Music in Retail: Use Sound to Increase Sales


We’re so used to hearing music in retail environments that most of us aren’t usually aware that it’s even there. And some retailers are so used to the accepted wisdom that shops play music that they invest little thought into what is played and what effect it has. But music is the most powerful sound out there, directly influencing mood and inducing people to act in different ways. Studies have shown that the effective use of music in retail environments can lead to increased sales, so it’s something worth paying attention to as a retailer.

Choosing music

Letting your staff bring in their favourite CDs from home to play behind the cash desk might be a cheap option for in-store music, and it might keep at least a portion of your workforce happy, but an unplanned (and possibly unpleasant) mix of music types is unlikely to delight the majority of customers. The risk of random music playing in store is that it becomes irritating to customers, who may unconsciously spend less time and less money.

If you play music in-store, have you looked closely at why you do it and what you play? The type of music that a customer hears has been shown to directly impact what they spend. One study found that the use of classical music led to customers at a wine retailer buying more expensive wines.

The tempo of music also has a demonstrable effect. Another study on the effect of music on consumer behaviour found that fast music speeds us up and slow music slows us down; customers in a restaurant stayed longer when the music playing was slower, and spent more money on drinks. Other studies have shown that fast tempo music gets customers moving faster through a store, while slower tempos result in a higher spend.

Many retailers use background sound to increase sales with agencies who provide businesses with specially chosen playlists of music based on what mood or atmosphere needs to be created.

Sound zoning

Sound zoning in retail is the technique of playing different types of music or sound in different areas of a store, depending on what is being sold, or on the target customer. A clothing store might pipe loud pop music in areas where younger ranges are displayed, switching to classical or more ambient music in areas aimed at older customers. Pleasant music in stairwells or other transitional areas can encourage customers to move around the store.


How loud do you set the volume of music in your store? It probably depends on the kind of store you run, and your target customer. Clothing brands aimed at a young customer segment might play loud pop music, which can create a sensory overload that leads to quicker and less deliberate decision-making. A boutique aimed at an older clientele might play quieter, classical music, aiming to slow customers down to increase spend.

The sound of silence?

In May 2016, Marks and Spencer in the UK announced it was scrapping all piped music in its clothing stores (its food stores are already music-free), based on customer feedback and research. M&S has only played music in-store since 2006, so their experiment was relatively short lived, and they now become once again one of the only music-free zones on the high street. The reaction to the move has been mixed – anti-muzac groups have welcomed it, while some experts have criticised the move as being bad for sales. Whether other major retailers follow their lead remains to be seen.

Music in retail - M&S opt for silence





Alternatives to music: soundscapes

Many shoppers report finding tinned music, or ‘muzac’ irritating and intrusive, and some retailers are consequently looking at alternative ways of harnessing the power of sound to increase sales improve customer experiences and increase sales. The most innovative retail sound design today is moving beyond straightforward piped music to carefully designed soundscapes that mix music with other audio elements to create a designed experience specially tailored to the location.

When a soundscape approach was introduced at Glasgow airport, combining ambient music with birdsong, retail sales increased by up to 10% and customer reported feeling more relaxed. And a recent soundscape designed for Harrod’s toy department mixed ambient music with everything from car engines, fairy voices and pirate songs to earthquakes, waves and alien rays, with the mix controlled by ‘generative’ software that plays sounds randomly rather than repeating set recordings.

Whether you currently play music in-store or not, dedicating some time to your sound strategy can transform the atmosphere of your store, influence customer moods and even boost profits. Music in retail: it’s time to use sound to increase sales.

Image Credits

“Signage Order”: Pieminister,

“Sound Topshop”: Shawn Hoke,

“Sound Marks & Spencer”: Marks and Spencer,

“Sound”: Harrods,