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The Science Behind In-Store Music
  • 30 January 2019
  • Tiffany C Wright

The Science Behind In-Store Music

People often take the music they hear in stores for granted. Some places play Muzak, while others play pop or retro rock. Many do not realize that this music can influence buying decisions.

However, music can make a big difference in customer behavior. Therefore, it is important for small retailers and other small businesses that have customers regularly visiting their premises to understand the psychology behind in-store music and how to best use it.


According to Spectrio, music, in all its forms, has always exerted a powerful influence on humankind. Although music's purpose has changed over the centuries, its influence on the brain has not. As such, stores can impact their consumers' emotional states through the music they play and the volume they play it at.

The Psychological Effects of Music

According to Spectrio, music can impact our psychology in four main ways. Cognitively, music can impact how engaged or removed people will be from the world around them. Emotionally, it draws out emotions such as happiness or sadness. And socially, it can encourage listeners to consider their societal roles and self-expression. Music can also impact people's arousal, meaning how excited and motivated the listener is.

To get shoppers to stay, shop and buy at your store, you will need to play music that employs three of these four purposes. You want cognitive music that makes them feel engaged with your products, arousing music to get them excited about buying and emotional music that makes them feel happy with their purchase.

What Is the Impact of Different Types of Music?

According to Psychologist World, the tempo (or pace) of the music played has the largest effect on shoppers. Fast-tempo music appears to subliminally encourage shoppers to move quickly and therefore spend less time actually looking at items. The reverse is true for slow-tempo music. Slower music encourages your store's visitors to slow down and browse your merchandise. One study showed that a store had much higher daily revenue when it played slower-tempo music.

You may assume that slow-tempo popular music would be best. However, according to Psychologist World, when shoppers knew the music, they spent between 5-10 percent less time actually shopping. Why? Because the music caused so much arousal that visitors focused on the song and time passed slower for them. This shows that some arousal is good, but only to a point.

Music Taps into the Pleasure Principle

According to the Association of Consumer Research, listening to music in retail stores increases the likelihood of purchasing items from hedonic categories. In plain language, your customers are more likely to buy items that they associate with pleasure, such as workout gear, party items or fun clothing, when listening to the right music. The "right" music, however, depends on your clientele. Classical music has been shown to help wine shops drive higher sales, and non-classical romantic music can help florists sell more.


What Type of Music Is Best for You?

Different types of music can serve your purposes depending on what you sell. The research shows that musical preferences may vary by demographics. If you sell high-end consumer items such as wine, gourmet foods or art, classical music is likely the best fit. Research suggests that you should even consider using music sung in the languages of the country of origin of your products, particularly if you received a large shipment of these items and need to reduce inventory.

If you serve a lower-end or younger demographic, older popular music that has a moderate to slower tempo may be the best fit. Alternatively, using the musical versions of popular music (i.e., no words) may deliver the best results. Finally, up-tempo jazz that is compelling but not too fast may be most suitable for a mid-range demographic.

What you sell and who you sell it to will impact what the best musical choices for your establishment are. The key takeaway is to embrace the subliminal power that music has on influencing buying behavior. Have fun and experiment with the musical selections in your store. All things being equal (i.e., same staff, same level of cleanliness, etc.), observe how shifts in your musical selections encourage your customers to stay and buy. If you do, you should soon be able to see the impact on your sales.

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