Music Choices in Stores are Working as a Manipulator

Have you ever wondered why grocery stores play the music that they do, or why elevators always have that recognizable, soothing background music? It all has to do with atmospherics– defined by as the characteristics of a retail space that are designed to effect a customer’s mood to increase the odds of a purchase being made.

Music has a huge impact on the consumer, what products are being bought, and what mood the store wants to create. For example, if you were to be in a romantic, dimly lit restaurant, the music would typically be something of slow tempo instead of EDM, electronic dance music. However, if you were in let’s say, a bike store, the music would most likely be of a faster tempo. This all has to do with the phenomenon of how our pleasure and arousal centers of our brains work together to influence the consumer subconsciously.

Studies have proven that tempo, volume, and genre are three contributing factors to the behaviors of shoppers. When they are combined strategically, they can skew how one perceives time. Basically, louder music makes people think less time has passed and results in staying in the store longer. In 2007, there was a study that showed how classical music in a wine store produced more sales of more expensive wine.

All of this makes sense to me, because I remember when I was younger and spent my weekends at the mall in Hollister, the loudest music would be playing and the next thing I knew, a few hours would pass and I wouldn’t even realize it.  Not only that, but I was prone to buying more items than I would at a small boutique playing quiet tunes. Even when Christmas music starts playing but it’s still November, consumers tend to start their Christmas shopping early which leads to more unnecessary purchases.

(Flikr, Creatiive Commons license)

Not only does the music have a role in marketing and consumerism, but it also can help a business or store with the vibes it’s trying to create. Researcher Dr. Kit Yarrow states in an interview,

“Music is emotionally evocative and that’s what retailers want to do. They want you to get you feeling things and not thinking things.”

In a study by Richard Yalch and Eric Spangenberg called “Effects of Store Music on Shopping Behavior,” the idea of enhancing the service of an individual by a factor such as music was gone into depth. An experiment was conducted by comparing the effects of different types of background and foreground music on consumers. Background music can be distinguished by mainly instrumentals, whereas foreground music would be something like a pop song.

The results concluded that shoppers who heard more calming music made much more reasonable purchases. They weren’t stressed or rushed because there wasn’t any fast, anxiety-inducing music playing. Retail shoppers do, indeed, respond psychologically to atmospherics, but mainly in ways in which people spend less time in stores that play music they aren’t used to.

The Solution to the Problem of Giving in to Stores’ Tricks

Stores are always looking for new and creative ways to trick the buyer into making impulse-buys and spending more money. I mean, that is how businesses expand, so why wouldn’t they? However, as soon as you understand what is happening and how stores can manipulate our minds and choices, it is easy to avoid wasting money.

This inevitable manipulation skill can be shown in almost all stores. Face it, you’ve all been guilty of going to the grocery store for just a couple of bananas, but left with 6 bags of food. So a tip for not buying into this form of wasting money is to make a list of things you need and stick to it.


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