Play Us a Song, Piano Man...


I know you think this blog is all about visual merchandising, display, and product presentation. And for the most part, it is. But along with that, I hope to share ideas and resources that will enable you to enhance your store environment. There are so many factors that play into a successful shopping experience for your customer - for instance, sound. What sounds do your customers hear when they are in your store?

Don't think it's important? Let me tell you this: Along with the sense of smell, the sense of hearing is one that garners an instant reaction. Now, I am a bargain shopper of the black belt variety, and I'll dive in any dumpster to get at a fabulous trash-to-treasure prop. But regardless of the bargains, I will not shop at KMart - simply because their constant announcements on the intercom make me crazy. Every five seconds, someone just has to grab the microphone and announce a new Blue Light Special, or needs a manager on register one, or a price check on aisle seven. The voice is always shrill, the volume is always too loud, and the acoustics in the store just make the sound waves bounce endlessly off of the walls. I get a migraine just walking in there!

Announcements are a necessary thing - but not a necessary evil. Train people in regard to how to speak on a microphone, how to modulate their vocal tones, inflections, and timbre. Advise them as to a volume level, and set a limit on how many announcements are used in an hour. If you need to invest in radios to reach managers on a huge sales floor, DO! Don't engage in a constant stream of babble over the intercom system.

OK now that I've got that off my chest, let's move on to music. I love having music in stores - it 'softens the edges', so to speak. If done right , that is.

One of my clients has a large shop, with a built-in sound system that plays 145 channels of cable music. When I am in the shop, creating displays after hours or early in the morning, I generally choose channel six: Big Band Swing music. Harry James. Etta Fitzgerald. Glenn Miller. Gets me moving and creates a happy, energetic mood. Every last employee who walks in the doors hears that music and a huge grin spreads across their face. Some even spin around or take a slide-step across the floor. The mood is contagious! Many days, the doors open for business and that music is left on...and the reaction by customers is much like the one the employees have. Moods are lifted, people sway as they shop, people hang around longer and talk more. And BUY more.

On other days, the shop manager has walked in and switched the music to his favorite: 70's rock. Foreigner. The Who. Stones. Van Halen, even. Do I need to tell you how this music affects customers? Don't get me wrong, I love Van Halen - but I don't want to shop to their sound. (And hearing Mick Jagger sing 'I can't get no satisfaction' is just contradictory to having a good shopping experience!!!) Older customers leave quickly because the loud volume of this harsh music is offensive to them. Men seem to like it, of course, but men come to drink the wine, not browse the merchandise. Women tend to rush to get out of there,sales drop exponentially. And yet the music plays on. Even the women on staff see what's happening, but there is no set guideline for how to use music as a sales tool. It's a missed opportunity.

Give some thought to what kind of music you are playing in your shop, especially as the holiday shopping season begins. By thinking of it as a sales tool, you can actually create the mood within your store - simply by using sound. A great rule of thumb is to change the music selection throughout the day. For example: begin with soft jazz when you open, perhaps. Then step it up a notch to some of that Big Band Swing before lunchtime and in the early afternoon. Later, cue up some oldies to energize the mid-afternoon doldrums. And end the day with smooth jazz again, giving your customers a relaxing atmosphere in which to run errands or just while away a few moments. This also keeps your employees from being lulled to sleep by hearing the same music all day!

And please don't use radio - the advertisements and DJ chatter are as annoying as announcements. Sign up for cable music, or invest in CD's. You can build a 'music library' from which to choose, keeping the selections in tune (pun intended!) with your customer demographic and your store's brand image. Educate your staff in how to use music to set a mood in the store that encourages browsing, lingering, shopping. Change it up from season to season.

Remember, the longer a customer stays in your store, the more she'll buy...and that's music to any retailer's ears!
PS: It extends to your online presence, as well... notice my 'theme songs' playing as you read?! Check out www.playlist.com to create your own music player for your blog or website.

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my take on retail visual design:

"The thing is, retail design is driven by psychology. It is by manipulating space, visuals, lighting, sound, smell, and mood that we influence customers to enter, stay, browse, buy, and return. It is an endless exercise in change, endurance, growth, education, and imagination that enables retailers to stay on top of their game and at the forefront of their customer's minds. Yes, what you sell IS important - but even the very best merchandise won't sell at full price if it's presented in torn boxes on dirty shelves in a store that is too crowded to turn around in. Visual impact is a huge part of business, and utilizing the principles that have been proven to work can help you build a better business." ~ DWK