Ever wonder how some stores have the ability to somehow get you to end up with more in your cart than you originally planned? There are many factors that can contribute to this: The way items are displayed on the shelf, the eye-level in which they are displayed, the lighting in the store, and so much more. One of those factors happens to be the music being played overhead.

How can music affect your mood?

Music has the ability to enhance our surroundings, and in our opinion, is best paired with something else: a game of cards, a dance party, a wedding, a particular drink, or a morning ritual. 

It’s a subconscious sound that affects your mood. And chances are, in a store or restaurant, it affects it in a positive way because the stores have put in a lot of time, effort and resources to make sure their tunes speak to their shoppers. Playing in-house music set to a carefully considered tempo, volume and genre, can influence buying behavior in a café retail environment. 

What is the science of music on the brain?

The psychological model that forms the basis of external effects on customer experience is Mehrabian and Russell’s theory of pleasure-arousal-dominance (PAD). Generally speaking, the model suggests that an environment can alter an individual’s mood and behavior (i.e. purchasing decisions) by altering levels of pleasure, arousal and/or dominance through different channels. This can be seen in a well-known 1999 study on the effect of music tempo on customers’ behavior in a restaurant: music at a slower tempo prevents high levels of arousal and encourages a slower pace, allowing diners to linger over their meal and spend more money on food and alcohol, whereas fast music led to a briefer meal and a quicker exit.

Volume also affects purchasing decisions, but not significantly, and the results are gender-specific. In this study of shoppers exposed to loud music in stores, females indicated that they thought less time had passed than actually had, whereas males were largely unaffected. Volume also has significance in age group; younger generations tended to enjoy loud music and shopped longer, while older generations were less enthusiastic about it and shopped less.

How important is genre and “fit”?

By far, the most crucial factor in how music affects the diner is genre. Customers want the genre of music to “fit” the context, as shown in this study of the effects of playing classical music in a wine store:  the perception of classical music’s sophisticated nature led customers to purchase more expensive bottles of wine. Genre can also attract or repel customers based on their profile:  age, race and income level are enormous factors in determining what style of music we prefer.

So how does this all affect music for the coffee shop?

Given these findings, a café owner’s best approach to music programming may be to start by profiling their customer base. Are they mostly selling to a college-age crowd? A middle-aged demographic? Are the customers a mix of Caucasian, Asian, African-American and other races, or are they located in a predominantly Hispanic part of the city? While people often linger over a meal in a restaurant (and may therefore find themselves buying, say, another bottle of wine), many cafés take orders at the counter, for a crowd that can spend only a few minutes grabbing a cup of coffee and a scone before the next train arrives. These customers might even feel subconsciously annoyed by slower, more relaxing music—their mind is on the train they need to catch, and the slower tempo or feel of the music makes it seem like the line is longer than it is! Likely a successful coffee shop’s best bet (like any business) is to know its audience—and choose music that is sure to please that crowd. 

What type of music do you enjoy hearing in your local coffee shop?