Shopper Engagement
The Science of Grocery Store Music―And How the Right Sounds Can Help Your Bottom Line
Think about walking into your favorite grocery store. Not the quick, convenience mart on the corner, but the grocery store that tempts each of the senses. The perfect lighting, the…
November 28, 2017

Think about walking into your favorite grocery store. Not the quick, convenience mart on the corner, but the grocery store that tempts each of the senses. The perfect lighting, the impeccably organized and colorful produce, the little sample cups of flavored coffee, the signs pointing out the best deals, the smell of the bakery…even the smallest details come together to provide the full experience.

While those experiences may come together to create a grocery shopping vibe that shoppers are familiar with, there is another source that can be just as important in its appeal to the unconscious. And that source is music.

What is it about some grocery store music that encourages us to spend without even flinching? How could the wrong music sabotage efforts? And how can the right sounds help the bottom line? Let’s take a closer look.

The Science of Grocery Store Music―And How the Right Sounds Can Help Your Bottom Line

The Mode of Music

No, no―not mood music, the mode of the music. According to The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, mode generally refers to a type of scale, coupled with a set of characteristic melodic behaviors. A Norwegian professor, Klemens M. Knoferle, found that while marketing teams or business owners are designing an in-store playlist, they often look at tempo, but they rarely look at mode as a criterion. In addition, “no consideration has been given to the potential for the interactive effects of low-level structural elements of music on actual retail sales.”

For the study, titled “It is all in the mix: The interactive effect of music tempo and mode on in-store sales,” Knoferle and his team spent time looking at the modes of songs played in retail environments in additional to the tempo. For a grocery store’s bottom line, the results of the study found that the best tempo and mode combination line is downtempo and minor. Those results are certainly something for grocery stores to keep in mind when creating their playlists.

Speaking of Tempo…

When it comes to the way people respond to music, tempo is one of the strongest components. In a 1982 study, “Using Background Music to Affect the Behavior of Supermarket Shoppers,” researchers lead by marketing professor Ronald E. Milliman, found that the tempo of in-store audio not only has an influence on customer pace or how quickly they move through the store, but also on the volume of sales.

The study found, in general, that fast or uptempo music means people move quickly. Slow or downtempo movement means that shoppers tend to move more slowly. Depending on the goal of the grocery store, one will be more beneficial than the other. For supermarkets or smaller grocery stores, for example, slowing shoppers down means they’ll have more time to look and, subsequently, buy. In fact, in Milliman’s study, he discovered that sales volume for grocery stores was, on average 38% higher on days when the stores played slow tempo music. If that’s not enough to make any grocer re-think their audio strategy, we don’t know what is!

Turn the Volume Down

Another important factor to consider when it comes to in-store music is volume. One of the earliest studies on the effects of music on retail shoppers looked at just that. How does loud or soft in-store music impact shoppers? In 1966, researchers Cain-Smith and Curnow specifically examined how volume affects grocery store shoppers. What they found was that loud music resulted in shoppers spending less time in the store. Soft music calmed shoppers and allowed them to spend more time examining, selecting, and ultimately purchasing products. The goal of background music is just that―it shouldn’t seek to drown out conversations or distract customers from the task at hand.

What KIND Of Music is This?

While each of these factors is important in its own right, when it comes to the science behind grocery store music, genre―or the style of music―reigns supreme. While studying modes, tempo and volume can give grocery store owners and managers tons of great information, the work isn’t universally applicable―meaning that what works for one store won’t necessarily work for another if the genre doesn’t fit.

For example, a 1993 study found that when classical music went head-to-head with pop music in a gourmet wine shop, classical won out. Customers bought more expensive wine with the classical music, enjoying the upscale, sophisticated vibe. Keep in mind, they didn’t buy MORE wine, just more expensive wine. The difference being (according to the study) that while genre impacts bottom lines in an impactful and measurable way, unlike the other criteria above, it doesn’t necessarily mean an increase in the quantity of sales, but rather in purchasing more expensive items.

While playing whatever is on the radio may be tempting, grocery stores should think beyond that. Music holds power, and we just demonstrated the research to back that up, allowing you to take a more scientific approach to your grocery’s in-store audio strategy.

Interested in learning more? Request a demo of Vibenomics today and learn how you can start creating on-brand music and messaging for your in-store customers.

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