Lady Gaga boosts sales when shop is full of customers

Klemens Knöferle

Customers spend less money shopping when the shop is filled to the brim with customers. Fast-paced music takes sales to new heights, according to study from BI.

Imagine walking into a small grocery store to shop. Will the total on your receipt depend on how many other customers are in the shop? Will the music playing from the speakers cause you to spend more money? Or does it not matter how many other customers there are or what music is playing?

Checked more than 43,000 receipts

Associate Professor Klemens Knöferle at the Center for Multisensory Marketing at BI Norwegian Business School has, along with Vilhelm Camillus Paus and Alexander Vossen, conducted a study in six different small grocery stores (shops of about 100 square metres) in different parts of Oslo to investigate whether music impacts how customers shop when the shops are more or less filled with customers.

The researchers conducted their experiment for four hours a day, six days a week, over the course of a six-week period from May to June 2014.

Sometimes they would play fast-paced, catchy music such as Lady Gaga or Taylor Swift. Other times, calm ballads formed the soundtrack for the customers’ shopping trip. For a control group element, they also periodically switched the music completely off. They also monitored how busy the shops was at all times.

Knöferle and his colleagues reviewed more than 43,000 grocery receipts to see whether the total was impacted by how many customers were in the shop and the music being played.

Spend the least when there are few customers

The study shows that we spend the least money when there are few other customers in the shop.

If we schedule the grocery trip at a time when there are a few more customers, we spend more.

“We might be looking a bit at what others are buying, and might be tempted to pick up something we had not planned for,” says Klemens Knöferle.

If we get the feeling that the shop is overfilled with customers, we spend less. The total on the receipt drops again.

“If it is too crowded and there are queues, we want to leave the shop as quickly as possible,” says Knöferle, indicating a possible explanation.

Intense music boosts sales – when the shop is crowded

When the shop is crowded, fast-paced, intense music played from the speakers will counteract the tendency to spend less. It actually makes us put more products in our shopping baskets.

Customers spend the most when intense music is playing from the speakers in shops filled with customers. We do not purchase more expensive products, but pick up more products. Calm ballads have no impact on sales in shops filled with customers.

“Instead of wanting to escape from the crowds, it would appear that intense music in shops with a lot of people, makes us feel like we are somewhere fun,” says the market researcher.

In situations where there are few or a moderate amount of customers in the shop, music has no impact on sales, whether this is calm ballads or fast-paced music. During calm periods, the shop manager may as well turn off the music in a small grocery store.

Knoeferle, Klemens M., et al, An Upbeat Crowd: Fast In-store Music Alleviates Negative Effects of High Social Density on Customers’ Spending, Journal of Retailing (September, 2017), http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jretai.2017.06.004

Text: Audun Farbrot, Special Adviser for Science Communication at BI Norwegian Business School.

Published 21. December 2017

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