The psychology of sound: how to drive sales with music

Recall the last time you had a really great experience at a retail store. If you try to describe the music and aromas you experienced at this wonderful shop, you might only be able to come up with descriptors like “contemporary”, “luxurious”, “understated”, or “fun”. This is because smart scent and sound strategies add to an experience.

Some retail stores play loud music to attract passing customers, but this is usually only effective for a fairly young target market (ages 16-25). Abercrombie & Fitch is known to blast top 40 music and saturate the air with the scent of their perfumes, but many might conclude that this practice actually turns people off, and their recently dwindling popularity would suggest retailers should refrain from bombarding shoppers’ senses with blaring rock music and powerful odors.

Unless you’re selling t-shirts on the Venice Beach boardwalk, consider these five tips to create the perfect ambient sounds for your store.

1.) Play to the audience

Musical taste is highly personal. While your taste might actually match that of your target market – indie bands for a young, urban and creative audience – that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t occasionally make compromises between what you like and what they like. Also, make sure your employees don’t switch the music to something completely incongruent with your target market when you’re not around! It’s fun to discuss music with staff, so make sure you have those conversations and that everyone is on the same page.

2.) Get the volume right

A silent store can be a bit creepy and make people feel uncomfortable. Shoppers don’t like feeling like their conversations can be so easily overhead. On the flip side, music playing too loudly is stressful and can be a deterrent. Play with the volume until you can detect the music without it being distracting.

3.) Be mindful of the tempo

Time perception can be altered by music, as one study (of many) suggests. Louder and faster music can tend to make people believe they spent less time in the store (great for when people have to wait in a line), while slower-paced music might make customers to actually spend more time shopping. The beat matters as much as volume, as music with a frantic beat can sometimes cause stress. Think about the kind of experience you want consumers to have while you browse through playlists, and remember to consider the tempo.

4.) Get the right equipment

You don’t need to splurge on state-of-the-art speakers, but an old iPod station or your computer speakers don’t cut it. You’ll want to make sure the sound is dispersed evenly throughout the store, as opposed to coming from just one source. Surround sound is important even for small stores, so make sure you have the right equipment.

5.) Turn to a playlist service

If you’re not sure what to play, turn to a playlist service such as storePlay, 22tracks, or Songza. If you know what you like, you can create and stream playlists on SoundCloud and even create a branded channel that you can share with your customers in an email campaign or over social media (a great way to cross promote with a local artist, orchestra, or band).

You know how important it is to get your sound strategy right, but with all the chaos that comes with running a store, it’s an easy factor to forget. Make sure you have your playlists ready to go at the beginning of the week, and remind your staff to stay on top of it. There’s nothing quite as awkward as walking into a completely silent boutique, or as bothersome as feeling like your eardrums are being ravaged by pounding techno beats while you shop for a gift!

Stephanie Braun

Stephanie Braun

It's a wonder Stephanie has such good eyesight after years of being glued to her laptop all day. When she's not writing for Lightspeed, she's blogging about real estate and puppies.