If you’ve ever walked into a retail store and wondered why certain music is playing, there may, in fact, be some rhyme and reason to the selection.
Research has shown that consumers shop longer and make more purchases when they’re exposed to music. You can use music to make your store so appealing people may want to return -- even if they don’t have any buying plans. “We're often told that because of our atmosphere, customers come into our shop on days when they need a pick-me-up or to simply relax and recharge,” says Ann O'Shields, owner of The Nest Egg, a home-furnishings shop in Fairfax, Va. “We play upbeat music and enjoy seeing our customers singing along as they shop.”
Of course, it’s important to make the right musical match with your target customers. For instance, if you’re selling upscale products, the best choice is probably classical or jazz.
In addition, music can help engage employees. “Ongoing research shows that music can boost performance in the workplace by reducing employee stress and depression, improving employee retention and saving companies significant amount of money,” says Joe Lamond, president and CEO of the National Association of Music Merchants, a music industry nonprofit in Carlsbad, Calif.
Here are five tips to help you choose the right kind of music for your customers and employees:
1. Keep the melody in the background. Consider music an ambience enhancer, not the focal point of the mood you’re trying to create. “Customers shouldn’t really be aware of the music you’re playing,” says Kurt Mortensen, an expert on motivational psychology and author of Persuasion IQ. (AMACOM, 2008) “The music shouldn’t be overpowering. Rather it should be merely an atmospheric presence.”
2. Strike a balance between soft and loud. You want to keep your store’s music at the right volume so you don’t risk driving them away. Some youth-oriented stores like Abercrombie & Fitch turn the volume quite high, but most stores should aim for moderation. “Loud music can be a major deterrent specifically if the retailer is targeting a demographic older than 25,” says Patricia Norins, a specialty retail expert and publisher of Gift Shop magazine. “A softly played, lively and upbeat tune can put shoppers at ease and create an environment that’s warm and fun.” On the other hand, don’t keep the music too low. “Our shoppers are mostly women and they’ll come in with a friend,” O’Shields says. “We know they don’t want people to hear their conversations so music is a great buffer.”
3. Don’t get too lively. Beat matters as much as volume. The faster the store music is, for example, the more people may feel stressed about how long they’ve been waiting on line. “To some extent, slower-paced music may make people feel calmer, and they may spend more time in your store,” says Lars Perner, assistant professor of clinical marketing at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business.
4. Rethink your hold music. When you put customers on hold, the last thing you want to do is make them wait silently or force them to listen to cloying music. When Ian Aronovich, cofounder of GovernmentAuctions.org, a website about government auctions of merchandise, realized he was losing people after just two minutes spent on silent hold, he knew he had to find a way to keep them on the line longer. “We spent $230 on a hold-music machine and noticed an immediate change,” he says. “We discovered that people actually waited for us to get on the phone. Turns out, they really like the music we play.”
5. Make music a motivator. If your goal is to motivate and energize employees, you may get the best results by personalizing the music and using it to recognize their achievements. At Cardinal Web Solutions, an Internet marketing agency in Atlanta, each of the 10 employees has a designated favorite song. When one of them closes a sale or comes up with an innovative idea, that person’s song is played for all the staff to hear. “This idea came about organically,” says cofounder Alex Membrillo. “We’re all under 30, we all listen to a lot of music and we use music to break up the day. When someone comes up with something great, we play their song. It gets people up on their feet and, instead of reenergizing on Facebook, they dance around and, inevitably, more ideas come to the table.”
Corrections & Amplifications: An earlier version of this story misstated the name of the Fairfax, Va.-based home furnishings store. The correct business name is The Nest Egg.
Lambeth Hochwald is a freelance journalist, whose stories have appeared in magazines such as Coastal Living, O The Oprah Magazine, Real Simple and Redbook. She is also an adjunct professor at NYU's Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute.