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How Music Influences Customers

Updated: Mar 17, 2020

How Music Influences Customers

by Antora Bhattacharya 


When we enter most retail stores, there is music playing in the background. A pleasant hum that seems almost inconsequential as we go about our shopping, there are surprising implications regarding how such ambient music impacts our purchase decisions and overall buying patterns. We may not realize it, but as many studies have previously indicated, decision making in retail environments is easily influenced by factors such as this and elements like lighting, colour, temperature, size, smell and brightness. The author Philip Kotler wrote in his 1973 paper that the tangible product or service was only a small part of the total consumption; the other part was filled by the local atmosphere or environment surrounding the product. Atmosphere is indeed a powerful marketing tool. It is a conscious space created to affect consumers in many ways and music is just one facet of it. One aspect of ambient music that has been recorded to have a significant influence on shoppers is tempo. In 1982, Milliman conducted an experiment in American supermarkets by playing various songs of varying tempos each day. He also tracked the speed of customers as they shopped around and the supermarket’s daily profits. It was found that when fast paced music was played, customers traversed the shop more quickly, and hence had less time to make impulsive purchases. Slow paced music had the opposite effect and resulted in more purchases. As a consequence, shops recorded higher earnings on the days when slower music was played. Similarly, studies have been conducted on the effect of playing songs at different volumes. It was found that louder songs tended to induce customers to shop around faster, and hence purchase less, while softer songs made for a more subliminal shopping experience, with customers spending more time in the store and making more purchases. In 2000, Yalch and Spangenberg looked at the effect of playing well known music compared to music customers might not be familiar with. Shoppers who heard recognizable tracks spent nearly 8% less time shopping, while people who heard unfamiliar music perceived time to pass quicker. Researchers explained this by the level of arousal generated by playing familiar music: when paying more attention to the music, customers were prone to perceiving time to pass slower, and hence hurrying while shopping. The psychological scientist Adrian North, and his colleague, hypothesized that specific songs or musical genres could prime congruent concepts in a person’s memory and ultimately shift people’s preferences. “Playing German music might make consumers think of beer and bratwurst, whereas French music might evoke images of wine and the Eiffel Tower,” they explained. An experiment was conducted where a group of college students heard either classical or country music while being shown slides of 10 utilitarian products and 10 social identity products and writing down the price they would pay for each product. The results showed that those listening to country music were prepared to pay a higher price for utilitarian products, while those listening to classical music were willing to spend more on social identity products. Even though few shoppers consciously note the presence of music, they clearly respond psychologically and behaviourally to such environmental factors. It is interesting to speculate how store managers can respond to the studies mentioned above, and prioritize what is best for their self interests. Music has long been known to have a strong effect on human emotions, and for marketers who want to understand and influence consumer behaviour, this presents many possibilities. Research has indicated that the right kind of music, when played in the store, can arouse the brain’s ‘pleasure’ centre, and induce the customer to spend more on products. Customers can feel more inclined to make impulse purchases. Ultimately, music can be an effective tool to generate profits and allow one’s business to thrive. References

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