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Marks & Spencer Decide to Remove Instore Music. Why?

Written by Tuesday, 06 September 2016 15:41

Pipe Down. When it goes quiet, what do you hear?

In-store music has a branding role, yes - but there's something else being hidden by the playlists...


So, National Treasure Marks & Spencer is in the news again, this time it's with in-store music - or rather a decision to revert to no music in clothing and home store areas (M&S food courts have never had music).


According to The Daily Telegraph: The move is thought to be designed to please Marks and Spencer's ageing customer base.


In fact, for years, before 2006, M&S was viewed by some non-music fans like an oasis of “no-music”, so perhaps, that could explain why the recent decision was made?


But The Telegraph then goes on: “It follows concerted efforts by the brand to reduce the average age of its customers by attracting a younger clientele, such as hiring fashion icon and model, Alexa Chung, to design a summer fashion range.“


A paradox - the generational problem?


That doesn't add up, does it?? This latest story seems to highlight a confused positioning - a paradox. In essence, this is where retailers can have a particular generational problem. Like, a Church or a Golf Club which has a certain respectable image, needs people to belong and stay, but it needs new, younger people, with fresh perspectives, to join too. What do you do?


An M&S spokeswoman seems to say all the right things, this time in The Guardian: “We’re focused on putting the customer at the heart of everything we do. This decision is the result of extensive research and feedback from our customers and colleagues.” (Press Association)


But surely the above mixed-message begs the question: If you’re trying to reduce the average age of your customer, is simply switching off the music for "Mrs M&S" really the best answer?


Another quote from The Guardian: "M&S first introduced in-store music in 2006 and is one of many businesses that have sparked anger from shoppers for their use of repetitive playlists."(Press Association)


"Repetitive playlists"? Aha!


Is "to play or not to play music" really the question?


Perhaps the core truth is, the question is not "to play or not to play music” as much as the “appropriateness”, volume, variety, over repetition or even a confused selection of genre – any or all of these avoidable potential errors could be the cause of irritation?


A separate piece, again in The Guardian, has this "science bit" about music. Professor Adrian North, head of the school of psychology at Curtin University in Perth, Australia, (formerly of Heriot Watt University in the UK) and an expert on the psychology of music, says he disagrees with the move: “The research shows that music can have a double-digit impact on sales,” he says,“so turning off that source of revenue is a poor decision.”


Music in shops, he says, “can influence the speed at which customers shop, the amount they browse, the amount they spend, the amount they are prepared to spend, the products they choose, the parts of the premises they visit and the amount of time they think they have spent on the premises”.


Different types of music have different effects, too. “Want customers to spend more money? Play classical music. Want them to shop more slowly and browse more? Play slow music. Want to get customers to go upstairs? Play music they like on the stairwell.”


Behavioural scientist Patrick Fagan agrees. “There are three main effects,” he says of music in stores. “One is a volume and tempo effect – slow music can make people stay longer in the store. Music can put people in a better mood, which makes them spend more. Third, there is the priming effect – music can put certain ideas in people’s heads. If you play Christmas music, people will buy more Christmas products. There is a study that shows if you play classical music, rather than Top 40 music, people spend more money on wine.”


What is PEL's stance on M&S's in-store music decision?


At PEL, we’d reason just a little further. Chris Wilcox, PEL's Music & Media Manager comments:


"In store music is essentially another form of branding, just as much as the shop window display, the backdrop to the check-outs, elements of digital signage or a main video-wall in a flagship store.


Yes, not having music is a branding choice; it may be that M&S in particular has chosen to prioritise its core "Radio 4" customer, who doesn’t listen to a lot of music?


Yet M&S also has a wider customer-base, many of whom will find the "silence" coming is filled with actual noise: For example: loud voices, child-tantrums, everyday arguments – even overspill from personal headphones - worn by the people who can’t do without music!


When it’s done well, using music sympathetically, music eases and enhances customers’ experience - that's why it works.


You don’t really notice it - until there's a rawness because its not there. When you do notice music in-store it’s because you LOVE it - or its got on your wick, which could be the effect of a poor quality sound system, or the programming is sloppy, producing  clearly inappropriate results in store.


So PEL's advice is get a decent sound system, well-engineered so that your customers get what you want them to hear - and consider the acoustics – e.g. some restaurants have a lot of hard surfaces – sound can bounce around, especially close to a window or in a corner!"


Several instant polls have shown that opinion is divided, so PEL has several other solutions Marks and Spencer (and other retailers) could consider, to cater for all opinions:


  • Zoning music systems can be a solution – especially for large stores. That way (and when combined with areas of sound masking) you can have quiet areas near check-outs (some relief for staff). 
  • Timing, rotation and repetition are factors too – the PEL studio can program periods of music silence which are then moved around the store zones, so that staff and shoppers have a “quiet hour”. We already do this with different mixes of genres for mornings, lunchtimes, afternoons and evenings…
  • Using programming opens up many opportunities to look after all the niches of your customer-base. Why not advertise your quiet times and encourage different customers to take advantage?


PEL services have always delivered great quality, intelligible sound in Public Address systems, with or without Voice Alarm, for important Equality Act provisions in fire safety and hearing induction loops, or in Music Sound systems and with remote-managed audio branding in well-known stores.


For over 35 years we’ve continually brought on new technology to improve safety and drive efficiency in the delivery of benefits for organisations and their customers, staff, travelling passengers, shoppers, citizens, tourists, fans.


Find out more and improve your next project for the people who will be in your store or retail outlet, when its done. 


To discuss your projects and how we can help music and systems integrate to achieve more, contact us today.

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Last modified onMonday, 11 December 2017 11:01

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