For almost every consumer, music is an integral part of the retail shopping experience, but many stores rely on radio to cultivate their in-store atmosphere, when there may be a better way to entice shoppers with music.
Guest Post by Phillip Adcock
Music is present in almost every shopping situation, from hypermarkets to small corner shops. But with many stores relying on radio stations for their in-store atmosphere, it’s time to ask: is this the most effective and consumer-friendly way for stores to utilise their sound system?
Shoppers are influenced by all of their senses when in-store. Even the colour and size of labels can change how they feel about a store and its products. But what about the sounds they encounter?
Sound has far more of an effect on your shoppers’ behaviour than you might think. It plays a role in everything we do and can influence every choice we make. So how does sound factor into a shopping trip, and can retailers control it to influence shopper behaviour?
Soundscaping: The Retailer’s Secret Weapon
We all actively use sound as we shop, no matter the type of store we are in. Whether that’s listening to the texture of clothes as we touch them or watching promotional screen ads on gondola ends, sound consciously informs our buying decisions. Crisper-sounding salad is most likely fresher and the sound that a packet of crisps makes often gets the mouth watering.
But we also passively absorb the music and the soundscape of the store around us. Sound elicits an emotional response as well as an intellectual one.
We pay attention to tone and pitch as well as content and react, automatically and subconsciously, to aural prompting. Other elements, such as tempo, can also affect our physicality — fast music making shoppers move more quickly, for example.
This means that, as well as thinking about what you want your in-store soundscape to do, you have to identify what effects you want to prevent. Repetitive beeps on a checkout, staff announcements via Tannoy, or even a poor choice of music can all cause shopper fatigue.
This can also have a major effect on your staff. Listening to the constant beep of checkouts and automated announcements can tire workers, making your store an unpleasant place to work. Make sure that your store doesn't create an oppressive, exhausting atmosphere. Even reducing the pitch or volume of your in-store devices can have a drastic effect on the working conditions of your staff. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different sound levels and watch the results on shoppers and staff. You may be surprised.
Why the Music You Play Changes Your Shoppers' Behaviour
As well as appealing to different groups of shoppers on a personal level, in-store music has many subconscious side-effects, depending on the genre. It can determine who will shop there, how they feel while shopping, how quickly they shop and how much they spend on their purchases.
If you are making music choices that exclude certain groups, you are telling these shoppers that the store isn’t suitable for them. While this may work for some stores with a very specific shopper group, broadly, this is to be avoided. Generally, adult-orientated music bores younger shoppers and youth-orientated music makes older shoppers uncomfortable. But some exclusionary genres can work if they play within the expectations of the store. Classical music will work well if you sell wedding dresses, for example, but not if you sell skateboards.
Genres of Music Can Change Shopper Speed — and Shopper Spend
In general, there are several different effects you can expect from different types of in-store music.
Faster music will usually lead to faster shoppers. These customers will move quickly, they tend to spend less and will be impatient. This can work well in some ways; for example, in a store where you want to keep everyone moving and making quick decisions. They tend not to make considered decisions when buying and may impulse shop. However, they will also abandon their basket far more quickly if confronted by a queue.
Slower music therefore leads to slower shoppers, and is especially suited to large stores and supermarkets. These slower shoppers tend to feel more relaxed and therefore spend more money. Slow music encourages browsing and therefore increases impulse buying. In supermarkets, slower shoppers are also more likely to be tempted to spend extra on snacks as their blood sugar dips.
However, when choosing slower music, be sure to avoid sad songs. While they will make your shoppers move more slowly, it will also tap into the more conscious, emotional side of your shoppers. They may therefore find your store depressing and will be far more likely to abandon their baskets.
Shops selling big-ticket items can benefit from classical music, as its main effect is making products seem well-made and of a higher value. Shoppers won't buy more products, but they are more likely to increase the price they are willing to pay for the same items.
Soundscaping can be a major factor in optimising your in-store atmosphere. By identifying the best conditions for your store, you can increase your sales and your customer and staff satisfaction, all in one fell swoop.
Phillip Adcock is the founder and Managing Director of the shopper research agency Shopping Behaviour Xplained Ltd, an organisation using research into retail shopper behaviour to explain and predict what your customers do. SBXL operates in seventeen countries for hundreds of clients including Mars, Tesco and B&Q.