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The Influence of Music on the Customer's Choice in Clothing

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How does music and different playlist affect what a customer buys when they go into a clothing store? Does it affect them at all? Are our purchasing decisions subliminally being influenced by the music that is playing through the speakers at a clothing store? Music is a part of everyone’s daily life, whether we know it or not, it is all around us. Driving to work/school, walking on the street and a car is blasting it, or in the background while you shop for clothes? It is so integrated within our society today that most of us don’t notice it whatsoever. Given it is so integrated to our culture, I was curious on the aspect if it affects what we do, specifically the music playing in retail shops when shopping. I was struck by the question one day while shopping at a surf shop and my favorite song came on and my mood was immediately altered in a positive way. On that day, I spent roughly $80.00 on clothes. Did the music playing have anything to do with my purchases?

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Methods: To conduct my research, I interviewed two different clothing store managers in my community. The first store was Urban Outfitters was Pacific Beach. The second store was Bird Rock Surf Shop in La Jolla. I asked the managers of the store if they have a specific playlist that they curate for the store. I also asked if they notice shopping and or spending trends with different playlists and if music does in fact effect a customer’s shopping habits. On top of the interviews, I also did research via the internet and discovered a few studies which actually delve into my question which is “Does music effect a customer’s shopping habits and how so?”.

Theories: If a structural functionalist were to look into my driving question, I would assume they would observe the music playing in the store as a way to boost the economy. It would bring customers in and cause them to purchase more items which therefore would help promote financial stability within our economic system. If I were to speak to a conflict theorist regarding my topic, I would think they would assume that the wealthy individuals (owners of the store) use the playlists to oppress the lower earning class which come into the store to purchase items. This would leave the customers with less money than they walked in with while the store continues to thrive and make a profit off the oppressed. Lastly, I would expect a symbolic interactionist to look at the music playing in the store and compare it to the clothes. They then would proceed to assume that the customers that buy the most associate the music playing with joyous/carefree times and the customers will not have to worry about the prices of each item because of the relationship to the music and carefree times.

My hypothesis is that music does in fact, contribute or change others shopping habits. When I personally am in a store and there is no music playing, I feel uncomfortable and/or awkward and try to get in and out of a store as fast as possible. If there is music or background noise on the other hand, I typically end up spending more time at the store. When I spend more time at a store, I tend to wander into other departments which I wouldn’t usually go to if I were in a rush. Music also alters one’s mood. One would assume when a shopper hears a joyous song/melody that they then are joyous and more upbeat… And when one is more joyous or upbeat, they generally tend to be more spending savy. Findings: When interviewing the manager of Urban Outfitters, I learned quite a few interesting facts and pieces of information. Urban Outfitters has a whole department that specializes in the music that plays from store to store. The music in each store varies based on location, season, and culture. The team analyzes what songs are popular in the area, upbeat, and fast paced. They also need music that matches the genre or style of clothing that is out in the store. As stated in an article online from NPR.com, “A good retail playlist can bring home the culture of a business and psychologically affect a customer in a way that doesn’t feel pushy. And it’s positive for the featured artists.”.

When I asked the manager how often they receive new playlists from their headquarters he advised me that every two weeks they get a new playlist to play throughout the store. I also asked him if he observed any particular trends with music and customer’s shopping habits. The manager stated, “I definitely notice a change in mood and pace when a happy upbeat song comes on in the store. The customers will go from a blank look to cheery and shopping with a purpose. The faster the beat of the song is, the quicker they move and shop. I think it causes a lot of the customers to do more impulse buying.” This backs up a study done by Robert Donovan. Donovan studied shoppers in different environments, with music and in a controlled environment, and concluded “If consumers rate your store pleasant, then their enjoyment shopping time, spending, etc., can be increased by raising the arousal level of the store’s atmosphere with bright lighting, upbeat music, and so forth.” (pg. 56, Store Atmosphere: An Environmental Psychology Approach).

I then went straight to Bird Rock Surf Shop to ask the same questions and compare the answers to Urban Outfitter’s responses. When asking the manager who curates the music playing inside the store, he informed me that he does all the music selections himself. “I try and pick music which is upbeat, happy, yet mellow…. I always hated how loud and obnoxious all those corporate clothing stores play at the mall, it makes me want to leave immediately. I want the customers to take their time looking at the clothes and surfboards and truly enjoy their experience at the store.” I then asked him if he notices any trends with song genres and customers shopping habits. He told me, “I definitely do notice changes in a customer’s mood from song to song. I’m not sure on how much that affects their shopping just because maybe they were planning on buying these items before they even walked into the store. I would only assume that if the customer is in a good mood, they are more inclined to purchase more items and be less penny wise with their dollars. This theory backs up research done by Maureen Morrin, PhD.

Morrin, over the timespan of a month, played “slow-tempo popular music” throughout a mall and studied customers shopping habits compared to a control environment without any music playing. In conclusion, she discovered “Music… generally improves mood rather than cognition, and impulse shoppers rely on mood to make purchasing decisions.” “Shoppers who had made an unplanned purchase spent, on average, $32.89 more when music was playing than in a control condition.”

With more research, I stumbled upon an article which suggests that music affects not only the customers, but also the workers in the store. Music helps customers and workers create a relationship within the store and find a common ground. “Music is then not only used as method to reduce the strains of working life, or to promote a mass-produced consumer commodity, but is also part of the social fabric, being used in a variety of ways to construct meaningful relationships en route.’ “

In conclusion, I always assumed music had some form of factor and alteration in a consumer’s shopping habits, but not to the extent I discovered. I found the process of finding all the data and interviewing very intriguing and interesting, especially the information I learned at Urban Outfitters that there are people who sit at a desk all day analyzing music to curate the perfect playlists for different stores across the country based off location, music popularity, and culture of the area. In the future, after I receive a degree in Business marketing, I would like to dive deeper into this field and see how I could be a part of something of this aspect.

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