They conducted their research in eight stores of a retail chain with a presence in 20 countries. Over a period of 56 weeks, they let employees in half the stores select whatever music they wanted as well as the volume. The remaining stores had their music decided by independent experts who aligned it with the brand’s values and the tunes most likely to appeal to their key consumers – music described as “elegant”, “non-explicit”, “light, airy and shimmering”.
The difference in sales was unambiguous or, to quote the researchers, “disappointing for those who believe that employees should have more discretion to choose instore music”.
That’s because the stores that passed control of the soundtrack over to their staff experienced a fall in sales of 6 per cent overall, worsening to an 11 per cent drop among a primary demographic: buyers of women’s apparel.
When the employees were interviewed afterwards about the music and what prompted them to change it, oftentimes frequently, their responses about their motivators and the consequent impacts were quite diverse.
Of course there were the predictable team-based differences and the incongruent preferences between staff and clientele but there were also many well-intentioned tracks selected with the objective of genuinely influencing consumer behaviour. These choices varied based on the weather, the time of day, the number of customers in the store and perceptions of the customers’ moods.
And therein lay the problem. Even when employees acted in a way that wasn’t at all self-serving, they opted for music which was, in almost all cases, louder and faster and as such inadvertently contradicted the brand and the preferences of the target market.
Dozens of earlier studies have already proven that music, especially in terms of tempo and volume, can affect the duration of a customer’s visit and the amount they spend. What’s now also known is the “increased risk” that arises when these decisions are left in the hands of individuals who may be well-meaning but incognisant of the marketing science demonstrating the influence of different styles of background music.
While staff training can certainly help, the scholars suggest it’s probably more effective to seek the advice of professionals who can prepare a carefully selected soundtrack, one that’s on brand and inoffensive to those who’ll be doing the shopping.
Basically one that avoids situations like those for which I was (ir)responsible back in my teens – situations where dance music, for example, is played full blast, causing inconsiderate “employees to start dancing, thus scaring off customers”.