What effect does background music have on consumer behaviour?

What effect does background music have on consumer behaviour? - Griffith Hack

4 August 2011

As a regular item in NeedToKnow: Trade Marks, we will highlight a scientific or psychological study on consumer behaviour that has caught our attention.

The playing of background music in retail environments is common, and we often take it for granted (or we think we do). New research shows that its effect can be very influential on consumer behaviour. The right music can result in increased sales, or increased sales of targeted products, while the wrong music can actually decrease sales and damage a business.

In this issue, we report on two studies that looked at whether and how background music affects buyer choices (North, A.C., Hargreaves, D.J and McKendrick, J., “The influence of in-store music on wine selections”,
Journal of Applied Psychology, 84, 2, 271-276; North, A.C., Shilcock, A. and Hargreaves, D.J, “The effect of musical style on restaurant customers’ spending”, Environment and Behaviour, September 2003, 35, 712-718).

In the first study, the researchers played, on alternate days, stereotypically French or German music in a UK store selling wines. The researchers found that on the days that French music was played, sales of French wines far outsold German wines, while on the days that German music was played, sales of German wines far outsold French wines. What was even more surprising was that when the shoppers were quizzed about the reasons for their choices, they denied that it was due to the music or claimed they were unaware of the music.

In the second study, classical music, pop music and no music were played in a UK restaurant over the course of many nights, and the average spend per customer was calculated each night. The researchers found that more money was spent in the restaurant on the days that classical music was playing, vs on the days with pop music or no music. This study confirms the results of a number of previous studies which have found that classical music leads to greater purchasing intentions and perceptions of affluence. For example, in two earlier studies, classical music was shown to cause consumers to purchase more expensive wines in a liquor store and, played in a campus cafeteria, classical music caused students to think the cafeteria was more upmarket and that they would be prepared to spend more money there.

As the researchers conclude,
“the findings of the study have obvious commercial implications for commercial practice; it is possible to utilise background music to increase customer spending”. Obviously, different musical styles and genres may have different effects on different types of consumers – the challenge for brand owners is to find the right music, and not to simply just tune into any radio station!

For further information, please contact:
Chris Sgourakis, Principal
Email Chris