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How can we explain that customers appear to be controlled by music in the marketplace?

Music causes emotions, and these are hard to measure, different types of environments send out signals that affect the individual’s emotional state.

In the economic literature various types of demand models are used to explain what affects consumers’ choices of products or services in a marketplace (Deaton & Muellbauer, 1980; Piggott & Marsh, 2011). The models show that consumers’ demands on commercial marketplaces are a function of price and of total possible expenses. The latter aspect usually relates to the consumers’ income. Research has shown that small changes in the price of the studied product and the price of other goods, as well as income, has an impact on sales.

Music causes emotions, and these are hard to measure. So, to explain how the presence of music can influence consumer behavior, a psychological explanation model is necessary. “Manage the emotional component of experiences with the same rigor they bring to the management of product and service functionality” - (Berry et al., 2002, p.82).

One model often used to explain music’s effect on consumer experiences and behaviors is Mehrabian & Russell’s (1974) PAD (pleasure- arousal-dominance) emotional state model. The model builds on the fact that different types of environments send out signals that affect the individual’s emotional state. This effect, in turn, makes consumers either avoid or approach the environment. In brief, the consumers’ emotional responses to different sensations influence the purchase decision.

The explanatory model includes three emotional states: pleasure, arousal and, dominance. The marketplace’s environment can influence these emotional states. Pleasure is the degree to which consumers are well and happy. Arousal is the extent to which consumers feel stimulated, excited, alert, and active. Dominance captures the degree to which consumers feel influential and important.

Pleasure and Arousal: Abercrombie & Fitch

In the Abercrombie & Fitch field experiment (see previous blog post), the teenager’s reaction to the music was that she wanted to explore the physical marketplace. Her mother and grandmother, however, wanted to avoid the environment physically because they “couldn’t put up” with the high pop music in the store.

Creating an Expectation: FAO Schwarz Toy Store To increase sales, many commercial marketplaces should associate the music being played to the products. Morrison & Beverland (2003) did a research experiment at the classic toy store FAO Schwarz in New York. They played the Star Wars soundtrack when consumers went into the elevator from the first to the third floor (where they sold the Star Wars products). This music had an emotional impact on the consumers, creating an expectation before seeing the products, and probably increased their propensity to consume. Other departments played a different type of music that was related to the type of products sold there. This shows that FAO Schwarz was keen to make sure that the music fit the products sold at the specific departments.

When the company played the Star Wars music it likely affected many consumers’ emotional reactions. This, in turn, meant that they stayed longer in that particular department, which probably led to higher sales.

Music Influences how Consumers Interact With Others in the Marketplace

The music played may also result in consumers either approaching each other in the studied marketplace or avoiding each other. Dubé et al., (1995) analyzed (in video experiments) if the emotional reactions of various classical pieces of music affected the likelihood that customers would approach bank staff. This proved to be the case. The result support the hypothesis that music can influence how consumers choose to interact with others in the marketplace.

Music also Influences Levels of Satisifaction of a Marketplace Visit

Donovan and Rossiter (1982) and Mehrabian and Russell, (1974) studies show that music can also lead to emotional reactions that affect how satisfied consumers are with the visit of the commercial marketplace, which in turn affect the desire to visit the marketplace again. It seems that music affects consumer emotions, which in turn affects how they feel and behave in commercial marketplaces.


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