Sound Advice

Music helps to create the right mood for shopping. But retailers must be in tune with customers’ differing tastes to encourage them to make more impulse purchases.

If William Shakespeare were alive today and working in marketing, he might suggest that music is not only the food of love but also a vital ingredient in providing consumers with a positive experience at the point of purchase (POP).

Whether it is the sounds of the latest boy bands playing in fashion outlets or classical music accompanying customers strolling around furniture stores, music is helping to create a passion for shopping. It is increasingly being used to influence customers’ frame of mind, the length of time they spend in a store, the service they get from the staff and the amount they spend per visit.

Yet those involved in providing the audio content insist that stores must get the mix of music – and the messages that accompany it – right, and not select musical genres that are out of tune with their target audience.

Dr Adrian North, a psychology lecturer at Leicester University, says there is evidence that music can have a positive effect on sales. Research by the university on behalf of Asda, for instance, discovered that sales of German and French wines increased if music from those nations was played in the drinks area.

Music can also motivate staff, and a separate study by the university of a high-street bank’s cheque clearing centre found that employee productivity improved by 20 per cent when upbeat music was played in the office.

Music activates the part of the brain responsible for alertness, and at the point of purchase it can be used to excite or relax consumers, making them aware of special offers and encouraging more impulse purchases. It can also soothe frustrations if a shop is busy and customers are having to wait to be served.

“Music as an atmospheric tool creates textures and moods to complement the shop and enhance the satisfaction of the customer,” says Chris Heap, marketing manager of AEI Music, which has worked with Somerfield and Safeway.

He claims brand sales have risen by three per cent and category sales by 12 per cent where in-store music and advertising have been used.

“You achieve a position whereby retailers and brands can talk directly to the consumer by extolling a brand character. It is not a question of getting the point across, but getting the point across to a receptive audience who understand the brand and identify with its character at POP,” he says.

Heap warns that there are political issues that brands and stores must be aware of when using this medium. Retailers, he says, must balance the effect brand advertising will have on sales of their own label lines with the need to maximise margins.

In an attempt to link this medium with other in-store marketing opportunities, AEI has teamed up with The Media Vehicle which sells advertising space on supermarket trolleys and store floors to offer brands a complete off-shelf media package.

Target your market

Another company providing music delivery systems for a number of retailers is Imagesound. It has worked with B&Q and Wickes and oversees the programming output of Superdrug’s own radio station Superdrug On-Air. B&Q targets pensioners during the week and will play music that appeals to the over-60s, while Superdrug On-Air broadcasts in all the chain’s 720 stores and the music targets a predominantly female audience. Songs tend to be more middle of the road during the day to suit an older customer bias, with chart music in the afternoons to appeal to school children. The current playlist includes Madonna, The Corrs, Simply Red and Robbie Williams.

“It works well as a brand builder and as a sales driver and our own research has shown that the choice of music has been well received while the message succeeds in informing customers about special offers,” says Superdrug’s radio brand manager Belinda Hide.

Imagesound managing director Michael Clark says stores can select from 12 music channels offering more than 100,000 songs. It is one of a number of companies bringing digital music technology into the retail arena and is investing &£2.5m in software upgrades.

“Music and messaging do not conflict with other POP material but add to the retail theatre that stores are having to create to compete with new media such as the Internet,” he says.

The company has linked with sound systems specialist Pioneer to create the Imagesound Hard Disc System, which allows retailers to broadcast bespoke music and advertising as well as images on to plasma screens up to 50 inches wide. Customers can use barcode scanners to bring up detailed product information onto these screens.

“What was cutting edge audio and visual technology has now moved into the mainstream and more retailers are taking advantage,” he says.

Digital technology also means retailers can boost sales in particular regions or in individual stores by broadcasting specific programming and localised special offers. For example, if a brand is advertising on television solely in the Granada TV region a campaign on a retailer’s radio station can be equally targeted to exclude stores outside that area.

Hampson Associates, based in Manchester, operates Asda FM and Alldays Radio, and sales director Tom Atkins says creating tailored programming is straightforward.

Don’t drive staff mad

“Because people spend less time in Alldays convenience stores than they would in Asda, any in-store advertising would be played more frequently. There would also be different forms of the ads to avoid driving staff on an eight-hour shift mad,” he says.

Asda FM has been one of the most successful retail radio stations and when it was launched in 1993 it was also available remotely through analogue satellite, although a decoder was needed to hear it. Today it broadcasts on a digital format so that visual images as well as music can be used.

