Music’s impact on the retail customer experience

With high street retailers having to compete with online behemoths like Amazon, it’s critical to create a fantastic in-store customer experience. And to contrast and compete with purely digital shopping experiences, retailers with both an online and physical presence seek to create a seamless experience for customers that crosses from the digital to the physical. For instance, IKEA is investing in smaller showrooms where customers can experience products first-hand, order and get them delivered after purchasing.

An integral part of a business effectively shaping a retail space through music is scientific knowledge of what drives customers’ emotions. Get it right, and you’ll have a proven method of creating a space your customers will want to spend time in.

The voice of your brand

We all know music can impact the brain in many different ways. Unlike visual elements, however, like fonts and colors, music is much more difficult to judge. How can you decide if the music is right for your brand? How can you define the sound of your brand?

If the visual components are the face of the store, the music is its voice. Music is far more than entertainment for your customers – it’s the timbre and soul of your brand that tells your customers know who you are.

Matching the personality of your business with the right music can boost profits and carve out an identity for your brand, but it’s no easy task. With its ability to decorate a space through the story of sound, music introduces new ideas and reinforces previous notions and expectations about the area it’s being played in. But because music trends and tastes keep evolving, it can be difficult to know what sort of music will resonate with your customers.

Getting it right

So how do you choose the voice of your brand?

The best way to approach music in retail is to treat it in the same way you would your visual identity.  Integrate it from the beginning, considering your visual identity and a sonic identity at the same time to form a strong, cohesive brand. Your customers enter the store with perceptions formed by ads and social media. You’ve got to create the same emotions using music. Visuals, promotions, and music all have to work together.

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. Or just get out fast.

This is one of the most important aspects of using music to create the right atmosphere. Research shows that the longer customers stay in your store, the more likely it is that they’ll buy more. 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. Music plays a central role in encouraging customers to stay.

Changing music to evoke emotions

Volume and tempo play a significant role in in-store marketing. Loud volume makes people move faster while quieter music makes them stay longer. Low tempo music makes people spend more money, while up-tempo music is a mood booster. As a business owner, you can use this to trigger different behavioral responses throughout the day.

A fast-food restaurant might want to increase the customer flow during lunch hours by playing up-tempo music at higher volume. But during the afternoon the same restaurant ought to play mid-to-low-tempo music at a lower volume to make customers stay longer and spend more money.

 The music you’re playing when and where is also important in creating emotional connections that trigger the desired behavior. Playing Christmas songs during late November and December isn’t just a way for retailers to get you into a festive spirit, it’s also a way of making consumers want to spend more money on their loved ones.

More potential to be explored

 Most of the knowledge on music in retail remains uncharted. We are merely at the beginning. One fascinating frontier is to subtly influence shopping decisions by playing particular 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? Some studies have suggested that playing music associated with particular countries can influence customers to choose products from those nations (think of your local wine shop…!).

This is a hugely exciting field, but so far very little research has been undertaken. So far, we’re merely scratching the surface.

My top tips for music in retail are:

  • 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. Get the tone right.
  • 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 matches your brand’s emotional values and changing consumer tastes.

Soundtrack Your Brand (SYB) has published several research reports on the impact of in-store music on customer behavior and experience. Read more here.

In this guest blog post, Jasmine Moradi from Soundtrack Your Brand explores the science behind music and shopper behavior.


Note from Håkan Hansson, Global Product Manager for Audio at Axis Communications:
Axis recently announced a number of partnerships to bring music services to Axis’ network audio products, allowing for the most flexible and comprehensive in-store audio and music delivery. These partnerships included Soundtrack Your Brand, Royal Streaming, MUSIC2BIZ and Pinesker Media Company.