You can't stop the music
From ‘happy feet’ to ‘discriminatory’ beats, shoppers have been telling researchers from James Cook University and the University of Canberra how music in shops makes them feel.
As part of a broader study of the senses in everyday life, JCU’s Dr Eduardo de la Fuente and Assistant Professor Michael Walsh from the University of Canberra interviewed people regarding how they experience music and sound in a variety of spaces such as shops, work, public transport, gyms, the home, and public spaces.
“When it works, music in retail spaces stimulates positive responses in shoppers. But most of the people we interviewed also reported unpleasant experiences in retail situations,” said Dr de la Fuente.
Those who liked to hear music while shopping said it added a sense of rhythm to what they were doing, and made hitting the shops a more dynamic or lively experience.
A few even worried that this tended to prompt excessive behaviour.
“Some people worried they might engage in conspicuous behaviour such as dancing, singing and other conduct not usually found in retail settings. One woman said she was so responsive and so captive to music in the shops that she feared being considered a ‘public weirdo’,” said Dr de la Fuente
Others were not so captivated.
“Some said the music played in certain stores was ‘discriminatory’, because it seemed aimed at a particular gender or age group that excluded them,” said Dr Walsh.
Shoppers said volume was important, to the extent some avoided retail spaces where loud music played, hurried through their shopping, or played their own music on personal devices using headphones.
The researchers said people expect others to provide them with a certain degree of physical and mental space.
“Loud music threatens these boundaries, and unlike vision or touch, sound is much more difficult to control or protect oneself from. It spills across thresholds and enters into situations where it’s unwelcome,” Dr Walsh said.
The researchers said complaints about shops starting to resemble nightclubs or pubs were due to the acoustic environment not providing the appropriate cues for the situation.
The researchers’ advice to shop managers was not to ban music entirely, but to observe and respond to how their target audience was responding to the music on offer and adapt if necessary.
For shoppers, the advice was to go with the flow.
“As composer John Cage said; ‘…try as we may to make a silence, we cannot.’ There is no such thing as a silent retail space, so we might as well learn to share supermarket aisles with sounds beyond our control and not on our playlists,” said Dr de la Fuente.
Dr Eduardo de la Fuente