Piped Music: An Expensive Mistake

This article by "HCS" appeared in a German periodical, Osnabrucker Nachrichten, in August 1996. Translated by Hans Schmid.

One enters a department store, and one gets the usual shower from all the loudspeakers over one's head. Why? Because owners and managers of department stores hold the opinion that (a) the customers' stay will be longer under the influence of music which is perceived to be pleasant, and (b) the sales will go up. That is what they think. So they hope. They refer to various studies, above all in English-speaking North America.

Now there is a new study which reveals that this assumption is erroneous. It is an expensive error, because the carefully selected audio tapes cost a lot of money. I say nothing of the modern possibilities of subscribing to a complete customised house program via satellite -- for money, of course.

The experiment was carried out over 40 days in a supermarket in a Westphalian city. One day the music was on, the next day off, and so on in steady alternation. Over 50,000 people were observed in the test, and a study was made of (a) the duration of the visit, (b) how comfortable they felt, and (c) the amount of sales, on days with and without music.

The outcome is as conclusive as it is wonderful, in my view. The customers stayed neither a longer nor a shorter time under the influence of the musical shower. On days without music they felt fine -- "It allows me to look at and select merchandise in more peace." And not the slightest difference in sales could be detected.

I find this result marvellous for several reasons. First, people cannot be manipulated arbitrarily, and whoever continuously burdens the environment with music must finally realize that the world will simply become numb. Second, when customers enter a department store, they are in all likelihood leaving the noisy world of the streets, and they feel good when embraced by a pleasant quiet in the store. Third, those who think they must reach into their customers' pockets by musical means (hoping to impair their ability to judge and decide) are shown the red card: shopping is a matter of discernment and not of irrational moods. And fourth, the limits of seduction through music are being exposed....

The study (published in the Yearbook of the German Society for Music Psychology, Wilhemshaven, 1995) could mean long overdue relief for all those who have to work for eight or nine hours in a store -- the end of a subtle crime against humanity.

It is my wish and hope that a further study will be done: on the duration of stay, how customers feel, and the presumed increase of consumption in pubs.


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