Singing along while shopping? You're probably spending more money, too

Next time you're at the store, listen carefully to the music playing in the background. It turns out marketers select that music based on the consumer behaviour they're looking for and the products being sold.

Music in stores is carefully curated to encourage consumers to spend more, wait patiently

Starbucks customers used to be able to buy music from the coffee chain's carefully curated playlist. (Cory Doctorow/Flickr)

Next time you're at the store, listen carefully to the music playing in the background. It turns out marketers select that music based on the consumer behaviour they're looking for and the products being sold.

Starbucks customers are likely to hear Michael Bublé while they're waiting for their coffee, for example, and it's not by chance. While most retailers used to simply let employees play whatever tunes they liked, Starbucks took things a little more seriously.

The chain hired a music curator back in the mid-'80s, and thanks to his intuitive, impeccable taste, Starbucks emerged as an acknowledged leader in background music.

But today, choosing background music is a little more strategic than simply relying on someone's taste.

Musicologists and researchers thoroughly study various types of music and people's reaction to it. Then marketers use those findings to help create retail environments that are especially effective at generating sales.

For instance, according to a musicologist at Liverpool's Institute of Popular Music, one of the reasons most stores use music in the first place is because silence gives us time to reflect, worry or reconsider before making a purchase — not at all what marketers would like us to do.

Loud, bassy music with lots of tempo changes encourages us to move faster, so customer turnaround is faster, while highly recognizable hit songs help create familiarity and a sense of belonging.

If we already know the music and can hum along to it, we instantly feel more at home in a retail environment.

A researcher at Western Kentucky University demonstrated that slow music causes us to move more slowly through the store, but the upside is that we spend significantly more.

This is also true in restaurants. The average alcohol bill in restaurants was 40 per cent higher when slow music was playing.

Equally important is that if we're waiting to be seated in a restaurant, we're more likely to stay if the background music is slow.

Furthermore, a researcher at Pennsylvania State University learned that when soothing, pleasant music is played while we're waiting, we tend to perceive wait times to be shorter.

As you might expect, when recognizably French music is played in a wine store, sales of French wine increase. That finding was from researchers at the universities of Leicester and Roehampton in the United Kingdom, who found the same is also true of German music — it increases German wine sales.

They also discovered that when classical music is played in a restaurant, it motivates people to spend more than when pop music or no music is playing.

However, researchers at two Washington state universities found that classical music sometimes causes us to think stores and restaurants are more expensive, so it has to be used carefully.

What all this suggests is that the next time you're shopping, if you want to make responsible, well-thought-out purchases, it might be a good idea to wear noise-cancelling headphones.

Bruce Chambers is a syndicated advertising columnist for CBC Radio.