The Science of In-Store Music

muzak I read a very interesting (albeit an on old one) article in the New Yorker today. The article was about music in retail stores. The article focuses on a company called Muzak, the general industry, and the company’s biggest competitor, DMX. A lot more thought than most people thinks goes into picking the music that plays in your favorite retail stores.

These companies (and their clients) realize that the music that plays in a particular store is part of the overall experience, and subsequently, the store’s brand. What music the companies play in their stores should reflect their brand, its appropriate attributes, and the primary customer. The process can actually getting pretty complicated.

Think about a store like JC Penny. They have customers of all ages, backgrounds, income levels, etc. What music do you play in a store that so many different types of people shop at? It is a tough and fairly complicated decision.

The article gives a few examples:

  • Armani Exchange: “Shoppers there are looking for clothes that are hip and chic and cool. They’re twenty-five to thirty-five years old, and they want something to wear to a party or a club, and as they shop they want to feel like they’re already there. So you make the store sound like the coolest bar in town.”
  • Ann Taylor: “[the average shopper] is conservative, not edgy, and she really couldn’t care less about segues. She wants everything bright and positive and optimistic and uplifting, so you avoid offensive themes and lyrics, and you think about Sting and Celine Dion, and you leave a tiny space between the songs or gradually fade out and fade in.”

The executive from Muzak goes on to say, “You think about that when you pick the songs, and you pay special attention to the sequencing, and then you cross-fade and beat-match and never break the momentum.”

Elevator music first came about because people were nervous about riding steel boxes a couple of hundred feet in the air. The music that was chosen calming and laid back for a purpose.

I always find it fascinating to read about just how much thought goes into seemingly small parts of a customer experience. The best customer service companies pay attention to the little things. In the end, all of this stuff (collectively) ends up making a difference. The brand is everything to a lot of retailers and the customer experience is part of the brand. Music is a part of that experience.

Music that plays in the background, and all the thought that goes into it, is a classic example of Little Things, Big Differences. The little things eventually add up and end up making a big difference in the customer experience.

For some further reading, see this post I wrote back in May 2006 about Music on Hold.  The image above is courtesy of Threadless.