The ambiance and mood created by music greatly affects a business’ customers, Simon Faure Field tells Floyd Cowan, but it is a tool that is often overlooked by retailers.

Creating single-brand boutiques or multi-product retail outlets has become an art form as product placement, display cases, colours, flooring and lighting are all used to create a desired ambience to enhance the retail outlet and brand personality. But one aspect that many business people overlook is music and the effect that it has on customers. Lounges and bars have long known that good music will not only attract customers but will keep them in their establishment longer, but it seems to be a point that has been missed by retailers — though not entirely, according to Simon Faure Field, founder, and CEO of Equal Strategy.

Equal Strategy advises global brands on creating ‘brand atmospherics’. ‘Using music to create an ambiance has been around for 50 or 60 years,” says Faure Field.

“At first it was just elevator music, but it was better than nothing.” In the United States, the idea has been expanded to be more than just providing pleasant background music. Victoria’s Secret plays classical music in their outlets as they feel it creates a prestigious atmosphere, with customers getting the perception of higher quality service and merchandise.

‘The concept has not really taken hold in Asia,” says Faure Field, who has offices in Singapore and Malaysia. “We are having to educate people to the new concepts. It is leading edge and it is new to many people in Asia, but what we are doing is backed up by international scientific, pyschosocial and behavioural studies. One study showed that using the right music increased supermarket sales by 38.3 percent” .

Studies such as one by Areni and Kim noted that music can be a critical component of store atmosphere and plays a role in the purchase decision-making process. Their studies, supported by others, show that if shoppers stay longer and travel slowly through the store, they are likely to purchase more. A study by Milliman found that the tempo of music can affect a shopper’s pace of movement around the store. For this reason, the music tempo at Borders is slow and relaxed.

Creating the right ambiance in a store through music can have other benefits too, such as facilitating discussion between customers and sales staff.

Equal Strategy uses Internet technology to deliver music to retail and business locations. “We have over two million copyrighted musical works that our clients can access,” he states. “We can produce a playlist that will allow us to create the atmosphere that the customer wants. We have all the musical genres, and we can make different programmes for different days. You might want jazz for Monday, and rhythm and blues for Tuesday. Or you may want to start each day off differently.”

In addition to creating a great ambiance for the customer, this variety is also enjoyed by the staff who don’t have to endure hearing the same music over and over. “There is another staffing benefit,” Faure Field notes. “Increased productivity. With our continuous, uninterrupted music, employees won’t spend time selecting and programming CDs, or calling for radio requests or contests. They can focus on their job without having this distraction.”

Terry O’Connor, Managing Director of Courts retail store in Singapore, engaged Equal Strategy as he wanted to ensure the consistency of the customer experience across all Courts Singapore branches. In addition, he received the benefit of getting high-quality music without having to worry about the music rights, as Equal Strategy has the license for all the music they provide.

The musical selection is programmed into a black box which sends information to Equal Strategy, such as what music was played. “We can send new instructions or a new playlist without having to go to the store itself,” Faure Field explains. “We have control over the music that is played and can change it at any time.”

The in-house PA system will override the music and, as part of the programming, announcements can be made at key times. “In-house announcements,” says Faure Field, “can be very effective. Research has shown that 41 percent of customers made a purchase they had not planned to after hearing a retail audio promotional announcement — and 36 percent of customers purchased a different brand than the one they had originally intended to after hearing a retail audio promotional announcement.”