The Asda playlist of about 2,000 songs is updated weekly and is tailored to different times of the day. “The music must have mass appeal, so the songs are melodic and accessible – similar to those you would hear on Radio Two.

Like all grocery stores, the music and advertising output appeals to a more female and elderly target market in the day and to male and younger customers in the evening,” says Atkins.

It is common for brands to use celebrities and professional voice-over artists that customers are familiar with, but companies tend not to use the same commercials they would have produced for local independent radio.

Atkins says that in a shopping environment the ads have to compete with the sound of people talking and the noise of freezers and checkouts which means they must be slower and clearer if they are going to have the desired effect and drive extra sales at the POP.

The introduction of digital technology has also made it easier for advertisers to monitor the effectiveness of their campaigns. They can remove ads from certain stores or alter the frequency of commercials as well as what times of the day they are played at.

Camelot is considering using in-store radio for the ad campaign that breaks this month for National Lottery Instants. A spokeswoman says sales of Instants tickets are about &£10m a week and are a key impulse purchase. The effectiveness of in-store radio was tested at a number of Asda, Safeway and Alldays outlets for the Big Draw 2000 campaign at the end of last year.

While the use of music can increase sales, retailers have also found that other sounds can work just as well. Sports retailers, for instance, have experimented by using commentaries of famous football and athletic events to boost sales in a particular product category, while retail design and architectural consultancy Carte Blanche has used sounds of water, animal and bird life at the French natural history and science shop Nature & Decouverte.

Ian Silverstein, managing director of another retail design company Creative Action, says sound in any format will always have a positive effect on sales if it is used correctly. The company has worked with Top Shop to develop its radio and TV channel in its flagship London store and also lists Woolworths, Marks & Spencer and Vodafone among its clients.

“We create a whole point of sale package which combines audio with visual and 3D effects because retailers realise it is no longer enough just to have a better product as consumers have come to expect something creative,” he says.

Sound of silence

Yet others argue that there are times when using music is not appropriate in a retail environment. The Lumsden Design Partnership won the contract to design the shops, including the large art bookshop, for the recently opened Tate Modern in London, but its suggestion that music should be used was rejected.

“The gallery was adamant that the art was the focus and silence was needed and music would not be suitable,” says managing director Callum Lumsden.

It would be difficult to find anyone who does not like music of some kind, and its mass appeal is a useful weapon when attempting to entice consumers at the POP. But, people’s music tastes differ, as does the amount of in-store noise they are willing to tolerate, something retailers must always be aware of.

In-Store Marketing Show

The In-store Marketing Show will take place at Olympia 2 in London from June 20 to 22.

The show is in its third year and will include more than 120 exhibitors, making it the largest UK event focused purely on creative in-store marketing solutions, including point of purchase (POP), category management, in-store and on-pack promotions, point of sale, interactive and multimedia displays.

Last year’s show attracted more than 3,000 visitors and pre-registration figures indicate that this year the figure could be as high as 4,000.

Visitors will be able to attend seminars conducted by brand and retail marketers from Asda, Unilever, United Distillers & Vinters, Argos and Elizabeth Arden.

Other seminars will feature Virgin Cosmetics’ direct sales director talking about how it has built a network of customer classes and maximised sales potential through the development of strategic alliances with non-related products.

In addition, brand consultancy Fitch will examine a case study of Royal Doulton, which radically overhauled its POP to redefine its one-off purchase status.

Online marketing manager at Tower Records Jez D’Netto will talk about how the company has taken its brand online.

And Sainsbury’s will join forces with the world’s first organics commodity exchange to illustrate how radical cost savings can be made through a focused business-to-business e-strategy.

Information about the show can be found at

Latest from Marketing Week


Access Marketing Week’s wealth of insight, analysis and opinion that will help you do your job better.

Register and receive the best content from the only UK title 100% dedicated to serving marketers' needs.

We’ll ask you just a few questions about what you do and where you work. The more we know about our visitors, the better and more relevant content we can provide for them. And, yes, knowing our audience better helps us find commercial partners too. Don't worry, we won't share your information with other parties, unless you give us permission to do so.

Register now


Our award winning editorial team (PPA Digital Brand of the Year) ask the big questions about the biggest issues on everything from strategy through to execution to help you navigate the fast moving modern marketing landscape.


From the opportunities and challenges of emerging technology to the need for greater effectiveness, from the challenge of measurement to building a marketing team fit for the future, we are your guide.


Information, inspiration and advice from the marketing world and beyond that will help you develop as a marketer and as a leader.

Having problems?

Contact us on +44 (0)20 7292 3703 or email

If you are looking for our Jobs site, please click here