Why science says you should play music in retail stores
Using Music to Give Your Brand A Voice and Increase Add-On Sales.
You’ve decided to start a new business. You’ve sorted out most of the things you need to think about: You’ve secured the money to get started, you’ve found an excellent location (this is often the most important) and you’ve negotiated a lease you can afford. You’ve worked out all the visuals (your storefront, your logo, etc.), and you’re all set with a web shop, a Facebook profile, and an Instagram account. You’ve planned a bunch of great marketing and promotion schemes. You’ve got reliable suppliers, and you’ve hired a snappy and service-minded staff.
“But with only a few days left before the grand opening, you realize that you’ve completely forgotten about the music.”
As it turns out the music in retail stores is far more important than previously thought. And it’s just as important to get the music right when you start a business as when you have a business that’s up and running.
Music in retail is a field that’s been studied since the 1980s, beginning with the pioneering work of Dr. Ronald E. Milliman, a professor at the Western Kentucky University, who made groundbreaking research into how background music influences shopping behaviour. However, ignorance about the impact of music in retail still remains rampant - even among the biggest chains - and despite the fact that for customers, music has proved to be just as influential when making a purchasing decision as the store’s visual elements and branding.
If the visual components are the face of the store, the music is your voice. Music is far more than entertainment for your customers - it’s the timbre and soul of your brand that lets your customers know who you are.
We all know that music can impact the brain in many different ways. Unlike visual elements, however, like fonts and colors, music is a lot harder to judge. Is the music right? Is this how my brand sounds? These questions aren’t immediately straightforward to answer.
Music is more subjective than the visual elements and people have stronger opinions about it. You probably think your music taste is classy, but your affinity for Skrillex isn’t necessarily the best choice for your French bakery.
The best way to approach business is to integrate it from the beginning, to consider it as carefully as the visual identity. You have to consider a visual identity and a sonic identity at the same time.
“The best retail store music is actually music you don’t really remember. The best music creates an atmosphere that enchants you, but it remains below the level of consciousness,” says Jasmine Moradi, Soundtrack Your Brand’s resident in-store music researcher.
She adds: “The worst music is often the music you notice because that’s music that doesn’t fit the brand and the store atmosphere.”
Moradi notes big clothing brands spend a lot of money on their fashion shows but that they should take the music they play a step further and play it to customers in their stores. That way customers could experience the music even though they didn’t attend the fashion show. That would give clothing retailers an additional channel to engage with customers.
“But mostly big brands see the music in the shows and ads as entertainment and forget about the brand building effects of playing consistent music”
— Jasmine Moradi
She says there are a lot of reasons for this. Often even the biggest retailers have a tough time controlling what’s being played across many locations. Until the advent of digital streaming retailers were forced to ship out CDs to their different locations. It was difficult to get an overview and it was difficult to make sure that staff actually played the CDs and not their own playlists. In addition, staff would often forget to change CD, so the music experience would be repetitive and uninspiring.
This has prevented store music from being seen as a useful marketing channel. But with digital streaming, this is changing.
“Background music is coming into its right as the important marketing channel it deserves to be”
“It’s transforming from functional elevator background music to much more emotional foreground music." Moradi says.
Moradi has spent a lot of time working with clothing retailer GANT and says GANT has a sophisticated approach to the music they play. When you build a brand, you also personify the sort of customer you want to appeal to. Through visual ads, you create the sort of person that your customers want to identify with. But according to Moradi, GANT really understands that by they can match the music to that same ideal person, and increase their customers’ desire to associate themselves with GANT.
“They understand that music can create loyal customers” Moradi says.
“What kind of mood do you want the customers to be in when they enter your store? With the right music, you can create that feeling the moment they enter the store” - Jasmine Moradi
Obviously, the music you play has to match customers’ expectations. If you have a flower shop and people want to walk around and smell the roses, you can’t play death metal.
People won’t feel harmonious. They’ll be so stressed that they won’t even see the products. This means they won’t linger, and that means you’ll lose out on so-called ‘add sales’. They’ll quickly buy the flower they want and then get out of there fast.
This, Moradi says, is one of the most important aspects of using music to create the right atmosphere. It’s been proved that the longer customers stay in your store, the more likely it is that they’ll buy more stuff. They enter your store to buy a pair of jeans, but if they linger, they may also pick up a t-shirt and a pair of socks.
"The longer you stay in a store, the more likely it is that you’ll discover new products" Moradi says.
Looking forward, Moradi says that most of the knowledge on music in retail remains unchartered. We are merely at the beginning.
"I think one fascinating frontier is to create compensatory shopping decisions by playing the right music. It’s a well-known fact that you buy more when you are a little sad to cheer yourself up. Can you boost sales by playing melancholy music? This is an exciting field, but so far very little research has been made" Moradi says.
Jasmine Moradi’s Tips For Music in Retail Stores
- Take control of the speakers. Know what music you’re playing and why.
- Don’t make random music choices. Don’t shuffle the lists. Plan your music.
- The point of music is to meet the customers’ expectations. The music is your brand’s voice. “Your customers enter the store with expectations formed by ads and social media. You’ve got to create the same emotions using music. Ads, visuals, promotions, and music all have to work together”- Jasmine Moradi
- Don’t stand still. It’s not enough to have one soundtrack. Unlike a logo that can be around for years, you’ve got to keep refreshing your playlists so that the music keeps matching your brand’s emotional values.