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How music can influence our buying habits

Background music can influence what consumers buy and how much they’re willing to pay for it, says Australian musicologist Adrian North.

Photo: 123RF

Professor North has spent his professional life studying the psychology of music and how people interact with it in different spaces.

He said it was surprising, at least in Australia, that supermarkets didn’t tweak their playlists to get people to spend their money in different ways.

Have you ever found yourself buying good mustard or French cheese when Edith Piaf is playing on the speakers at your local supermarket or grocery store? You’re not alone.

A recent study in a German supermarket found that French wine sold better than German wine five bottles to one when French music was played – but German wine sold better than French wine when German music was played.

North said French wine was on one shelf, German on another, although this has been changed from time to time to reduce any buyer bias due to position.

A music player on the top shelf of the wine rack then played either stereotypical French music like La Marseillaise on an accordion or stereotypical German music like an oompah band playing beer drinking songs.

North said the surveyors were pretending to be buyers, but were actually counting the bottles of wine sold.

“What we found was that when we played our French music, French wine sold better in German by five bottles to one, whereas when we played German music German wine sold better in French. two bottles for one.

“So the overall effect was on average about three and a third of bottles of wine in favor of the country’s music playing.”

Musical genres evoke different stereotypes

North said stores generally play music to “create a nice mood,” which means they often just choose music that the customer population would generally listen to anyway.

But he said it could be a “missed opportunity” for some stores given some of the psychological evidence for the effect music can have in public spaces.

For example, another survey in a student cafeteria found that it wasn’t necessarily the music that customers liked the most that made them be willing to spend more.

North said the investigation took place over several weeks when different types of music were played, selected to create a different kind of mood.

“So some days we were playing classical music, some days we were playing some sort of Top 40 music, some days we were playing really stereotypical background music, you know how to listen easily if you want to, then we had a condition. control, some days we didn’t play any music. “

The cafe patrons were then interviewed and asked about the vibe of the cafe.

North said the results were not surprising, with people perceiving the cafe to be upscale and sophisticated when classical music played and alive and young when pop music played.

Respondents were also asked what would be the maximum amount they would be willing to pay for 14 different products on sale.

North said the results here were surprising and found that people were willing to pay quite different amounts for products depending on the type of music being played.

“The winner if you will was classical music so this was done in the UK we found people would be willing to pay £ 17.23 on these items when classical music played as the amount started to rise. lower when you place other types of music. “

North said this was despite knowing from the quiz that students generally didn’t like classical music very much. He said they were probably willing to spend more because classical music created an upscale vibe.

North said that doesn’t necessarily mean people will always be willing to spend more if classical music is played.

“I think the real lesson to be learned from such discoveries is probably different [musical] genres have all kinds of different stereotypes, different kinds of connotations for particular groups of people. “

North said retailers shouldn’t base their music decisions just on what they think their customers know and like.

“Instead of thinking about what they like and that creates the kind of atmosphere that will add something to the locals.”

North said music is likely to further influence people’s spending decisions on smaller items.

He expected music to have a relatively small effect on expensive purchases, as customers are more likely to think about their purchase decision in much more detail.

Classic not always the retailer’s best option

North said it’s not always classical music that encourages people to spend more, but rather it’s about mapping the music to a product in a way that says a lot about the product.

For example, another survey found that people were more willing to spend more on utility products such as a hammer or a bag of nails when country music was playing, rather than when classical music was.

“It’s tapping into those connotations of country music like being you know if you like people’s music, in a way it’s convenient, it’s being outside.”

Fast or slow?

Fast music causes people to move faster in supermarkets, while research has shown slow music encourages them to move more slowly in stores, North said.

“But because they go slower, they sail more and they’re actually spending more money.”

North said this means if the supermarket is busy owners could play fast music to get people moving fast, but if it is quiet it would be worth playing slow music to keep customers staying longer in the hope that they will sail and spend. Following.

Research in the 1980s in restaurants showed that diners took about a quarter of an hour longer to eat their dinner if the music was slow rather than fast, but it also meant slower diners spent more money. money at the bar, North said.

Music on hold

Even though music is increasingly available through streaming, companies still use a unique approach, North said.

Businesses rarely ask their customers what they want to listen to when they are put on hold on the phone and that’s a missed opportunity, North said.

“It’s still so rare to stumble upon a company that gives you a choice – you know if you’re going to sit there for 20 minutes, what would you like to listen to? You know, it would be nothing or would it be like A musical. , musical genre B or something else? “

North said their research into why music on hold had surprising results.

Research said people had to be paid to take an investigation, but when they called they were put on hold, he said.

“What we did was when people called us we put them on hold automatically, and what we did was wait and see how long it would take them to lose patience and hang up. . “

Those questioned were then called back and interviewed.

North said the researchers believed people would stay online if they listened to music they liked and used The Beatles as a baseline for something almost everyone loves.

“What we found was that it was not very effective in keeping people waiting, it did not work, although we later found out that our callers indeed liked the music of the people the most. Beatles – That didn’t make them stick around.

“What encouraged our interlocutors to stay and wait longer was when we played, wait, pan flute cover versions of these Beatles songs.”

People said that although they preferred the original Beatles songs, they waited longer while the pan flute versions played because it was quieter, North said.

North said that this indicates that the function of call music online is to keep you calm and try to distract you from being on hold.


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