Music Strikes Right Notes with Shoppers

April 26, 2010

It’s time for more study of the effect music has on food shopping. Emotions can run high when chief household shoppers are fulfilling needs of family they love.

It’s time for more study of the effect music has on food shopping. Emotions can run high when chief household shoppers are fulfilling needs of family they love. Add music to the mix, and The Lempert Report believes other emotions come into play because of the meanings and memories we associate with particular songs and tunes.

The effect, retailers hope, would be lengthier, more pleasant store visits where people lower their defenses against placing extra items in their baskets. We haven’t seen research yet about how the recession affects this interplay—but so many other changes in shopping behavior have taken over that we think this too is worth examination.

Music can have the desired effect when it matches the lifestyles and demographics of a store’s shopper base. There is no pat answer about which music to use other than ‘know your customer.’ A piano player at Gelson’s helps set a buying mood.  A brief opera performance, set up to appear spontaneous in the produce section of a Whole Foods Market in Baltimore, effectively promoted the store’s cultural ties and built word of mouth. It was an event meant to promote concerts by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, which included singers from the Washington Opera’s Young Artists program, reported the Baltimore Sun.

“It is fantastic when any organization thinks outside the box of grocery to develop experiences in its facilities. It challenges retailers to one-up the other…Let’s make people enjoy places and start talking about them. It’s based on understanding the clientele,” Jim Wrbanek, vice president-sales and retention-northern region, Muzak, told The Lempert Report in an interview.

Some older studies point to the sales-inducing power of music: Researcher R.E. Milliman showed in 1982 that faster-tempo music in a supermarket favorably affected the rate of in-store traffic flow and dollar sales. Muzak found in 1991 that sales to shoppers under age 25 rose 51%, age 26-50 rose 11%, and over age 50 rose 26% when music was present. The Journal of Retailing published a report in 2001 that impulse purchases rose 18.9% when low-arousal music played. A 2007 study in the European Journal of Scientific Research disclosed that when music played in an open-air market, 18.3% of customers bought one or more items vs. 10% who did so when no music played, and they lingered at stalls longer.

For supermarkets, dayparting is a key strategy, confirms Wrbanek, whose company services Whole Foods Market, some Supervalu divisions, and regionals such as Price Chopper. “Does a younger crowd come in during the early evening rush? Older retirees come in during lunch? There is truth to adjusting the music mix to the shopper mix,” he says.

There are more ways to segment music, he adds: Aisle by aisle to reflect different food themes on display, or music for young moms or other population groups. He admires independents such as Fox and Obel, a two-store operator, and The French Market, both in Chicago, because “they understand their brands and the power of music to help assimilate a word-of-mouth campaign.”

Going further, The Lempert Report can see connections between frequent cardholder data and the use of music to pave the way for more purchases, stronger brand image, and most of all shopper satisfaction.