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Does Muzak Make Shoppers Shop?

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Trevor Cox of New Scientist magazine writes:

"Retailers care about their bottom line, so they presumably have good reason to believe that, for most of us, festive tunes will send our spirits soaring, make us linger longer and pile our baskets high with expensive goodies. Or do they? Time to swap my Santa hat for my investigative deerstalker and find out."

Well, here's what Cox discovered:


"As far as consumer behavior is concerned, musical tempo seems to have a definite effect. In a classic study in 1982, Ronald Milliman of Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green showed that supermarket shoppers stayed longer and spent 38 per cent more money when slow background music was on than when faster tunes were playing (Journal of Marketing, vol 46, p 86). Studies since then have confirmed similar effects in restaurants and bars. Even the number of bites per minute taken by diners in a university cafeteria appears to be influenced by the tempo of the ambient music (Bulletin of the Psychometric Society, vol 23, p 221)."


"Musical genre also seems to have surprising powers of suggestion. Over a two-week period in 1998, Adrian North and his colleagues at the University of Leicester, UK, played French and German music on alternate days in a local supermarket displaying French and German wines. On the days when French accordion music was playing, French wines outsold German wines by a factor of 5 to 1; when German oompah music was playing, German wines outsold French wines by 2 to 1 (Journal of Applied Psychology, vol. 84, p 271)."


"Sometimes subconscious associations seem to appeal to a near-synaesthetic sense in all of us. In 2009, for example, Anne-Sylvie Crisinel and Charles Spence of the University of Oxford investigated the mental connections we make between different tastes and sounds of varying pitch. Sweet and sour tastes consistently bring high-pitched notes to our minds, whereas bitter tastes tend to be associated with low-pitched brass and woodwind sounds (Attention, Perception and Psychophysics, vol 72, p 1994). On the strength of that research, the UK division of Starbucks commissioned a special piece of ambient, low-pitched coffee-drinking music to put its customers in a receptive mood."

"All in all, the evidence seems to indicate that background music has merit from a retailer's perspective," says Cox. "In 2006, Francine Garlin and Katherine Owen of the University of Technology in Sydney, Australia, conducted a meta-analysis of 32 studies investigating its effects on consumer behaviour. They concluded that background music had "small-to-moderate, yet quite robust effects... [on] value returns, behaviour duration and affective response" (Journal of Business Research, vol 59, p 755)."

Wait, what's that I hear coming from the conference room? German oompah music? Somebody get me a bottle of Gewürztraminer, pronto.
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