The tills are alive with the sound of Muzak

I spent the Christmas of 1988-89 stacking shelves in a liquor store. It paid $2 per hour (a pittance even way back then), and the boss made me mop the floor before vacuuming it, which continues to annoy me far more than it should.

I remember it so well though because the store played White Christmas 19 consecutive times on Christmas Eve. Nineteen consecutive anythings is usually a bad idea, and mixing too much Bing with my beer was the final straw. To this day I wonder if this explains why I now work as a music psychologist, running experiments that show how piped music affects customers.

Fast music enlivens people, of course, but the research shows that because of this, it also makes restaurant diners eat more quickly – great news if you’re the manager of a busy burger bar.

Slow music relaxes stressed commuters on the drive home, but because of this relaxing quality it also makes shoppers slow down, browse more, and so buy more.

Other times, piped music affects customers because it has connotations that make them think and act accordingly.

Playing customers accordion music is the sonic equivalent of showing them a picture of the Eiffel Tower, and makes them buy five times more French wine than German wine. Oompah bands, by contrast, make even German wine more palatable.

Playing the sound of a babbling brook in the background makes orange juice taste sweeter and fresher. Playing upmarket classical music in a cafe makes customers believe that the prices should be higher, and makes them spend more money as they try to behave in a manner consistent with the “upmarket” thoughts that the music activates in their minds. Playing classical music in a bank can make even bankers seem trustworthy.

If customers like the music they hear, they find it hard to keep away. Playing music in the stairwell makes people eschew the lift. Playing music that people like at a market stall brings in twice as many customers as does playing nothing at all.

And because listening to music that we like puts us in a good mood, it makes us more amenable to approaches by shop floor staff, and even makes us more likely to volunteer to help other people.

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