Retail Customer Experience: Consumers Tune Out Stores Playing Annoying Music

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Nov 14, 2011
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Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of a current article from Retail Customer Experience, a daily news portal devoted to helping retailers differentiate the shopping experience.

Half of Britain’s shoppers have left a store because they were annoyed by the music, according to a study by Immedia Plc, a company that develops music strategies for retailers.

The study polled more than 1,000 shoppers about their attitudes toward in-store music and about how music affects them psychologically and emotionally. Key results included:

  • Seventy-three percent of respondents noticed the music playing in-store;
  • Out of those who noticed in-store music, 40 percent will stay longer in a shop if they feel the music is well-chosen for the environment. Conversely, 40 percent will spend less time there if they feel the music isn’t suitable;
  • Forty-nine percent of all shoppers said they have stayed longer in shops because they like the music vs. 45 percent who don’t;
  • Excluding "don’t knows," half of all shoppers say they left a shop because they didn’t like what was playing or because it was annoying;
  • Overall, a quarter of shoppers said they would be less likely to return to a store if they don’t like the music it plays.

"Brands currently spend upwards of £25 billion a year on visual point of sale material," said Bruno Brookes, CEO of Immedia Plc. in a statement. "However, while the retail, hospitality and FMCG industries take great care in thinking about what customers see, nowhere near the same investment goes into optimizing what they hear."

Mr. Brooks said audio is the single most effective way to capture the attention and imagination of people who are on the move inside a shop or restaurant.

"It is important to optimize every element of a customer’s sensory experience. As a result, we are working with an increasing number of high street names who want the competitive edge that a well thought out music and sound strategy will give them," he said.

Music obviously affects people’s moods, emotions and energy levels, according to Immedia’s scientific adviser, Vicky Williamson.

"This new survey demonstrates how similarly important ‘background music’ is to our shopping experiences. Music is no less powerful just because it is chosen by someone else," she said.

Research Now surveyed 1006 UK shoppers in the week of Sept. 26.

Discussion Question: How would you compare the importance of audio to other sensory factors in the in-store shopping experience? What is the best way to gauge what type and volume of music is most appealing to retail clientele?

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24 Comments on "Retail Customer Experience: Consumers Tune Out Stores Playing Annoying Music"


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Bob Phibbs
Guest
9 years 5 months ago

You can’t make up for boring merch or employees with sound or scent. You can add if the first two are there.

David Livingston
Guest
9 years 5 months ago

I thought the smart people at Muzak had already figured that one out. So I’m not going to tell them what to do. Different courses for different horses. I’m not shopping at a store that plays foul mouthed rap music. I can’t recall having a problem other than a few times it was too loud and I just wanted to get out quicker.

As a lot of us get older we become more annoyed with newer music, most likely because we developed engrams in our brains as teenagers to where we prefer music from that time period. Many of us are now mentally incapable of appreciating modern music. So stores need to find a balance so they can cater to multiple generations.

Phil Rubin
Guest
9 years 5 months ago

There are so many factors that affect the in-store customer experience that it’s hard to single out one in terms of importance. That said, audio is a large and increasingly important factor and as evidenced above, under-invested in. Retail environment has to be welcoming to a customer and on-brand for the merchant regardless of channel.

The data is interesting in that it’s so mixed and split between success and failure.

While customers might find certain audio annoying, there are also other sensory dimensions (e.g., smell — remember when scent-driven marketing was the next big thing?) that are also relevant and impactful. Audio is easy enough to test in terms of impact through an A/B test with comparable stores having similar customer and merchandise mix. Further, audio can be further tested when music is tied to the customer proposition such as through a digital sampling or sale.

Ian Percy
Guest
9 years 5 months ago
We can look at this from a relatively superficial like/dislike level or from a molecular level. On the superficial level people like the music they grew up on — mostly that being played when they were in their early teens. For me that means rock n’ roll or gospel quartet music. When you have twenty somethings picking music they like, it can’t help but annoy a 50 year old customer. So take a look at the age demographic and pick your music accordingly. As an aside I remember consulting to a hair salon chain where the #1 organizational stress for employees, never mind customers, was who controlled the music. On a deeper level we need to get into the emerging science of frequencies and energetics. Music is a matter of audible frequency. This is critical in that literally everything emits frequency. Even disease has a frequency and if you counter that frequency with another frequency you can often get a miracle. I spoke recently to a Foundation promoting harp music as a major tool for… Read more »
Dr. Stephen Needel
Guest
9 years 5 months ago

My BS meter is on full alert here. This strikes me once again as another self-serving piece of research that is likely to be badly worded or designed to elicit a “I left the store” response. Not to downplay the role of sensory factors, but you have to have a pretty noxious choice of music for people to (a) notice and (b) choose to leave because of it.

