Thursday, 23 February 2012

Retail pointers : Immedia’s music psychologist Dr Vicky Williamson taking it too personally

Taking it too personally ...  Dr Vicky Williamson Immedia's music psychologist
This week my real life retail story comprises a cautionary tale about letting individual staff choose their own music. Sometimes this strategy will work well; but not in this case.

I had been working in the centre of town a few weeks ago and as a result was facing a peak time rush hour train filled with exhausted London commuters. So instead I decided to do a spot of impulse window shopping along the high street to pass the time. Once on the high street I realised that I actually needed a few things for the bathroom and cleaning cupboard so I stopped in to a retailer for supplies.

When I first entered the shop I was aware that there was music playing. It was a pleasant and soft male vocalist piece, folky in style, and although I remember little of the detail I do recall thinking it was nice and relaxing. It took my mind off the rush hour that was building outside and I moved slowly through the aisles picking up my items and a few treats (why not, it was a Friday!)

The music was changed Then, out of nowhere, the music was changed. The soft innocuous vocals were replaced by hard and fast hip-hop and garage music. Then a young man came onto the floor, probably a manager as he was dressed in a suit and headed to one of the tills to count the takings. He was clearly enjoying the music, singing along to himself and nodding his head as he counted. It was not a leap of logic to presume that he had changed the music to one of his personal favourites and this was proving an effective way to boost his mood and productivity.

The effect on the customers was immediate and interesting to watch as well as experience. People began to move more quickly through the aisles and browsing behaviours were clearly reduced. There was suddenly a queue of people at the till where previously there had been a steady turnover of one sale at a time. Personally I felt uncomfortable in the space; no longer inclined to shop around at a leisurely pace and actually keen to get out into the rush hour streets where at least I could play my own music again.

The situation was a perfect illustration of how the delicate balancing effects of music selection can easily be pushed out if there is not enough attention given to everyone in the situation. The music strategy for a given environment should be tailored with knowledge of the customers, the staff, the brand image, as well as hidden influences like time of day and the weather. A carefully planned music strategy will result in the best outcome in terms of sales, staff and customer satisfaction, and brand word of mouth.

It is not as simple as saying that the young manager’s choice of music was wrong. In another retail environment and at another time it may have been a perfect selection. And of course, we all have deeply personal and individual taste in music, even two people who love the same genre or artist. A final problem with allowing personal selection is that people who are enjoying music are often unaware of the effect it may be having on others; it is a classic example of that very human failing, from which we all suffer on occasion, of not fully empathising with others.

The Old Brewery
The Broadway, Newbury
RG14 1AU, United Kingdom

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