Music meets science - The impact of music in retail


January 6, 2021


Melanie Fulker

“Music is the most powerful form of sound we know that affects our emotional state” – Julian Treasure

Move to Science

The Scientist has spoken; studies show us that music is extremely powerful in influencing people’s behaviour and emotions.

Music alone can lead to impulse buyers to buy more, and tweaks to tempo and mode can increase sales. Quite simply, shoppers like to move to the music. In the US, over 80% of shoppers say that music makes the shopping experience more enjoyable.

Music plays with our emotions. It gives us natural highs, causing the pleasure hormone dopamine to surge and spur us to action, leading us to move at the pace of the music. We literally ‘feel’ the emotion of the song playing. The power this has in a retail store is significant - and has a huge impact on your customer, when used well.

In a time of coronavirus, good vibrations come from the right soundtrack, and the right delivery of the music. Safety is everyone’s priority, but that doesn’t mean that retail needs to be devoid of personality.

Come on, feel the noise

Everything from the tempo, volume and genre of music played in a business impacts customers, from dwell-time, spend, and enjoyment of their visits. It’s clear that customers enjoy their shopping with a well-profiled soundtrack, but does the right playlist make business sense?

Customers have enjoyed a less crowded shopping experience post-lockdown, and while we all hope that shoppers safely return to stores in greater numbers you should keep this preference in mind.

2012 research from retail-sound expert Knöferle suggests that in-store crowding can lower customers’ spending, but that this negative “effect can be mitigated by adjusting store ambiance, specifically by using certain types of in-store music”. In crowded stores, shoppers often buy more when accompanied by fast music and in Knöferle’s words, the right beats “alleviated negative effects of social density”.

Other key findings show:

Playing fast music encourages customers to move and act quickly - worth bearing in mind for when you want a faster flow of customers. 

Slow music encourages people to take their time - a useful tactic for when you want to increase dwell-time and spend. 

Turning to slower tempo tunes can also result in higher daily profits as consumers spend more time browsing.

Choose beats that are well-profiled to match your brand and pocket a 9.1% uplift in sales compared to relying on shuffle mode.

Quit bad queues. Customers say queuing is less frustrating when accompanied by music; with the likelihood of longer lines during social distancing, music is a simple way to deliver a more satisfying experience.

What does this boil down to?

The music you choose to play in-store - the harmonicity, rhythmicity and turbulence - can directly influence your customers’ sensory perception and buying behaviour. In post-coronavirus retail, the right music can be the superpower that creates atmosphere in increasingly ‘sterile’ environments.

At Startle, we use a scientific model for our enterprise customers’ music curation that categorises songs by their physical effect on the autonomic nervous system. The effects can be simplified as autonomic arousal (how activated or deactivated the user is by the music) and valence (the positive or negative feelings provoked). With a proven 95% accuracy, this enables us to confidently curate playlists that will encourage consumers to feel a certain type of emotion, equipping businesses with more power over their atmosphere that will help them curate their desired environment for consumers.

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