music-in-shopsMusic while shopping: do you love it or loathe it? It’s certainly a divisive issue: entire campaign groups have been set up to lobby for ‘piped’ music to be eradicated altogether.

We recently commented on the fact that Marks and Spencer had ditched its in-store music, with the high street giant saying it was responding to customer feedback and complaints about the music it played.

Given that M&S is seen as such a barometer of the high street – especially its financial performance – does this mean music in shops is under threat?

Hopefully not: music in shops, if done right, can increase linger time and encourage people to spend money – but there’s no doubt it can also turn people off as well if it’s done badly.

What’s the best solution? This excellent Retail Week piece from 2011 makes the case for music in shops, and highlights the ways in which it can be used to reflect a brand and enhance the shopping experience.

This latter point – the experience – is particularly important as high street retailers battle online retailers for customers. As well as embracing digital technologies, ‘brick and mortar’ retailers need to offer a pleasant shopping experience that goes beyond simply an opportunity to try clothes on.

Choosing the music

However, it’s a huge challenge to get it right. On any given shopping trip in a standard town centre or mall, the music a shopper will hear will vary wildly, in terms of style, tempo and volume.

What one person enjoys could be hugely discordant to someone else, so you can immediately see the challenge that retailers face. Music is such a subjective issue that opinions can vary wildly from one band to the next – even from one song to the next. This article by consumer website Which? drew opinions together on the subject, and proves that it’s hard to form a consensus.

What’s clear is that is attracts really strong opinions!

But what should retailers do? Even accounting for individuals’ different musical tastes, you can’t expect everyone to be in the right mood to hear a certain song at a certain point.

Bland on the run

In many cases, depending on how much has been spent, the music will have been carefully selected to achieve a particular effect. We talked before about the impact of playing classical music in a wine retailer: it ‘fits’ the brand and drives sales. On the contrary, if you are in a shop and find the music it is playing to be really jarring to you, then there’s a chance that shop doesn’t consider you to be in its target demographic!

For example, you certainly wouldn’t expect to hear the same music in Hollister as you would in somewhere like Debenhams. While it is easy to imagine loitering in a store for slightly longer because a song has come on that you love, it is equally easy to imagine leaving a store because it is blaring out music that sounds like a car alarm and over which you can’t even talk comfortably.

Attempting to take all that into account – trying to please all of the people, all of the time – can be what forces retailers down the route of playing music that some might consider to be ‘bland’.

If you read the comments around the issue, it seems to be ‘blandness’ that, ironically, offends the most. Far better that a store embraces its brand identity and finds a way to represent, and complement, that with music in a way that adds to the experience of being in its stores.

What can be done?

Bearing in mind music seems to please as many shoppers as it upsets, there is clearly a case for making sure it stays in shops. There are several options that retailers can take that may help to keep their music choices more broadly appealing, without going too bland.

  • 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!