Adrian Weidmann
Guest
9 years 5 months ago
The sonic environment is an important aspect of the overall in-store experience. Retailers recognize this but more often that not, they simply play generic ‘muzak’ as a background without much attention to choosing the correct style, mix and volume of the material. In-store audio does not necessarily mean an iPod playlist. It can, and in many cases should be, an environmental soundtrack. Having an extensive background in audio test and measurement, I often suggest conducting an audio/acoustic measurement audit that would create a baseline to suggest the correct sonic in-store experience. Many clients dismiss the importance of this incredibly powerful sense. Mapping the acoustic environment will allow one to optimize the audio experience such that it does not interfere with conversation yet encourages the shoppers to stay in the environment longer than they would normally stay. Audio’s style and mix should be included when determining the overall content strategy of in-store media. All the senses should be included in this design! Scent is an amazingly powerful sense that is highly attached to the brand and… Read more »
Marge Laney
Guest
9 years 5 months ago

Music can be an integral part of creating a memorable retail experience; good or bad. Nordstrom’s elegant piano, and Abercrombie’s hard driving bass conjure up memories and feelings in their customers. Walmart’s elevator music goes mostly unnoticed.

Can music make or break the whole experience? If it’s foreground music and a primary part of the store design, absolutely! The elevator variety that’s played because it has to be won’t turn business away, but it won’t do anything to help it either.

Kevin Graff
Guest
9 years 5 months ago

Recently I spent a day shopping stores in NY, and was surprised at how the volume of music was way up (not offensively so) in every store … even a Scholar’s Choice. While I’m a little old to be shopping for myself in a Top Shop, and didn’t really care for the music, I thought that it was ideal for their target customer, as was the case in all other stores.

With shopping becoming more and more experience oriented, music is playing a larger role in creating the store environment. Just like music in a movie is essential in setting the scene, so is music in a store. Better music, better sound systems … just part of the new and improved retail world.

James Tenser
Guest
9 years 5 months ago

I have always felt intuitively that the sonic environment within a store can have a powerful emotional effect, along with color, lighting, and aromas. Commercial music services like Muzak, DMX and Sirius have offered various audio offerings for decades based on this justification.

Taste varies. So whether the sound track is “elevator music” or bass-pounding pop, some shoppers are likely to be repelled. If loud music is played over an otherwise noisy or chaotic environment, the effect can be downright unnerving for some.

I’d like to think that retail stores can also choose to be bubbles of calm within the chaos. Augmented silence — using noise-cancellation technology to damp down ambient sounds — has great potential in this regard.

Christopher P. Ramey
Guest
9 years 5 months ago

Everything communicates — including the music. My experience is that too many retailers use music to define the product, whereas the music should enhance the buying experience by reflecting and elevating the product.

Engaging the senses is important; scenting and sounds done properly are an asset. Sadly, few retailers get it right.

W. Frank Dell II
Guest
9 years 5 months ago

I put music down on the list of important elements. I think the decor followed by lighting are more important. Too often the music is what the employees want to hear, not the customers. When this happens, there could be a significant difference of opinion. When music is too loud it can have a negative effect on consumers. Music must match the merchandise and target customer. The music should be background and the merchandise foreground.

Ed Rosenbaum
Guest
9 years 5 months ago

Count me in the “who cares WHAT music or IF music is being played” group. The only offensive music to my ears would be rap music with foul language. But I would not be a shopper in those stores anyway.

Eliott Olson
Guest
Eliott Olson
9 years 5 months ago

It would be useful to know what type of music was objectionable by cohort.

Doug Fleener
Guest
9 years 5 months ago

Music is an just one of many keys to an extraordinary experience. There are times where the music has driven me out of a store…and in those times I was not the targeted customer.

One of my favorite audio experiences is the time I was in a store and they were playing a radio station. (Big no in my book.) An ad came on for the store’s competitor announcing a big sale. I left that store and made a purchase at their competitor. Still cracks me up.

Ralph Jacobson
Guest
9 years 5 months ago
Know your shoppers! Don’t play loud, heavy-beat music if a significant portion of your clientele doesn’t listen to that genre on their own. Read your customers in the store. Watch them. Also, take advantage of ALL human senses. Visual has always been the most leveraged, however audio can drive behavior as well as any of them. Additionally, how about leveraging the sense of smell more often? Food stores do it with their bakeries… blowing the oven exhaust toward the front of the store. Why not spray scents in non-food stores? What about “touch”? We haven’t utilized that very much. Yes, we have touch screens, but how about tactile touch surfaces, almost like a home improvement gallery? Taste is definitely used well in many food stores. It can be also used in non-food as a way of getting people to stop and look at a non-food display and linger to try the food samples. Bottom line, use every human sense to get the sale!
Ted Hurlbut
Guest
Ted Hurlbut
9 years 5 months ago

I think music can have a powerful effect on consumers and play an important role in the overall branding of the store.

Music has become an intensely personal component of our culture. Think iPod. Music in many ways is an important element of personal identity.

