Sofie Sandell
Sofie Sandell 11 November 2015
Categories Customer Experience

Setting The Tone With Background Music

Research has show that actual spending increased when music was played that was attuned to the clientele in the store.

For a long time music has been known to have an effect on consumer behaviour and several studies show that it influences people’s behaviour in retail stores and restaurants.

The Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services published a study in 2012, that took place in retail stores in Sweden, called ‘Let the music play or not: the influence of background music on consumer behaviour’. It explored whether music in a retail environment affects consumer behaviour and whether gender has a moderating role. Many previous studies on consumer behaviour and music have been done in research labs with a limited sample of people. This study took place in actual supermarkets and studied consumers’ real-life shopping behaviour.

The research showed that actual spending increased by between nine percent and 17 percent when music was played that was attuned to the clientele in the store compared with no music. Also, people stayed 20 percent to 40 percent longer in the stores when music was being played.

One of the main problems with music in stores and other public venues is if it is played just because everyone else does. There is not much thought and consideration about the people who are there and what time different customer segments visit.

The Difference Between Men And Women
The 2012 research results indicate that men and women are affected in different ways by music. The researchers write that women are positively affected by the absence of music and slow-tempo music when shopping, while men are affected positively by the presence of music and fast-tempo music. This can be connected with the fact that men are mission-orientated when shopping compared to women, who feel energised by slowly looking at what’s on offer. For women shopping is often a social event.

If you have an audience with a 50:50 gender split you need to match your music to fit both genders. To satisfy broader customer segments you need to play a wide range of music genres. The primary goal with a good playlist is to calm the visitors down and make them stay in the store longer. Background music is not there to be noticed or stick out.

One of the most quoted research studies about music in retail spaces was conducted in a wine store in the UK in 1999. Over a two-week period, French and German music was played on alternate days from an in-store display of French and German wines. When playing French music the French wines outsold German ones, and the playing of German music led to the opposite effect. The researchers then asked the consumers if they were aware of the music in the store. A majority said they were not. Music directs people’s decision-making on a subconscious level.

Picking The Right Kind Of Music
When you choose what music to play, you have to look at your customer segments and when they are in your venue. Earlier in the day you might want to focus on slower music and later something more upbeat. If you have more teenagers in your store during the holidays adjust the music to fit them as well. And you need to link this segmentation to the brand values you want to communicate.

Some stores have a diverse group of customers that they want to keep in their venue for as long as possible. The opposite is true if you are running a restaurant and want high table turnover during lunch hours. Then, music with a higher tempo will be the right choice.

Christian van Oostrum is Music Coordinator at MusicPartner, based in Karlstad, Sweden. MusicPartner streams music to shops, hotels and other public places. He said: ‘the first thing we do when starting to understand a brand is to analyse their customer segments and what kind of music the different segments are listening to.’

One specific example of clients with specific requirements are airports, when it’s crucial to not play any songs with words such as ‘crash’ or ‘die’ in the lyrics.

Van Oostrum points out that to create a pleasant environment, you need to have a large selection of songs so you are not just playing hit after hit after hit, which is tiring for the people working in the venue. 

A global luxury brand in retail mentioned to me that they update their music library every three months and that the staff in the stores put together the playlists. This policy works as long as the staff has the ability to build a good playlist.

Music is subjective and there are businesses that will pick and update your music for you and then your staff can focus on other things.

Soundtrack Your Brand
Spotify is now offering their services to businesses via Soundtrack Your Brand, and so far it’s available in Sweden, Norway and Finland. One of their clients is Björn Axen, a well-known hair salon. For them it’s key to get the music right.


They have employed a music blogger and DJ to create playlists for them that feels modern and calm at the same time, and morning, lunch and afternoon have different playlists.

Fotografiska, a museum in Stockholm, is also using Soundtrack Your Brand. In the morning and lunchtime they aim for happy lounge feel and in the weekend they go for more soul and funk vibe with a mix of world music.

One hundred and fifty years ago when there was no radio. You had live music in stores and venues. Today you can walk into a trendy store and see a DJ playing live. Smart stores stream this music to other shops and make the sound reach farther. A kind gesture is to tell your customers that you have a playlist on Spotify or similar service of the music that you played in-store today and you can ask your customers to share their playlist. Music can help you to expand your content marketing strategy.


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