Has M&S made the right decision to switch off the music?

4 June 2016


Marks & Spenser’s new CEO Steve Rowe announced that he will switch off the music in all UK stores following the feedback from customers and staff that it is disturbing and frankly annoying.

Retailers for decades have been using in-store background music to enhance customer experience and benefit from an array of positive effects of music on consumer behaviour. Has M&S therefore made the right decision to switch off the music?

It is understandable that following such negative comments from customers and staff they have decided to go with the easiest option of turning the annoying stimulus off. Was that the only option however and have they considered positive influence of music on customer experience?

For decades scientists in psychology, marketing and other behavioural disciplines have been proving positive impact of music on human beings. It makes us calmer, happier, helps us to set the mood for important events in our lives; music is our companion in tough and joyful moments; we listen to it on a way to work, when working, while sleeping, on a date, when meeting friends etc.

Music also serves as a way of expressing our identity to the world. Research by Professor Adrian North of Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, UK, shows that fans of certain music genres have distinctive personalities. For example, ‘jazz fans have high self-esteem, are creative, outgoing and at ease’ and ‘chart pop fans have high self-esteem, are hardworking, outgoing and gentle, but are not creative and not at ease’.

Music has also many positive effects on consumer behaviour within retail setting. It can influence the following:

  • Brand Perception
  • Product Perception
  • Price Perception
  • Emotions and Emotional Engagement
  • Dwell Time
  • Shopping time and waiting time perception
  • Product Valuation
  • Customer Experience and Satisfaction
  • Purchase Intention
  • Money Spend
  • Product Selection
  • Impulse Buying
  • Human communication and interactions

For example, jazz and classical music evokes subconscious associations of sophistication which prime customers to pay more attention to and have more favourable view of more expensive and exclusive products.

Same principle works with regards to the origin of product. In a study published in journal Nature in 1997, researchers reported that when they were playing French music in a wine store, the sales of French wine increased by 74%.

Another study published in Journal of Business Research in 2000 looked into how familiar and unfamiliar music affected the real and perceived shopping time. They found that when unfamiliar music was played customer actually spend in-store 66% more time than they perceived they did. With familiar music the number was lower – 40%. The actual shopping time also differed between unfamiliar and familiar music with customer spending 8.5% more time in-store when unfamiliar music was played.

These are just some examples from 1000s of studies on how various sensory stimuli in retail setting influence consumer behaviour (we reviewed some of them in our Sensory Retail Design Report).

Has M&S even considered all this positive impact? Or did they simply go for the easiest solution? Hard to say but I honestly doubt that it will drastically improve their overall customer experience.

M&S’ customer experience is generally not extremely positive except for food. This is due to many variables, from product selection, through to product density, store design to overall ease of shopping. Music is but a drop in the ocean of things that needs to be tackled for M&S to win over the heart, mind and wallet of ‘Mrs M&S’.


Image Source: Marks & Spenser