When Hollister creates a solid, impenetrable storefront, we talk about how excluding it is, how only self-identified target customer is welcome. When you walk through the door, the music inside confirms whether you belong there or not. The music reinforces the brand in a visceral way.

Conversely, music that is mismatched with the target customer can be a hard barrier that pushes people out of a store. Remaining in the store creates an uncomfortable grating dissonance which quickly causes people to leave.

Especially in specialty stores, I don’t think you can overstate the importance of the music that’s been chosen.

Jonathan Marek
Guest
9 years 5 months ago

My instinct is that this article overstates the effect of music. I’m sure it could be a turnoff if highly misaligned to the concept, but does that really happen much? Thinking about it another way, we see retailers test visuals all the time, but I can’t think of any examples of testing audio (though one could if one wanted to).

Joel Warady
Guest
Joel Warady
9 years 5 months ago

I’m not sure about this research. I’m sure that someone can produce a study that indicates a certain type of music can have a certain percentage of positive impact on sales. But is this really going to make a difference in the success of a retailer? I think not.

If I were a retailer, I would place this as #99 on a list of 100 things for which I need to worry.

Tim Henderson
Guest
Tim Henderson
9 years 5 months ago
While we’ve known about the importance of music to the shopping experience for some time, this research clearly highlights its continued significance. And it unfortunately finds that retailers continue to hit a sour note. Like the respondents, I’ve wanted to leave some stores because the brand’s poor choice of tunes didn’t do anything to make the experience pleasurable. However, when shopping stores with good soundtracks, I usually find myself singing, humming or whistling along. There are several ways stores can better control music. For starters, the merchant should survey core consumers to find out what they listen to, and that may differ according to region of the country and daypart. With those results in hand, the brand can develop a play track and implement measures to ensure individual stores don’t deviate from the preselected tunes. And like the rest of the store experience, brands should monitor the music regularly to ensure it still resonates with the shopper and season. If brands want to orchestrate a great shopping experience, then they need to pay attention to… Read more »
M. Jericho Banks PhD
Guest
M. Jericho Banks PhD
9 years 5 months ago

Who could have anticipated that a company which develops in-store music strategies would report that half of Britain’s shoppers leave stores because they were annoyed by the music?

I find this research bogus. But, that’s not to say the audio experience in stores is inconsequential. As others have commented, it’s possible to be driven from a store by the music, an experience I’ve had only once when I took my then-teen daughter to the mall for back-to-school shopping for clothes. I had to wait outside at a couple of stores. The majority of today’s in-store music is played so low that it’s essentially the “white noise” between store announcements. Without knowing for sure that a specific type of music played a little louder will increase sales, that seems like a good strategy.

Mark Burr
Guest
9 years 5 months ago
Another in the long list of studies that prove the obvious. Nevertheless, a couple of quick points. 1) Music is part of the experience and we all know that. However, it could make the experience even better, but I think we know that too. 2) At my local barber, salon, style shop, hair joint, hair style consultant, (What do you call these places now?), I enjoy the music as much as the treatment. After all, you can’t fix ugly, so you might as well enjoy the tunes. Take their music away or change it and it would be less than half of their overall experience. So, it depends on the business how important it really is — doesn’t it? 3) How do you choose? Take a look at your customers and talk to your customers. It’s not that complicated. 4) Is the music what you’d expect to hear when shopping at your retail location? You wouldn’t visit Texas Roadhouse and expect to hear jazz or elevator music would you? The music says just as much… Read more »
Liz Arreaga
Guest
Liz Arreaga
9 years 5 months ago

Well of course music has something to do with a store experience. Funny thing…if the music is good or at just the right volume, then you might or might not even notice it. But if the music is targeted to a niche demographic (house music), then shoppers not in that niche will remember the store for the music and not return! Happy shopping to those in the narrow target!!

Jerry Gelsomino
Guest
9 years 5 months ago

Audio in stores is just as important as any other sensory factor, although too many retailers don’t really consider the strategic aspects of the right music for their customers, the time of day, the weather factors, or even the season. Ever gone to an Italian, Greek, or other ethnic restaurant and be entertained by pop music? How about going to that same restaurant when they are playing music from their homeland? It feels like you are on vacation. (The right) Music in stores makes you feel the same way … it puts you in the mood to buy the merchandise that sets your fantasy.

Bill Hanifin
Guest
9 years 5 months ago

I would be in the group that notices the music playing in-store and agree that it has a significant impact in setting the tone for the shopping experience as well as reinforcing the brand positioning for the retailer.

Music is powerful and we have all had ditties stuck in our skull for an entire day, not knowing quite how it happened to us.

A&F is one of the stores that comes to mind. The scene is all-out teenage night club, or as close as they can get without further trappings. The lighting is dim, the associates look like they are hanging out rather than working, and the music reinforces the club-like atmosphere.

I’m not sure who is expert at identifying the right music to match a brand, but there just might be another business opportunity for aging rock stars when they finally can’t tour anymore!

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