Marks and Spencer was in the news recently after making a decision to get rid of music in all of its stores.

The firm says both shoppers and staff complained about its repetitive playlists and now 300 of its stores will be silent. But was that the only way?

Music in public places can be a divisive issue – and there are entire campaign groups dedicated to getting rid of it. Plus, in a marketplace in which margins are continually tight, music can find its way onto the list of unnecessary ‘extras’ that it’s easier to get rid of than to implement properly.

However, there is also extensive research to suggest that many customers see music as an essential part of the shopping experience, and that it can help to influence shopping habits – ie, the right music allied to the right products can make people spend more.

This isn’t new intel – there is one well-known study from 1993 that demonstrated the difference between playing classical music and top 40 chart music in a wine store. The American Association for Psychological Science also ran an article on the impact music can have. It’s fascinating stuff!

So is M&S right? At a time when the high street is under ever-increasing threat from online retailers, shops are expected to offer a complete package – a “shopping experience”.

If there are any retailers considering following M&S in getting rid of their music, whether as a cost-saving measure or, as M&S claims, because its customers asked for it, then we’d suggest there are alternative courses of action:

  • Turn it down! Some customers might not like the music, but others will, so why not reach a simple compromise and turn the music levels down slightly?
  • Consider the content. Could your business play different music? Is it definitely targeted at the right age and audience demographic? Music is, of course, such a subjective area, but it’s possible to come up with playlists that are generally pleasing to most people. Plus, M&S claimed that its customers and staff were wary of the lack of variety – so why not just add a wider range of music into the mix?
  • If the decision is financially motivated, why not consider using ‘soundalike’ artists? That would mean there would likely be no PPL licence to pay, just PRS for Music.
  • Or, use a service such as Freedom Music. It is ‘royalty inclusive’ music, so no licence fees are due. It’s worth considering!

Only time will tell if it’s the correct decision for M&S, if you’re a retailer considering your options, feel free to call MMS for impartial advice and to understand the financial and other implications.