The Influence In-Store Music Has on Consumer Product Selection

Topics: Indian Music

Many things inside stores influence people’s shopping behaviors: signage, store layout, experimental marketing, fixtures, events, and even free Wi-Fi. While these are all relatively well-known ways to entice consumers and influence their visit durations, product selections, and how much they spend, there is something else that elicits these consumer behaviors even more. The music played in-store has a shockingly strong interrelationship with the products customers buy, how much they are willing to spend, and how long they shop. Different features of music played in-store are essential to grasp when understanding how exactly in-store music affects the way people shop and the things that they shop for.

These aspects include tempo, social density, atmospherics, genre, arousal, and tempo.

Social Density

Research suggests that when the social density (number of shoppers within an area) is high in a retail store, shoppers tend to buy fewer products. A retail store owner may think that more customers in their store lead to higher sales, but this idea is not necessarily true.

Social density oftentimes makes customers feel crowded and also eliminates their freedom of movement. The result is customers spend less time in the store due to the uncomfortable factors of shopping with a large number of people. The retail crowding phenomenon manufactures a vital issue for store owners; How can the negative effects of high social density be mitigated? A field study conducted by Klemens M. Knoeferle (Ph.D.), Vilhelm Camillus Paus (MSc), and Alexander Vossen (Ph.D.) found that the negative effects (in-store crowding lowers customers’ spending, thus limiting the overahigh- benefits of high store frequentation) “can be mitigated by adjusting store ambiance, specifically by using certain types of in-store music” (Knoeferle, Paus & Vossen, 2017).

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To pilot their new theory, the three doctors conducted a longitudinal field experiment where they measured the social density and in-store music tempo in six retail stores in Europe. Their results after “[a]nalyzing over 40,000 individual shopping baskets, we found that social density had an inverted u-shape effect on customer spending” (Knoeferle, Paus & Vossen, 2017). The negative effects of high-density conditions were abated by the tempo of in-store music consequently increasing the number of money customers spent. The increase in customer spending transpired because customers were purchasing more items, not more expensive ones. Thus, high-tempo music used during times of high social density alleviates the negative effects.


The tempo of music sets the consumer’s shopping pace. Specifically, ambient music encompasses a more significant effect on shoppers. With that being said, very loud and high tempo musithirty-eighttempol tends to scare people away because people are too aroused. In 1982, Dr. Ronald E. Milliman orchestrated an experiment in several United States supermarkets where he played various tempos of in-store music each day of the experiment. He kept track of the speed of shoppers and recorded the profits per day at the supermarket. Milliman discovered that when he played high-tempo songs, the shoppers subconsciously moved more quickly throughout the store which, in turn, gave them less opportunity to make impulse purchases. When low-tempo music was played at the supermarket, the consumers spent more time shopping and absorbing their surroundings, finding more items to purchase and ultimately leading to higher sales. Milliman’s work concluded that the sales volume of a retail store increases by thirty eight percent when slower tempo music is played in-store. This study was very significant back in 1982 because Milliman owned information from his experiments that suggested that behavior can be influenced by music.


Retailers use atmospherics to boost brand image and connect with customers emotionally. Music is a unique atmospheric factor that allows stores the opportunity to directly connect with their shoppers’ emotions and create their in-store environment. The purpose of integrating in-store music with its’ environment is to establish and maintain brand positioning. The goal of retailers’ brand positioning, or positioning strategy, is to diversify themselves while creating an impression that customers’ can carry in their minds, ultimately making the customer desire what the business, and their products, offer. The more stimulating the positioning strategy, the more the customer can identify with the brand. Michael Beverland (Ph.D.), Elison Ai Ching Lim (Ph.D.), Michael Morrison (Ph.D.), and Milé Terziovski (Ph.D.) explain Martindale and Moore’s work as it relates to consumer research because it proposes the role of knowledge activation when the brain responds to certain types of music. Martindale and Moore’s study declares that the “mind is composed of densely interconnected cognitive units, such that a specific piece of music can activate related knowledge structures” (Beverland, Lim, Morrison & Terziovski, 2006). One original example that these four doctors provided was seeing a Georgian chair. When people see a Georgian chair, they tend to associate it with the Regency period, which is linked to and associated with aristocratic England. It is appropriate to imagine that a retail store selling Georgian chairs plays music from composers such as Sir Henry Bishop or Johann Baptist Cramer to recreate that Regency period atmosphere. This model is called the preference-for-prototypes Theory (PPT). Developing early on and becoming increasingly more well-defined over time, PPT stems from the idea of matching music to formerly established schemas (Beverland, Lim, Morrison & Terziovski, 2006). In simpler terms, the music played in-store reinforces the preconceived ideas of the specific brand image(s) they are trying to sell. The result is shoppers focus more on the brands they associate through recognition with the in-store music.


