Increasingly, psychological research is focusing on how music can impact emotional and mental states. Music has been part of human societies for thousands of years, but thanks to advances in scientific research and brain scans, we are able to see how music affects us, in what parts of the brain, and why.
For decades, business owners have used music to relax or invigorate their patrons. Different types of music have different psychological impacts on shopping and purchasing behaviors. For example, shoppers may feel more sophisticated while listening to certain types of music, or they may feel calmer while browsing with other music in the background. Shoppers move faster or slower, depending on the tempo of a song, and this may impact how much they purchase or how fast they eat. They may have a positive or negative experience of a store, depending on the type of music played and how that matches their demographic. There are dozens of things to consider when picking music for your business, and understanding the psychological impact of different music can help you make an informed decision.
The Parts of Music That Impact Psychology the Most
While a lot of research has been devoted to much more specific types of music and their impact on listeners or shoppers, studies have found overall that three aspects of music can change a shopper’s mood or behavior.
- Tempo: One of the most impacting aspects of music is the tempo, or how fast the beat of the song is. Studies dating back to the 1980s have reported that fast music creates different psychological effects, compared to slow music, in anyone, including people who are shopping. A 1982 study found that playing slow music in a store led to more time spent in the storefront browsing merchandise, and this translated into an associated 32 percent increase in sales. In 1999, the role of music in the restaurant environment was examined. Researchers found that faster music led to customers eating faster while slower music led to more time spent at the table, which increased how much alcohol the diners purchased. Restaurants have benefitted both from increased sales with slower music to more rapid table turnover from faster music. A 2011 study backed up the 1982 study on tempo of music but added that mode – the harmony or melody of the music, influencing whether it was perceived as happy or sad – also influenced how much shoppers spent in stores. When the music was in the major scale, which is associated with happiness, but at a slower tempo, customers did not buy as much; however, when the mode was sad and the tempo was slower, shoppers purchased more, perhaps because the combination is considered more psychologically appropriate or familiar.
- Volume: Whether music was loud or soft greatly impacted how patrons felt about the store they shopped in. Typically, loud music causes less time spent in stores compared to softer background music. In many cases, louder music caused patrons to dislike their environment and leave more quickly, which led to a decrease in sales revenue. However, a 1988 study found that age was correlated to volume preference, which may have to do with the cultural associations different generations make with music. Younger people like louder music while older adults prefer softer or more gentle music.
- Genre: Preference for musical genre tends to be individual, so as a business owner you can focus on music that your shoppers’ demographic enjoys. Some studies have found that playing classical music leads to higher sales numbers, and that Christmas music is associated with buying more during the Christmas season. Jazz and lounge music appear to influence shoppers to spend more money while other genres do not often have this effect.
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Successfully Combining Aspects of Music to Create a Beautiful Shopping Environment
While each of the above three aspects of music can have an impact on its own, the combination of these can have a deep impact on how customers shop, depending on what type of business you manage. There have been some specific studies on the effects of music on purchasing behavior in different environments.
- Spending on wine: A study of different genres in a wine store showed that shoppers’ perception of the wine was different and they purchased more French wine on days when French music was played. When German music was played, they tended to purchase German wines. Amazingly, shoppers reported no influence from the music on their purchases when they were asked at the end of the study, showing how subliminal the influence of even a specific genre can be. A second wine shop study found that classical music played in a wine shop influenced shoppers to purchase more expensive wines, but not more wine. When Top 40 hits were played, there was no clear influence on purchasing behavior.
- Food choices: A Scottish study involving 120 participants found that music from different cultures impacted food choices from a menu. The participants were separated into four rooms, three of which had music – American, Chinese, and Indian pop music – while the fourth had no music playing. They were then offered a menu with several items from these countries, asked to examine the menu for a few minutes, and then asked to recall as many of the menu items as they could and order one as though they were in a restaurant. When participants were listening to specific cultural music, they tended to remember items from that culture and order associated food. For example, participants listening to American music tended to remember menu items like hamburgers and French fries, and ordered those.
- Price influence: Different genres of music were found to impact how participants valued different items. A study of 180 participants were showed slides of luxury items, like cologne or gold-studded earrings, and then slides of utilitarian items, like toothbrushes or disposable pens. While listening to classical music, the participants reported that they were willing to pay more for the luxury items compared to utilitarian items; however, when listening to country music, participants reported they would pay more for utilitarian items but not luxury items. Researchers suggested that music that complements the products can increase how much money a person spends in a store.
- Purchasing intention: A 2008 study found that happy music tended to increase a person’s intention to buy items in a store compared to sad music. A 2009 study found that both scent and music matching a store’s setting influenced how long shoppers remained in the store. Another 2009 study found that family-centric music in some women’s clothing stores increased the shoppers’ intention to purchase items, along with their intention to return to the store. A 2012 study found that background music played after browsing a bookstore increased positive feelings about the store; however, playing background music before browsing did not increase positive emotions as much.
- No influence: A 2010 study conducted on purchasing behaviors in a flower shop found that people who bought flowers did not have their choices or amount spent affected by whether romantic music, pop music, or no music played in the background.
It seems that, overwhelmingly, music can impact how long a shopper stays in the store, how long they perceive they have been in the store, how much they buy, and how reasonable they believe the price to be. Creating the perfect playlist for your shopping demographic can greatly influence how new and returning customers perceive your products and services.
- The Psychology of Music: Why Music Plays a Big Role in What You Buy. MotiveMetrics Research.
- Stores Are Using Music to Make You Spend More. (January 7, 2016). ThinkGrowth.org.
- The Influence of Music on Consumer Purchase Behavior in Retail Environment. (August 14, 2013). Independent Journal of Management & Production.
- The Subliminal Influence of Ambient Music on Shoppers. Psychologist World.
- Background Music Influences Buying Behavior. (September 10, 2015). Association for Psychological Science.