Return to all posts
The Dos and Don'ts of Background Music in Retail

The Dos and Don'ts of Background Music in Retail

Written by

James Picken


January 4, 2018



We've put together a guide of the basic Dos and Don’ts to consider when implementing music in a business.

Retail is changing, and with Amazon's dominance, bricks-and-mortar stores need to be doing more to keep their customers coming back. With expectations of speed, convenience and personalisation higher than ever and easier to meet online, many consumers need to be given a reason to put down their smartphones and visit a store - inviting the concept of the modern store experience.

While intelligent solutions such as Augmented and Virtual Reality are becoming the answer for many retailers to engage their customers, one of the most important and ubiquitous factors of a venue is the background music. Music evokes emotion and is a universally embraced channel that influences shoppers by building an atmosphere, conveying the brand's values, and even impacting browsing and purchasing behaviour.

But to achieve this, a venue must first ensure that the music solution itself is a reflection on their brand and what they want to achieve. To give you a helping hand, we've put together a guide of the basic Dos and Don’ts to consider when implementing music in a business...


#1 - DO ensure your music solution is legal.

The licenses required to play music in businesses vary from country to country, so before you do anything else, you should do your research into finding a music solution that complies with the law. This will prevent your business from being at risk of licensing penalties in future, and allow you to play music in your venue without worry.

Bear in mind that consumer music services such as Spotify and Pandora and intended for just that; consumer use. There are, however, plenty of alternatives for music in retail that are of equal quality, easy to manage and with just as much choice (if not more).

#2 - DO consider the type of music that suits your brand.

When choosing background music to play in stores, it’s easy to slip into the habit of playing chart music or making assumptions on your audience - young people don't necessarily want to hear the same Top 10 pop songs over and over! While sticking to popular music might seem to suit you just fine or perhaps be a good short-term solution, the power of great music that really encompasses your brand's messages, enhances other digital touchpoints and elevates the physical experience of a venue cannot be underestimated.

Unless you’re a music mogul yourself, the best way to achieve this is to seek the help of a professional profiler, who will work with you to understand your business's requirements and provide expert suggestions. This will ensure that you use background music in the most effective way.

#3 - DO vary your music to reflect different dayparts.

It’s very likely that the atmosphere in your store will be different at 10am on a Tuesday to the afternoon rush on weekends, and your choice of music should reflect this.

For busier times, it’s worth knowing that faster, more foreground music has been proven to encourage higher customer spend, as it motivates customers to make quicker and more spontaneous decisions. However, tracks that are too loud and energetic may be inappropriate for your quieter periods. At these times, it may be better to choose a more laidback soundtrack that fits the trading pattern.

Think about the kind of customer behaviour you want to encourage at different times and how your music could assist this, avoiding any discord between the environment during that particular trading period and your choice of songs.


#1 - DON’T settle for royalty-free.

To avoid paying certain licenses, many retailers opt for playing royalty-free music in their shops. This is often referred to as ‘soundalike’ music, with cover singers performing well-known tracks. To the untrained ear these covers may sound like the real deal, but the awareness of how out of place and poor quality these can be is growing; when you’re expecting to hear a song you like only to be met with a not-so-good ‘wannabe’ version, it can be very annoying.

If you want to promote a positive, quality perception of your brand, pay the necessary fees to secure the real deal.

#2 - DON’T ignore your customers.

Analysing how consumers respond to music in a store can be crucial to improving customer experience. While planning what you’ll play and how this fits into your overall digital strategy in advance is essential, it’s when the music is live that you’ll be able to judge what really works. Be aware of how your customers react to changes in your soundtrack and look out for changes in behaviour when, for example, you adjust the volume.

Also think about whether the customers your store is attracting are your target audience. If not, why? Perhaps you need to make a few changes to ensure you’re conveying the right message and appealing to your ideal demographic in order to get these customers through the door.

#3 - DON’T rely on nice music and wishful thinking.

Creating something so deeply subjective as an atmosphere without a strong understanding of human behaviour is kind of silly. That's why behavioural science is so important.

A quick example; did you ever hear of the experiment that got customers to buy wines from different origins (France or Germany) just by changing the in-store music? The truth is that human behaviour is complex and sometimes surprising - so understanding the science behind how we’re likely to respond takes your atmosphere away from nice music and wishful thinking to one that's world-class. Back up your decisions and work with a provider who understands the complexities of your customers, like us.

Hey, we've just met you and this is crazy. But here's our number +44 (0)203 397 7676. So, call us maybe? Get in touch here.

The Dos and Don'ts of Background Music in Retail

James Picken

Creative Director at Startle. It's my job to produce and execute our music output, making sure everything is sounding, feeling and performing just right for our customers. When I'm not doing this, you can find me either walking my dog, remixing 90s divas on Logic Pro X, returning overdue library books or throwing weights about in the gym.

Say hello on LinkedIn

Hey, we've just met you and this is crazy. But here's our number +44 (0)203 397 7676. So, call us maybe?

  • Number of locations *
  • Number of locations *