Retail store guide: Why science says you should play music in your business

Using Music to Give Your Brand A Voice and Increase Add-On Sales.

You’re starting a business and have most things sorted: Secured funding to get started, found an excellent location and negotiated a lease you can afford. You’ve worked out the visuals (your storefront, your logo, etc.), and set up a web shop, a Facebook profile and an Instagram account. You’ve planned a bunch of great marketing and promotion. You’ve got reliable suppliers, and you’ve hired 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.”

Sound familiar?

As it turns out, music in retail stores is a pretty important deal. And it’s just as important to get the tunes right when you start a business as when your already up and running.

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.

Western Kentucky University professor Ronald E. Milliman pioneered research into how background music influences shopping behaviour in the 1980s. However, ignorance about the impact of music in retail is still rampant — even among the biggest chains. That’s despite the fact that music has proved to be just as influential when making a purchasing decision as the store’s visual elements and branding.

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? The answers aren’t immediately straightforward.

Music is more subjective than visual elements and people have stronger opinions about it. You probably think your music taste is classy, but your affinity for Post Malone 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 a sonic identity as carefully as the visual identity.

selling bags in-store

"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, CEO and founder of SpaceSonology.

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 says big clothing brands spend a lot of money on fashion shows but that they also should take the music they play there to shoppers in their stores. That way, customers that missed the fashion show still get to experience the music. That gives 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 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 hard to get an overview and tough to ensure that staff actually played the CDs and not their own tunes. And staff would often forget to change CD, so the music experience would be repetitive and uninspiring.

This has prevented store music from being considered 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 says clothing retailer GANT has a sophisticated approach to music. 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 understands that it can match the music to that same ideal person, and increase their customers’ desire to associate themselves with the brand.

“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

background music in retail

Obviously, the music you play has to match customers’ expectations. If you have a flower shop and people want to walk around and smell 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 add sales. They’ll quickly buy the flower they want and then head out fast.

This, Moradi says, is one of the most important aspects of using music to create the right atmosphere.

"The longer you stay in a store, the more likely it is that you’ll discover new products" Moradi says.

Moradi says that most of the knowledge on music in retail remains uncharted. We are merely at the beginning.

"One fascinating frontier is to create compensatory shopping decisions by playing the right music. It’s a 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. 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.


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