If You Hear Fast-Paced Music in a Store, Hold onto Your Wallet

Retailers are using all kind of tricks to make you spend more in their stores. Here's the latest.

shoppingPressmaster/shutterstockIf you’re worried your shopping is out of control already, you might want to stay away from crowded stores playing up-tempo music. It might sound crazy, but research says people tend to buy more if a store’s sound system is playing a fast-paced song rather than a ballad when shopping in a crowded store.

Klemens M. Knoeferle of the BI Norwegian Business School, Oslo, Norway, Vilhelm Camillus Paus, of Saatchi & Saatchi, Oslo, Norway, and Alexander Vossen of the University of Siegen, Germany, carried out a field experiment across a chain of grocery stores in Northern Europe, to determine whether—and to what extent—music played a role in influencing shoppers and shopping habits when stores were more or less crowded.

In their report, published in the Journal of Retailing, the authors reveal that when stores weren’t crowded, music had little effect on customers, but as the crowds grew, fast-paced music encouraged more spending. (In addition to affecting your spending habits, music has incredible health benefits.)

The six-week experiment was carried out in 2014 across six small grocery stores and recorded a total of 43,676 observations about shopping basket value (SBV) and the number of purchased items. As a store playing fast-paced music became more crowded, the average SBV was roughly 8 percent greater than stores with no music. The authors also observed that SBV was higher due to shoppers buying more items, rather than fewer, more expensive ones.

According to Knoeferle, the study is important because it suggests that music can reduce the known negative effect of crowding on spending. Although he can’t say with certainty why people in crowded stores buy more when the music played is up-tempo, he does offer two explanations: fast music may “distract” customers from the crowding (thus making the crowding feel less intense/annoying), and the fast music may change the “meaning” of crowded stores. “We often encounter upbeat music and crowds in hedonic settings (think of parties, bars, or clubs),” explains Knoeferle. “So a crowded store with upbeat music may resemble such a pleasant situation on a subconscious level, which in turn may make people more comfortable and more impulsive in their purchasing (as they would be in a bar or club).”

Staying mindful of these findings may help anyone trying to reign in their spending—but it’s not only music in stores to be aware of. “I’d definitely encourage people to educate themselves regarding sensory biases that may affect their shopping and consumption behavior,” says Knoeferle. “This goes way beyond just the effects of music and crowding in the present article.” Also on his list? The influence of packaging design, ambient scents, store lighting, and room temperature.

You might want to check out these money-saving tips from savvy spenders, too.

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