By Alexandra Few
It’s that time of the year again where malls are decorated in red and green, and holiday classics echoing in every store. Retailers have seemed to push their holiday themed looks and sounds, weeks and sometimes months, in advance. So, has the holiday retail spell been casted over you?
There is a copious amount of research being done to determine whether being exposed to certain music in a retail environment, can actually influence consumer behaviour, especially around the holiday season.
Sound and the Brain
To understand how sounds can affect one’s behaviour, it is important to look at what is causing one to hear the sound. The brain is always responsible for controlling the things we do, and in this case, there is no exception.
As located in the diagram above, the auditory cortex , has an important function, in that it plays a role in hearing, emotion and memory.
Developing emotion whilst in a retail environment is something that most companies strive for, while also stimulating one’s memory with the accompanying sounds. Certain sounds are used to activate different parts of the brain, and this is what leads to changes in behaviour. For instance, listening to familiar music stimulates the pre-frontal cortex, which has been dubbed the music-memories region. Therefore, listening to classic holiday music can make one feel nostalgic.
Research on Music
© Mariah Carey | YouTube
Music, without a doubt, affects our mood. However, in a retail store, research has found that background music has a direct impact on pleasure intensity and store evaluation. Researchers Laurette Dubé and Sylvie Morin conducted a field study where they played background music in a particular store that was targeted toward the store clientele. The music selection was organized by tempo and beat, with slower music being played earlier in the day, and it was played at the same moderate volume level over the course of the study. Data collection was conducted at different times of the day by asking customers to complete a questionnaire on consumer satisfaction that included their awareness and liking toward the background music. The questionnaire asked customers to rate how much they liked the background music, as well as their attitude toward the physical environment of the store, their attitude towards the service at the store, and their attitudes towards the store in general. The results found that there was a positive mediating effect on attitude towards background music, pleasure intensity and store evaluation.
The take away? Pleasant music played in a store can create a desire to affiliate it with the service provider. This makes the experience more enjoyable and can give the employee a better chance to possibly sell more to the consumer. In the retail world, there is a lot of evidence on background music and how it impacts consumer behaviour, in relation to the time spent in a store. A study was conducted on the effects of tempo and situational arousal, by manipulating the tempo of the same piece of music at 14 different speeds, ranging from 57 beats per minute (the slowest possible tempo) to 348 beats per minute (much faster than a tempo found in an everyday experience). Participants were subjected to the music at the different tempos, and were given two sets of rating scales to measure perceived activity (agitated/calm, slow/fast, energetic/listless, hard/soft, passive/active, restful/exciting, lazy/busy, and tense/relaxed) and effect (displeasing/pleasing, good/bad, enjoyable/unenjoyable, unpleasant/pleasant, like/dislike, ugly/beautiful).
The results concluded three findings: (1) there is a strong psychophysical relationship between perceived activity and the speed of the music tempo, (2) affective responses reach their most favourable peak at an intermediate level of music tempo, and (3) a sympathetic shift of a single-peaked preference function with increases in situational arousal. What this means is that when background music reaches a faster tempo, there is a more positive response that emerges. It was consequently found that this can be associated with a longer consumption time.
Holiday music, for instance, is most often played at a higher and “cheerful” pitch. This can explain why it is often times played to get shoppers in the “holiday spirit”, getting them to buy more.
© Christmas Time TV | YouTube
Also, research has found that when positively balanced music is played, it triggers a more positive emotional state in consumers during wait times. When a customer is waiting in line, the individual will not only endure an economic loss, but they will also have some amount of stress during the wait. In turn, this can influence how they judge the services at the store. Therefore, to make the individual have a more positive experience, the waiting aspect of shopping needs to be enjoyable.
“Emotional state during the wait is a key mediator between music and service evaluation… and positively valanced music will produce a stronger effect on emotional state during the wait than negatively valanced music”. – Michael K. Hui, Laurette Dube, and Jean-Charles Chebat
Holiday music can create a positive emotional state for most people. In a survey conducted by Entertainment Media Research Ltd, consumers between the age of 15 to 54 were asked for their thoughts on holiday music. 95% of consumers preferred holiday shopping with in-store music, 4 out of 10 said they prefer to shop where holiday music is played, and 85% of consumers have said that it is simply not the holidays without the music.
