Winning at shelf – with music!

Background music in a store is a potentially contentious issue among consumers.  Some find it soothing, others annoying. For many consumers – including me – it often just washes over us completely and we don’t even know it’s there, unless it suddenly intrudes of course and disturbs our train of thought.  Love it or loath it, though, most of us accept that music has become a near-ubiquitous element of the store environment and one that is there for a single purpose – to stimulate sales.

The literature on so-called ‘mood’ music in retailing is vast and there are certain tricks the canny fashion retailer can employ in an attempt to subtly persuade us to part with more of our hard-earned cash. Slow relaxing music encourages us to browse longer, for instance, as well as increasing average spend. Conversely, if a supermarket is becoming crowded, upping the tempo will cause shoppers to unconsciously quicken their pace and clear the congestion without causing irritation or offence. We can even influence in-store behaviour by manipulating bass levels, volume and musical genre, with some effects being specific to particular age groups or displaying pronounced sex differences.

A new paper by Carlos Romero-Rivas and his colleagues potentially extends our repertoire of musical shopper marketing tools a little further.  In a very well-conducted series of experiments, the researchers set out to explore the extent to which different sensory channels may influence each other. Specifically, the data revealed that the music we are listening to can affect our gaze.  For example, in one experimental condition, where our eyes are looking was found to be effected by the pitch of the last note we heard.  Similarly, in the case of a very familiar piece of music, ending the track a note early caused the brain to divert gaze upwards or downwards depending on the expected pitch of the missing notes!  These experiments are important because they give us important clues as to how cross-sensory interference works and how as marketers we might learn to harness such effects.

Any retailer worth their salt knows that shoppers wander around the store most of the time viewing only those products at eye-level, but there may be times when we want to divert gaze elsewhere.  Want your shoppers to glance up to the top shelf? Stop the music on a note with a high pitch. Want them to look downwards at those bulk special offers on the plinth? Easy – just end that latest chart hit prematurely where the next note would be at a very low pitch.

The possibilities are endless and, as our understanding of cross-perceptual interference continues to grow, i’ve no doubt we will soon be able to use music to affect what shoppers taste and smell and feel too!


Categories: Cognition, General