Hitting All the Right Notes

This month Roan Records’ Rob Palmer asks: Are we dancing to the retailers’ tune?

When visiting the shops in your high street or shopping mall, are you aware of the music they are playing while you are coveting the shelves and deciding which colour of Peruvian place mats made from weaved yogurt will adorn your dining table?

Does it drive you insane or do you not notice the dulcet tones emanating from the speakers above your head as you navigate your way through the store?

In some local shops the music is quite random and is chosen by members of staff who wish to impose their preferred genre of music (usually hip-hop or death metal) on anyone who dares to cross the shop threshold. I can’t imagine Mozart could ever have envisaged that one of his symphonies would be bellowing out across a store that sells must-have trinkets manufactured in China with everything costing £1…

Interestingly, the big players in the high street are using established science and research to influence potential buyers. Music is used to shape shopper’s attitudes and ultimately their spending triggers – the science suggests the choice of music affects the emotional states of consumers.

The idea of ‘Muzak’ was first conceived by General George Squires, an American businessman who, in the 1920s, transmitted music into retail shops and restaurants. The name was a combination of ‘music’ and ‘Kodak’ (his favourite hi-tech firm at that time). Muzak was also known as ‘elevator music’, which was introduced to help calm the nerves, when elevators in skyscrapers were still new and unfamiliar.

It’s an accepted view that our personal relationship with music can affect our moods and emotions. Thus, the type of music playing when we visit a shop may have been deliberately chosen to make us feel positive and confident in our shopping choices. Music may also dictate our specific purchases. A research experiment in a wine shop played typical German music on one day and French the next.  You guessed it: they sold more German wine on the first day and more French wine the following day.

Interestingly, Marks and Spencer stopped playing music in all their non-food stores in 2016 after surveys suggested their core customers did not like the background noise.

The next time you find yourself on a retail expedition, be consciously aware of the background music and see if you can translate the output versus your perceived or expected behaviour while browsing.

Rob Palmer is the owner of Roan Records,

12 Church Road, Teddington TW11 8PB.


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