The Dos & Don’ts of Background Music in Retail


January 4, 2018


Melanie Fulker

Retail is changing, and with Amazon's dominance and the so-called 'retail apocalypse' dominating industry headlines in 2017, 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. When integrated with other technology outlets such as dynamic digital signage, and environmental factors like the weather or timely events, a brand's background music can form part of a powerful strategy to snap consumers into the present moment and truly connect with the brand.

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).

See our advice on music licenses for UK businesses here.

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

When choosing background music to play in a business, 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 get lazy.

Repetitive or dated music solutions can spoil a customer’s perception of your business, as well as giving your competitors a chance to outshine you. Make sure you’re keeping on top of your background music regularly, refreshing playlists every fortnight and ensuring that the same tracks aren’t scheduled to play every day for that same time period - your employees will tell you how irritating this can be!

Keep an eye on what other retailers are doing too, as this will allow you to see how your music, technology and overall experience compare, and help you to stay 'ahead of the game'.

Startle are experts in delivering unique and innovative music and technology solutions that help brands to provide their customers with memorable experiences. To find out more, contact us today on 020 3397 7676!

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