As a business owner with a storefront or restaurant, you want your customers and employees to have the best experience possible. One way to improve the atmosphere of this working and shopping environment is to play appropriate music.

But how do you find the best music for your enterprise? There are many psychological studies that aim to understand how employees’ productivity and shoppers’ behavior are impacted by a simple background change like music.

Industrial Psychology Focuses on the Workplace Atmosphere

Industrial psychology is a field that applies principles, theory, and research on the mind to organizations like businesses. Sometimes this field is called industrial-organizational (I-O) psychology. The field focuses on increasing worker productivity by improving their mental, emotional, and even physical wellbeing.

Understanding this field can help you, as a business owner, transform your workplace – whether it is a retail store, restaurant, or office – into a great place for employees and customers alike.

This will help improve your long-term sales.

There are six elements to I-O psychology.
  1. Training and development
  2. Employee selection
  3. Ergonomics
  4. Performance management
  5. Work life improvements
  6. Organizational development

Many businesses consider ways to properly train and manage their employees, measure performance, and grow the business, but one method to make work life better is through environmental changes. In establishments like storefronts and restaurants, environmental adjustments can make the experience better for customers as well.


One simple environmental change is the addition of music. Numerous studies have shown that music improves mood, changes walking patterns and tempo, and can even increase productivity.

The Psychology of Music

Researchers in Finland and Helsinki published a study examining how people modulate their emotions with music to determine if some of these approaches could change and even harm mental health. There were 123 participants between the ages of 18 and 55, and the researchers found that, in some instances, listening patterns could harm mental health.

Using the Music in Mood Regulation Scale (MMR), researchers evaluated how the participants tended to listen to music in a few categories.

  • Entertainment
  • Revival
  • Strong sensation
  • Mental work
  • Solace
  • Diversion
  • Discharge

The last three categories were ways that people tended to regulate their mood in both positive and negative ways. Solace involved finding music that matched emotional state, so they could feel understood and less alone – for example, listening to sad music when feeling sad. Diversion behaviors used music that did not match the mental state to change mood – for example, happy, upbeat music when feeling sad or anxious. Discharge used music matching emotional state to express emotions – for example, an angry song when feeling angry.

Understanding how people use music to change their mood, express their feelings, and enjoy or deepen their emotional state can help business owners like you improve the experience of your retail store or restaurant for both customers and employees.

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What Aspects of Music Impact Sales and Customer Behavior?

There are three qualities of music that psychological studies have shown impact behaviors in stores or restaurants: genre, tempo, and volume.

The impact of these three qualities is measured with the pleasure-arousal-dominance (PAD) model, which posits that an individual’s mood can be altered by their environment.

  • Tempo: A 1982 study found that music tempo impacted shopping behaviors in grocery stores. The experiment found two important points. First, that slow music significantly increased the amount of time shoppers spent in the store; this led to the second point, a 32 percent increase in sales compared to when fast music was played. When the PAD model is applied, fast music is typically associated with higher emotional arousal, which leads to moving faster through the store. In comparison, slow music leads to a slower pace and calmer atmosphere, so shoppers spend more time looking at items and likely purchasing more. Another study, in 1999, found that slow music in restaurants caused diners to spend more on alcohol and take more time eating. Fast music led to eating faster and more rapid table turnover, so diners waited less time to be seated.
  • Volume: An old study from 1966 examined the volume of music and its impact on how much time shoppers spent in stores. Loud music meant less time spent in the store while soft music led to a more leisurely pace and more time in the establishment; however, the amount of time in the store did not correlate to an increase or decrease in sales. Some research suggests that the loudness of music can change how people perceive the amount of time that has passed, but this is influenced by gender. Women experience less time passing with loud music while men do not. Another study conducted in 1988 found that the shoppers’ age also impacted how music volume affected their behaviors. Young shoppers spent more time in stores when music was obvious, in the foreground, while older shoppers spent more time shopping with background music. The researchers were unsure if this was specifically age-related or a difference in cultural attitudes between generations, but they did state that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to music volume. Instead, volume can be part of your consideration of your target audience.
  • Genre: The genre of music can be individually tailored to your store as well. For example, some studies have found that playing classical music in wine stores tends to increase the amount of money shoppers will spend on wine – not by purchasing more wine, but by purchasing more expensive wines. Christmas music played during the holiday season leads to an increase in purchases of holiday-themed items.

Additionally, a 2012 study examined musical mode and its impact on shoppers. Mode refers to the harmony of the song, and in Western culture, the major mode is typically associated with happiness while minor modes are associated with sadness or melancholy. The study found that tempo did not have an influence on whether the major mode conveyed happiness, but a minor mode with a slow tempo was perceived as more compatible and did more to increase sales than minor modes with a fast tempo.

A 2015 study also found that genre of music could impact the recall of menu items and which items were ordered. The study examined the memories of 120 Scottish students who were divided up into four rooms – one playing the American band The Beach Boys, one playing Chinese musicians The Peking Brothers, one playing Indian artist Sunidhi Chauhan, and the fourth had no music. The groups were given menus with cuisines from the United States, China, and India, and asked to recall as many items as possible from the list. They were also asked to choose one item as though ordering it. The music played in each room impacted the words that the participants remembered from the menu, and subconsciously encouraged them to order a menu item from the country whose music they were listening to.

Another study with 180 Scottish college students evaluated how music could impact the perceived cash value of items. Using classical music, country music, and no music, the students were asked to identify 10 “social identity” products and 10 utilitarian products, and guess how much each cost.


The researchers found that classical music led groups to overvalue luxury items while country music caused them to overvalue utilitarian items.

Picking the right genre, volume, and tempo for your business can greatly influence how long customers stay in your store, how much they are willing to pay for certain items, and how positive they feel about the environment you have created.

Music Choices and Quality Impact How Everyone Sees Your Business

When you set out to start a business, you likely do a lot of market research to understand how your business can add value to the community. This research is an important tool to determine location and interior design for your store. You can also use it to help you choose what kind of music you should play in your store or restaurant.

It is also important, as a business owner, to make sure your store uses high-quality equipment like speakers and amplifiers to make the music as pleasing as possible. In addition, you must use music services specific to businesses. Fortunately, there are music streaming services that take care of licensing for you, so you can create the perfect playlist without worry about legal issues.

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