After a long lockdown, retail has finally been able to welcome shoppers back to their bricks and mortar stores. And queues around the block on many high streets are testament that many have missed the excitement of the in-store experience. After a tough year, brands will be keen to make sure they’re using every tool at their disposal to create the right atmosphere. Sound is a key component of this. So what should brands be thinking about when designing their audio?
The choice of music is extremely influential in consumer behaviour, with calm, slow playlists encouraging us to linger and distracting us from how much time we’ve spent shopping. When music is playing, customers are more likely to feel like they had a positive experience, even if they spend the time waiting in line or for assistance. Music adds value to the time, making it automatically more present and influencing perception of duration
When music is playing, customers are more likely to feel like they had a positive experience, even if they spend the time waiting in line or for assistance.
Music is also an excellent way for brands to show they understand their audience, perhaps demonstrating their cool credentials with some avant garde or underground track choices, or creating a party feel with Top 40 hits. The genre of music played can also change the perception of the brand, with classical music traditionally evoking an air of quality.
In a 2007 study, Nicolas Gueguen found that playing classical music in a wine store increased sales, even influencing consumers to choose more expensive bottles.
Another study found that French wine outsold German wine when French music was played, whereas German wine outsold French wine when German music was played. The unconscious power of music is remarkable.
Keeping things at a subtle, subliminal levels seems to be most effective: when music is too loud, sales tend to decrease as shoppers’ senses are overloaded. A 2013 study suggested that music played at a high volume was a turn-off to customers because it impacted the ‘psychobiological stress system’. Loud volumes signal the brain to increase the body’s stress responses and may even trigger a fight-or-flight response in sensitive customers.
Loud volumes signal the brain to increase the body’s stress responses and may even trigger a fight-or-flight response in sensitive customers.
This finding is in line with the ‘Pleasure Arousal Dominance’ model, discovered by Donovan and Rossiter in 1982, which showed that a retail space’s atmosphere affects the emotional states of consumers. When music is chosen to appeal to the pleasure centers of the brain, producing feel good chemicals like oxytocin, dopamine, and serotonin, shoppers feel positive, confident and happy in their purchases. When music triggers adrenaline and cortisol, the opposite effect is observed.
However, interestingly, a 2011 study from Knöferle et al found modes and tempos of the songs to be the most influential characteristics. The best combination for increasing sales was downtempo and minor. Sad, slow songs averaged 12% higher sales than fast, sad songs. Knöferle’s hypothesis was that ‘music-induced sadness may well explain increased spending behaviour in a shopping environment,’ which may seem counter-intuitive when deciding emotional resonances you want consumers to associate with your brand.
One way to hone and refine the emotional and physiological reaction that your brand’s music evokes can be to create bespoke tracks. This allows you to negate the emotional triggers or memories, potentially negative, that customers might associate with popular songs. This is something that bathroom brand Porcelanosa has recently experimented with.
Family-focused retailers will be interested to hear that children are significantly quieter, more relaxed and reduce behaviours leading to parental stress when effective background music is employed during the shopping experience.
Burberry, the iconic British fashion brand, have a full-time music team to ensure its music strategy is portrayed on the runway, in advertising campaigns, and in-store, allowing music to authentically permeate all aspects of their communication. In this way, music can strengthen the brand experience across all touchpoints.
Audio cues are embedded everywhere in the retail experience, often without the customer consciously registering them, building emotion and coherence around the brand. From choosing the voice for in store announcements, to the sound notification at check-out to confirm a purchase, all these audio triggers create emotional engagement between retailer and customer.
In-store sound design is still widely under-utilised. Brands that harness its power as a strategic tool for them to improve communication with and the experience of customers will have the competitive edge in today’s challenging retail landscape.