6 myths about music in retail

6 myths about music in retail

In 1973, business professor Philip Kotler first extolled the importance of ‘atmospherics’ when it came to attracting customers into a shop – and convincing them to spend their money once inside. “In some cases”, he declared, “the place, more specifically the atmosphere of the place, is more influential than the product itself in the purchase decision. In some cases, the atmosphere is the primary product.”

A lot has changed on the high street since 1973, but retail atmospherics remain of paramount importance. Whether through eye-catching interior design, intuitive visual merchandising or even the pumping out of particular scents, every tiny detail counts when it comes to influencing customers. 

Music is arguably the most important atmospheric of all. A glut of studies have been published on the effect of music in retail, each suggesting new ways of incorporating sound into the shopping experience. Some are familiar – who hasn’t heard those Christmas carols playing earlier every year? – while some are intentionally unfamiliar. Think about that time you used Shazam to find out which artist was playing while you browsed the aisles, for instance. 

What’s certain is that, one way or another, the playing of music in retail environments will affect how your brand is positioned within its sector. As a result, many myths have spread around the subject over the years. Here are six to watch out for while you’re fashioning your shopping playlist:

  1. Fast music will make people buy faster. It’s OK to play party-friendly electronic music, especially at stores targeting young adults such as Bershka or Brandy & Melville, but it should never make people want to leave the store straight after they come in. While it is true that higher tempos make us unconsciously move faster, do we want people to move fast or actually enjoy the shopping experience? Sometimes it might make sense to slow things down, and perhaps keep customers in the shop for longer.
  2. Classical music will make people buy more expensive items. This can be true, especially in certain high-end department stores or wine merchants. However, if the genre doesn’t fit with your audience and brand identity, you will probably get the opposite effect, so don’t expect your sales to soar just by blasting out a bit of Bach. Indeed, some fast food outlets have even used classical music as a sonic weapon, to drive away loitering teenagers.
  3. Loud music will be more effective. 6 out of 10 people find music in stores too loud, and again it can make them want to leave. Even if you want the sound to be more prominent than people’s conversations, you don’t want to risk losing customers because of the volume.
  4. Commercial music distracts staff members. Most research focuses on the effect of music on customers, forgetting that team members are an essential key to productivity and sales. Regarding the popularity of the music you play, a balance between commercial and new talent responding to the brand’s needs should be considered. It’s true that music can be distracting, but customers will often actually stay longer in a shop if they recognise the song they hear; humans have emotional reactions to music, which will be influenced by their personal experience and familiarity. However, adopting a less ‘one size fits all’ approach by focusing on local emerging talent can also boost your chances of engaging visitors, providing a sense of place, relevance and freshness. Keeping the soundtrack regularly replenished will also keep you from driving employees mad with the same tracks on a loop for days! 
  5. You don’t need to pay for the music you play in-store. It’s unbelievable that some business owners are still unaware of this. Depending on which country you’re located in, royalties to collection societies like SGAE, BMI and PRS For Music have to be paid. We also try to support smaller artists through other means, especially if they’re not registered at any of these music associations; for example through collaborations. The most important thing, though, is to make sure you’re doing things legally.
  6. French music will make you buy French wine. Your music choice should respond to the different goals you’re aiming at, your customer profile and your identity as a brand. It should also vary according to the time of the year, the day of the week and even the hour of the day. In the right moment and environment, French music could indeed work brilliantly within your establishment. However, humans are complex, and a simplistic view of how they can be influenced helps no one. As with the balance between using commercial and underground music, you need to put real thought into your selections to avoid alienating any sectors of your clientele. 

Record-Play has extensive experience in retail music, specialising in hyper-localisation, exclusivity and wider digital consumer-centric initiatives, and we’re always ready to assist with the deeper integration of music into your retail environments. You can get an idea by listening to our Global Retail playlist below, containing some of the music we recommend for adidas stores around the world, and check a few more good practices here: https://record-play.net/music-in-retail/