Grocery Stores Play Music To Make You Spend More

It's not something you may notice at first, but strolling the aisles during our weekly grocery store visit is an all-encompassing sensory experience. The look of the brand logos, the feel of pushing our cart from one shelf to the next, and of course, the music they pipe in over the store loudspeakers. There's a reason our grocers don't want us shopping in silence. Vibenomics writes that in a 1966 study by Cain and Curnow, it was determined that the tunes accompanying our shopping trip directly correspond with how much we purchase, based on tempo and volume. 

Even though there are endless genres of music to choose from, most grocery stores tend to abide by the rule that slower, more relaxing stuff tends to lull the shopper into a more serene state, thereby allowing them a clearer headspace to entertain possible impulse buys. While it thankfully isn't on the level of full-on subliminal messaging, it is staggering to think how our brains can be influenced by unassuming audio. When music is familiar or inoffensive to our personal sensibilities, it loosens us up to get that shopping list completed without any unnecessary outside stimulants clogging our thoughts. Faster, more aggressive genres cause thoughts to race rather than wander to thoughts like "Say, maybe I should pop over to the deli aisle for a sandwich tonight!"

Stores choose music that relaxes you

If you've ever wondered why your local grocery store never blasts hardcore punk or EDM, there's a pretty cut-and-dry answer. Though it is ultimately decided by each store, most leading grocery chains use music with a slower tempo, particularly with fewer beats per minute than the human heart rate (which is around 60–100 BPM). NBC reports that according to a study published in the journal Heart, slower tempos lower your heart rate, physically putting you in a more relaxed state. Customers are more likely to focus on their purchase, thus the slower your heart, the more full your cart. Genre-wise, conventional rock and pop music, spanning from the '60s to today, are typical fare for the larger chains. The more familiar the song, the easier it is to tune out.

Slower tempo music (defined as music slower than 72 BPM) can drive sales up as much as 38%, according to a 1982 study in the Journal of Marketing. In the same study, researchers determined that another auditory factor retail chains must consider when deciding on what to play for their customers is the level of volume, which is typically kept to nothing louder than conversation might be. Obviously, something too loud would not only drive customers away while they plug their ears but could maybe even shatter the glass jars, getting expensive maple syrup all over aisle 6. When you get down to it, a lower music volume leads to a higher sales volume!

Do grocery stores need to play music?

Even though most grocery establishments tend to pipe in music and ads over their PA systems, it isn't a given. According to Reader's Digest, grocery store chain Aldi extends its price-cutting measures not only to the products it sells but also to its decision to exclude music. The store attributes this choice to efficiency, reasoning that not paying for background music allows them to keep a lower overhead, passing on those savings to the customer. Aldi's directive acknowledges the fact that light music encourages browsing, which they find is not part of their brand. They want to provide a quick, efficient, in-and-out experience for their clientele, which means if you want to listen to a playlist at Aldi, you'll have to bring your own headphones.

The bottom line is, there's a reason it's called "background music." Your local grocery store providing music at a reasonable volume and tempo ensures that it won't distract, and will rather enhance the shopping experience, keeping you coming back trip after trip. It really just goes to show you how powerful a tool music can be. Don't be surprised if we start providing some light-rock over our articles to increase readership!