Perhaps the most influential facet of in-store music is the style or genre of the music being played. The genre can impact shoppers’ buying habits considerably. For example, it was found that customers felt that they had received higher quality service and merchandise when classical in-store music was playing (Baker, Levy & Grewal, 1992). Likewise, compared to pop or no music at all, classical music generated an elevated willingness in consumers to pay more money and purchase more expensive items (North, Sheridan & Areni, 2016). The type of music played in the store grooms the customer to purchase the types of products that the retailer wants them to purchase. For example, a wine retailer may play stereotypical French music when they want to sell more bottles of Beaujolais. The type of music played in-store has a strong influence on consumers’ purchasing tendencies and is oftentimes contingent upon the types of products purchased. When a certain genre of music is played or music from a certain region or country of the world, the mind is affected in such a way that you feel you are connected to that specific culture (North, Sheridan & Areni, 2016). Your brain recalls things associated with that feeling that the music brings on and allows your brain to focus its attention on stored related content. A between-subjects design experiment conducted by Adrian North (Ph.D.), Lorraine Sheridan (Ph.D.) & Charles Arena (Ph.D.) measured the connotational congruency between music played and the remembrance of cuisine foods. Thirty subjects were taken into four different rooms that had a table, chairs, and a speaker. One room played American music, one Indian music, another Chinese music and in the other room no music was played. The subjects were given a menu that listed thirty main course dishes (10 American, 10 Indian, and 10 Chinese) and next to each was a photo. The subjects had five minutes to study the menu before they were presented with a distractor task of solving anagrams with the names of marine animals. Once completed, the participants were then asked to write down as many dishes from the list as they could recall. Upon completion, the participants were asked if they thought the music had anything to do with the dishes that they remembered. Any participant that suggested that the music had an influence influenced ii twenty-sevennfluencedn their choices were eliminated from the analysis. The doctors that conducted this experiment stated that the “results suggest that the type of cuisine being recalled or selected was contingent upon the music genre” (Adrian North, Lorraine Sheridan & Charles Areni, 2016). When American music was played, twenty seven of thirty participants remembered more American foods. When Chinese music was played, fifteen participants remembered more Chinese food while twelve remembered more American food and three remembered more Indian foods. When Indian music was played, fifteen participants remembered more Indian foods while twelve remembered more American foods and three remembered more Chinese foods (Adrian North, Lorraine Sheridan & Charles Areni, 2016). As you can see by the results of this between-subject design experiment, music congruently affects the menu items remembered by the participants.


Purchasing habits at stores previously visited depend on the caliber of past experiences in a store. Unpleasant encounters tend to steer shoppers away from the store. These vexatious events include overcrowded aisles and high social density, as mentioned earlier, and deter customers away from the store. A way to ease a shopper throughout his or her experience is to make them feel at home by playing music that they enjoy. Yalch and Spangenberg examined customers’ responses when listening to popular in-store music while shopping. In their experiment, shoppers were first allowed to shop for a certain amount of time while listening to familiar music, then the second time they listened to obscure music while shopping. Surprisingly enough, the music that was more recognizable by the customers had the effect of making them shop for a longer period of time. period The unrecognizable music made customers shop faster. Those shoppers that listened to unfamiliar in-store music spent eight percent less time in the store than the people who listened to popular in-store music. Furthermore, the shoppers who listened to the familiar music perceived time passing quicker while, on the other hand, the people who listened to the unfamiliar music felt time pass by very slowly and became disinterested in shopping (Yalch & Spangenberg, 2000). In addition, when a customer hears music that they have heard before or like, they are likely to purchase more because they are induced by the music.


There is more to influencing consumer buying behaviors than is apparent. Retailers have the opportunity to increase incremental scales by influencing their customers’ purchases through music selection. The tempo and genre have been proven to design an atmosphere in any given retail environment, creating a customized atmosphere. In-store music can also stir up the customers’ stimuli and impact the rate at which any selects their items, while eliminating the negative effects of social density. In-store music can make an immense impact on a retailer’s business and the concept should be looked at as a great advantage.


  1. Areni, C., North, A., & Sheridan, L. (2016, March). Music Congruity Effects on Product Memory, Perception, and Choice. Journal of Retailing, 92(1), 83-95. doi:/10.1016/j.jretai.2015.06.001
  2. Baker, J., Levy, M., & Grewal, D. (1992). An experimental approach to making retail store environmental decisions. Journal of Retailing, 68(4), 445-460.
  3. Beverland, M., Lim, E., Morrison, M., & Terziovski, M. (2006, September). In-store music and consumer-brand relationships: Relational transformation following experiences of (mis)fit. Journal of Business Research, 59(9), 982-989. doi:/10.1016/j.jbusres.2006.07.001
  4. Knoeferle, K., Paus, V. C., & Vossen, A. (2017, December). An Upbeat Crowd: Fast In-store Music Alleviates Negative Effects of High Social Density on Customers’ Spending. Journal of Retailing, 93(4), 541-549. doi:10.1016/j.jretai.2017.06.004
  5. Milliman, R.E. (1982). Using Background Music to Affect the Behavior of Supermarket Shoppers. Journal of Marketing. 46(3). 86-91. doi:/10.2307/1251706
  6. Yalch, R.F. and Spangenberg, E.R. (2000). The Effects of Music in a Retail Setting on Real and Perceived Shopping Times. Journal of Business Research. 49(2). 139-147. doi:/10.1016/S0148-2963(99)00003-X

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The Influence In-Store Music Has on Consumer Product Selection. (2022, May 14). Retrieved from

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