When You Walk into a Store, What Does the Music They Play Do to Your Brain?

There’s a reason why shop owners play music for their customers–and it’s not necessary to keep them entertained. You are being manipulated against your will. The BBC explains.

If you want to sell hosepipes and spanners, you could play Dolly Parton or Kenny Rogers. To make red wine at an in-store tasting that little bitter darker and deeper, try the thundering sounds of Carmina Burana. To shift more silk ties, it could be worth slipping on Nirvana or Pearl Jam, apparently.

Background music in shops – disparagingly referred to as “muzak” – has been shown to have an effect on our buying habits, but Marks and Spencer has decided to ditch it completely. The company is removing it from all its UK stores, following “extensive research and feedback” from staff and customers.

But is M&S surrendering some of its power to manipulate shoppers?

Shops and restaurants can use music “to target those effects that are most likely to increase sales in a given business”, says Adrian North, professor of music psychology at Australia’s Curtin University in Perth.

Keep reading. You won’t ever hear music in a store the same way.


Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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