Upbeat music makes you buy more when shopping

Maggie Parker
Blame that blouse purchase on the store's upbeat music.
Blame that blouse purchase on the store’s upbeat music. (Photo: Getty Images)

Ever wonder why stores play such loud, obnoxious upbeat music? Well, it’s for a good reason: because that very music makes you spend more, according to a recent study published in the Journal of Retailing.

The study authors first explained how a busy store has varied effects on a customer’s shopping habits. A crowded store is considered desirable as “more customers typically lead to higher overall sales.” What they call “low social density” in a store could be perceived as a “cue for poor product quality, high prices, or a negative image, which in turn should reduce consumers’ patronage and purchase motivations.”

While busy stores may seem ideal to store owners, it can have a negative effect on shoppers. A higher number of customers “reduces the space and freedom of movement available for others in the store, making it more difficult for them to achieve their shopping goals,” noted the study authors. It’s true that no pair of leather pants is worth pushing through hordes of people for — unless they’re on sale or you finally found a pair identical to Kendall Jenner’s.

According to previous research, crowding has been associated with feelings of stress and lack of control, as well as reduced spending and risk taking. “In crowded stores, consumers adjust their behavior by buying less so they can use express checkout lanes, and they postpone purchases, stick to shopping lists, and reduce exploration behavior,” the researchers pointed out.

And believe it or not, while no one wants an empty store, crowds can give a negative impression: “Recent research has shown that consumers use social density cues to make inferences about the price level of stores’ merchandise,” according to the study authors. “Because crowded stores signal lower social class of their customers, in-store crowding decreases consumers’ valuations of stores’ products and, consequently, their willingness to pay.”

So the researchers tried manipulating the music in European stores. They played popular music of varying tempo to see how it would affect how the customers shopped. The researchers noticed that medium crowding increased shopping, while low and high shopper populations lowered it. They also found that fast in-store music had, on average, a positive effect on “shopping basket value” (SBV) — i.e., how much customers spent.

More specifically, in-store music tempo didn’t have much of an effect when crowds were low or medium, but when they spiked, “fast in-store music positively affected SBV” and aisle dancing — OK we added that last part, but we bet it’s true.

So the next time you’re trying to curb your spending while out shopping, pop in your ear buds and play some Enya. But if you’re on a mission to get the perfect fall boots and the store’s slacking in the stereo department, throw on some Kesha.

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