A study by Eric Spangenber, Bianca Grohmann, and David Sprott created a mock retail store to uncover how Christmas music and scent played a role in consumer behaviour. The first experimental design was with no scent vs. Christmas scent, and the second was non-Christmas music vs. Christmas music. The results indicated that adding an ambient Christmas scent with the presence of Christmas music, created more favourable results for the consumers. The findings also suggest that the use of music, even without the scent, might be just as beneficial to produce favorable consumer responses. Often using only a single environmental cue (ex. Music) will work better in some scenarios over others, especially when the environment makes sense with music.
The type of holiday music that is played also impacts behaviour. An article by LiveScience indicates that up-tempo music keeps people moving, while slower songs that have a softer sound encourage browsing. In relation to this, a study by Texas Tech University found that people will be more inclined to spend money if the store plays classical music, rather than if they play “top chart music”. This may indicate why a shopping mall will play fast-paced holiday music throughout the mall, while stores tend to play the slower-tempo songs.
The Experts’ Opinions
© TLC Vevo | YouTube
Toronto based retail expert Bruce Winder describes just how important the retail atmosphere can be for customers. Bruce says: “The most important part of retail is to be 100% customer focused… everything your firm does should be about the customer. Then you work backwards to add shareholder value. The retail environment all depends on what that specific market segment wants from a retailer. It may be all about price like Dollarama or Walmart, or service like Nordstrom. Whatever customers want (based on research), deliver it. This could include knowledgeable staff, great value, in-stock, home delivery, wide isles, new products, promotions, store vibe, etc.”
In regards to how music plays a role in the retail environment, Bruce describes it as being “a very important part of the in-store experience.” Bruce adds: “Customers want to shop in an environment that connect with them on an emotional level in many cases. In the case of holiday music, it is important as it reminds shoppers of happy holidays of the past and also gets them in the mood with excitement toward the upcoming holiday season. It must be played in a subtle way (not too loud) and where possible, recognize different religious groups who celebrate the holidays differently (ie. not just Christmas) with songs that resonate with them as well”.
Bruce supports the idea of music in a retail environment and says that “music, when executed correctly has the potential to materially connect with the emotional side of customers. Specifically, a customer's youth or an event associated with positive feelings. Of course, retailers always run the risk of a particular customer not liking a specific song or feeling the music is too distracting, loud or inappropriate for the shopping setting. Overall, I think it is a nice touch. Retail is becoming significantly more about experiences in many cases and music, along with visuals (videos) and even smell (bath products or fragrances) and taste (food) in certain stores are a good way to build that experience”.
Olivia Tory, Marketing Specialist at Stingray Business also describes the impact of music in a retail environment. Stingray is a Canadian enterprise that, along with transforming brands into multimedia atmospheres, broadcasts background music to over 74,000 commercial locations and is Canada’s #1 provider of licensed background music for businesses.
Olivia says: “In-order for the in-store environment to be set up for consumers to purchase more, there must be several factors in place. One of the essential components of in-store ambiance is of course, the music. Music can impact not only the clients’ mood but can also impact how they perceive in-store factors such as wait times in line. If a store is extremely busy and the client does not like the music, they might choose to leave instead of waiting in line. When clients like the music, they might be inclined to spend more time in your store, and ultimately to buy more”.
With holiday music, Olivia explains: “When done properly it can definitely be beneficial to the in-store environment. Of course, not everyone wants to be bombarded with holiday music starting on November 1st. This is why it is important to have a properly executed holiday music strategy. For example, we offer a progressive holiday schedule, in which the frequency that holiday music is played will increase as we get closer to Christmas. This way, you aren’t sick of holiday music once December 25th rolls around! Another factor that we take into consideration is if the store itself decorates for the Holiday season. This can be a queue for when to start playing holiday music. At the end of the day, it is important for stores to understand their clients and create a unique music strategy based off their client profiles and their own brand image.”
So, the next time you’re shopping for the holidays, pay attention to the music that is playing and the atmosphere it is creating. Does it make your experience more enjoyable? Let us know on all social media platforms at @vibe105to !