The Secret Reason Grocery Stores Play Music

There is a reason your grocery store is playing certain music as you shop. Do the tunes you hear make you want to stay and shop longer?

A woman leaning on a grocery cart looking board with music notes floating around her head.
Photo: Getty Images/Allrecipes

You're shopping in the grocery store with your list and a favorite song starts to play. Does it make you slow down and linger at a shelf of croissants in the bakery section or does it get you dancing in the aisles as you look for your favorite brand of salsa? Are you even aware of music playing as you compare prices in the produce section?

The music playing in a store is part of the overall atmosphere and shopping experience and it can make a difference in how much time and money you spend in the store.

How (and Why) Music is Used in Grocery Stores

Matt Gresia is a money and shopping expert with 3 million followers on TikTok and he shared a video with his viewers to explain the reasoning behind the (sometimes slow and boring) music.

Gresia says the grocery store music is "played intentionally to make you spend more money." This isn't surprising since the store's goal is to sell as many products as possible and restock the shelves according to what consumers are spending money on when they shop.

The music that plays in the store can influence how you shop and guide your habits as you move through the store.

Many stores will play music at a slower tempo, or pace, because it is "purposely slower than the human heartbeat which gets you to relax and slow down," says Gresia. "That makes you spend more time in the store and ultimately you'll spend more money."

The Study of Shopping to the Beat

This idea was the focus of a 1982 study conducted by marketing professor Ronald E. Milliman. The study found that the tempo of the music played in stores does play a role in a customer's shopping pace as they walk the aisles and, in turn, the volume of sales in the store.

The slow music lends itself to customers having a more leisurely shopping experience which leads to them spending more time filling a cart and buying more items. Specifically, Milliman found that a grocery store saw an increase in sales that was 38% higher on days that slow-tempo music was played.

Alternately, another study by researchers Cain-Smith and Curnow concluded that loud music caused shoppers to spend less time in a store.

What Goes Into Choosing a Soundtrack?

So what have you noticed playing in your store? Our local Trader Joe's is a lively place to shop where I can find my summer favorites of burrata cheese and heirloom tomatoes for a salad of olive oil and basil leaves from the garden. The music is usually '80s- and '90s-inspired and it sets the mood for an enjoyable shopping experience.

A representative for Trader Joe's says, "The decision on what music is played is made by the individual store. Every Trader Joe's I've shopped in has played music."

According to Laurie Hailston, Stop & Shop Media Producer, and Janine Mudge, Director of Marketing Operations for Stop & Shop, the choice of music is carefully reviewed and made with customers and employees in mind.

"In-store music is integral to providing a satisfying and positive shopping experience for our customers and work environment for associates. The store playlist is part of the background hum of the store. There is a core playlist for all stores. This was revised in early 2022 based on an internal survey conducted with both associates and customers. The survey results noted that during the shopping experience customers wanted to hear familiar music and this was not the place for new music. Due to the results of the survey, Stop & Shop curated a playlist containing a mix of hits along with advertisements.

Stop & Shop chooses to balance both music and advertisements to engulf the customer in a full shopping experience. This blend of music and ads provides customers a "good time feel" and gets them dancing in the aisle while still letting them know about new products and sales."

It stands to reason that if customers enjoy the music and shopping experience, they are more likely to bop around the aisles longer, leading to more items in the basket.

What Kind of Music Makes the Playlist?

What kind of music is played as shoppers decide which seedless cucumber to choose or where to find their favorite trail mix snacks?

Again, per Stop & Shop reps: "During our survey process, it was determined the best type of music for the stores is a mix of well-known '60s, '70s, '80s, and '90s. The three top music genres preferred by both customers and associates are classic rock, classic hits, and classic R&B. Lots of nineties! The music is played at the volume of a conversation, and the playlist does differ by time of day for morning, afternoon, and evening shoppers. It was also indicated in the surveys that both customers and associates wanted to hear familiar music, and shopping trips are not the place they wanted to hear new songs. Playlists are updated quarterly to keep the music selection fresh."

They continued, "We have received a lot of positive feedback from the stores on the revised playlist, we continue to monitor feedback and will be conducting another store and customer survey in the fall to ensure the playlist is being heard and receiving positive feedback."

There are some grocery stores that decide not to play music as a part of the shopping experience. Kate Kirkpatrick, Director of Communications for Aldi USA, shares what the idea is behind the shopping experience they have created in their stores.

"No detail is overlooked in Aldi stores when it comes to saving money for our customers, and that includes our decision not to play music. We're committed to passing every cent of savings on to Aldi shoppers, whether that's through our quarter cart system or our private label brands, and so when we realized we could save even more on music licensing costs, it was a no-brainer."

The next time you're shopping at your local store take a minute and listen to the music playing, or not playing, in the background.

Is it a fast-paced rhythm from Michael Jackson's "Beat It?" Probably not. In the words of Rihanna's hit song the store wants you to "Stay."

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