consumers, Nicolas Gueguen, et. al. stated that playing classical music in a wine store increased sales while influencing consumers to purchase more expensive merchandise.

When choosing a genre of music to play in your store, it’s almost always best to tailor your choices to your target market: if you’re running a clothing store for the female teenagers, Top 40 pop music might be your best bet. If you’re running an outdoor clothing store aimed at 30 to 50-year-old males, country music might be the right choice. When people hear music they like, they’re more likely to make purchases.

Turn Down the Volume (Sometimes)

Too much arousal can be a bad thing, as evidenced by studies on the volume of music on shoppers’ behavior. For more effective sales and increased sales volume, keep the music in the background and allow shoppers to think about their purchases. But music volume isn’t a one-size-fits-all tactic, so it’s up to you to determine the best volume to get the desired results.

A 2013 study by Myriam V. Thoma, et al, suggested that music played at a high volume was a turn-off to customers because it impacted the “psychobiological stress system” of participants. The conclusion was reached after exposing 60 women of an average age of 25 to relaxing music, the sound of rippling water and no audio stimulations. The results of a subsequent stress test indicated that the music impacted the autonomic nervous system of the participants. Using the PAD model of behavior, it’s easy to understand why: loud volumes signal the brain to increase the body’s stress responses and may even initiate a fight-or-flight response in very sensitive customers.

Music Can Alter the Value of Time

Customers who listen to music they like are more likely to feel like they had a positive experience, even if they spent time waiting in line or waiting to speak to a customer service associate.

When humans are enjoying themselves by listening to music they like, it doesn’t matter what the setting is: that time automatically becomes more pleasant, leading to a perceived increase in the value of that time. In short: customers won’t mind waiting a little bit as long as you’re providing quality tunes.

Music Used in Conjunction with Other Sensory Influences

When planning for maximum spending power, don’t use music alone to influence shoppers.

  • Appeal to customers’ visual pleasure by arranging items in an easy to find, aesthetically pleasing way – it encourages them to spend more time browsing and shopping.
  • Engage their tactile sense by encouraging shoppers to touch items – picking items up can influence them to want to take them home.

A 2005 study presented to the American Psychological Association by Maureen Morrin, PhD, concluded that music alone caused impulse buyers to purchase more, while scent alone (specifically a citrus scent) encouraged non-impulse buyers to spend more. But when both music and scent were present in a shop, income from impulse and non-impulse buyers decreased.

Music Is a Powerful Retail Tool

No matter which way you slice it, music is a commanding tool for retailers. You can encourage customers to feel positive, confident and happy in their purchases just by choosing the right tunes. Using tempo, volume and genre and combining your music selections with the appropriate sensory influences, you have the power to increase the spending habits of the majority of customers who walk through your doors.