How Background Music Can Influence Customer Spend in Retail & Hospitality


June 12, 2019


Melanie Fulker

Music is extremely powerful in evoking emotion and influencing our behaviour, whether we’re aware of it or not. Take films, for example; the sadness, anticipation and elation we feel wouldn’t be nearly as strong if scenes weren’t underlaid with emotive soundtracks that amplify the on-screen action.

Research has proven that background music can alter the perceived waiting time in a queue, impact the way our food tastes, and increase sales of wine in a store. Using music as a marketing tool, therefore, can be a smart and practical way to both create an atmosphere and encourage desired customer behaviour.

In retail, hospitality and leisure environments, one way in which music can impact customer behaviour is by influencing their spend. Though, at Startle, we would argue that the biggest benefits of implementing music in a business are more holistic, various studies have shown that the tempo, genre and volume of music can have a direct correlation with the amount customers spend in your business. By delving into each of these elements, we’ll help you to understand how.


Many researchers have advised that, in purchase decisions, the physical place and its atmosphere are more influential than the product itself. Along with factors such as brightness and temperature of the room, the tempo of music playing is one of the key atmospheric elements said to play a role here.

The typical suggestion on the impact of music speed on consumers is that the faster the music, the faster the action, whether it be shopping, eating or moving around a venue, and numerous studies support this. For example, Milliman (1982) conducted a study on how music characterised as either ‘fast’ (averaging 108bpm) or ‘slow’ (averaging 60bpm) impacted the behaviour of restaurant diners. After an 8-week period, Milliman concluded that restaurant diners exposed to the slow music spent an average of 11 minutes longer at their table than those who exposed to the fast music (56 vs 45 minutes).

A similar study observed the effects of music tempo on supermarket shoppers, and found that slow-tempo background music produced a significantly slower pace of in-store traffic flow than fast music. Further still, slow music caused customers to move more slowly throughout the store than if no music was playing at all. When comparing customer spend, the researchers found that the higher sales volumes were consistently associated with the slower-tempo music, while the lower sales figures correlated to the fast music. It was concluded that the impact of music tempo on both pace of in-store traffic flow and customer spend was “significant”, and logically made sense; as customers move more slowly through stores, they tend to buy more. In this case, 38% more.

Retail, hospitality and leisure brands can interpret these findings and incorporate them into their strategies in their own ways. The key takeaway is that consumers subconsciously react to background music tempo as a cue. So, if the aim is to get more customers in and out of the door, increasing the average speed of your background music could help. But if you want to build a relaxed environment when people should take their time, a slow-paced soundtrack is probably the way to go.

Read: How to Create the Perfect Soundtrack For Your Business


Of these three elements of music, genre is said to have the strongest link with psychology, as consumers have a tendency to behave in a manner consistent with the connotations of music. The influence of music genre on customer spend is largely due to its effect on the quality perception of a business.

For instance, styles of music such as classical and jazz are perceived to be high-class as they are associated with sophistication and luxury. When played in businesses such as bars, restaurants and retail stores, these types of music have proven to increase a customer’s willingness to spend more and persuade them to purchase finer, more premium products.

One study conducted by Areni and Kim (1993) found that customers exposed to classical music as opposed to Top 40 music in a wine store spent significantly more. This wasn’t due to a higher quantity of products purchased, but rather the selection of more expensive wines. The conclusion here was that “music must fit the persuasion context in order to produce the desired outcome”, i.e. in a context associated with prestige and sophistication (such as a wine store), atmospheric cues such as music must facilitate that experience.

Similarly, a separate study found that, when comparing the impact of these two same genres of music in a restaurant, customers exposed to classical music, again, spent more. The researchers reported that this was attributable to the ‘upmarket’ connotations of classical music that customers subconsciously mirrored.

While these findings can help with a business’ sales strategy, it’s important to acknowledge the simple notion that consumers are susceptible to what is sometimes referred to as ‘auditory symbolism’. In other words, the background music played in a retail or hospitality location indicates to consumers the type of venue they’re in, and what to expect from it. Therefore, this research not only indicates a direct influence from the genre of music on customer spend, but highlights the overall importance of well-profiled background music.


Perfecting the volume of background music in a retail, hospitality or leisure environment can be tricky. Do you want customers to be aware of it, or so subtle that it’s ‘barely there’? In other cases, the music may be more ‘foreground’; an explicit feature of the atmosphere, designed to awaken consumers and be high-impact.

There is little research to suggest that the volume of background music directly impacts customer spend. What has been found, however, is that the loudness of music is another factor that can influence dwell-time. One retail study measured the impact of ‘loud’ and ‘soft’ music on consumers. Though no significant difference in sales or level of satisfaction was recorded, it was found that people spent significantly less time in the stores when music was loud compared to when it was soft.

This is unsurprising, given that shoppers will often be either looking for a particular product or browsing for enjoyment; both of which having overly loud music present at could be distracting or intrusive, rather than complementing the experience. Though no sales difference was recorded in this particular study, it’s logical to advise that playing music at a volume that encourages customers to stay longer would likely lead to higher spend.

To avoid generalisation, however, we should remember that retail and hospitality atmospheres vary hugely. While the majority of these markets may benefit from using soft music as a tool to increase dwell-time, certain brands may thrive off louder music. In the case of many pubs, bars, and the likes of Hollister and Superdry, a more foreground background music solution can be key to the overall experience that immerses customers and makes their locations stand out.

While a retail or hospitality atmosphere is obviously made up of many different factors, background music is one of the most highly controllable. Along with the fact that music is so universal and connects with people, this is one of the reasons why it is a great marketing tool for businesses. As a minimum, it’s important to be aware of how the types of music you play may be impacting customer behaviour and the overall experience.

The intricate nature of music profiling is why we, at Startle, developed our 360° Profiling service. Working with brand and marketing teams, we conduct a process to Discover, Design and Develop a soundtrack tailored to the brand, treating this as a progressive process that continues to grow and evolve over time. Our most bespoke music service, we offer 360° Profiling to brands that desire this close level of attention to detail to create them a signature music profile underpinned by the expertise of our profiling team.

If you’d like to enquire about 360° Profiling or request more information on the studies we’ve referenced, please get in touch with our friendly team any time.

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