What Music Works Best in Grocery Stores

It surely comes as no surprise that music can affect one’s mood and behavior. We listen to songs to cheer us up when we are sad, to set the mood for a night out with friends, and to help us focus when studying or working. What people don’t often realize is that music can have a significant effect on people’s shopping behavior in supermarkets and grocery stores.

If you are running a grocery store, you will be sure to want to harness the power of music to increase sales. If this sounds a little like magic, it is not. The right type of music can increase people’s willingness to purchase items, as well as significantly increase the customer experience by making the time waiting in line more enjoyable and feel like it goes by faster than if there was no music at all.

In this article, we will talk about the type of music that works best in grocery stores, addressing things like tempo, rhythm, mode, the familiarity of music, and more, because these factors can make a serious difference when it comes to the shopping experience and customers’ shopping experience.

The Mode and Tempo of Music

According to The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, mode generally refers to a type of scale, coupled with a set of characteristic melodic behaviors.

A Norwegian professor, Klemens M. Knoferle, found that while marketing teams or business owners are designing an in-store playlist, they often look at tempo, but they rarely look at mode as a criterion. In addition, “no consideration has been given to the potential for the interactive effects of low-level structural elements of music on actual retail sales.”

For the study, titled “It is all in the mix: The interactive effect of music tempo and mode on in-store sales,” Knoferle and his team spent time looking at the modes of songs played in retail environments in addition to the tempo. For a grocery store’s bottom line, the results of the study found that the best tempo and mode combination line is downtempo and minor. Those results are certainly something for grocery stores to keep in mind when creating their playlists.

More on Tempo

When it comes to the way people respond to music, tempo is one of the strongest components. In a 1982 study, “Using Background Music to Affect the Behavior of Supermarket Shoppers,” researchers lead by marketing professor Ronald E. Milliman, found that the tempo of in-store audio not only has an influence on customer pace or how quickly they move through the store, but also on the volume of sales.

The study found, in general, that fast or uptempo music means people move quickly. Slow or downtempo movement means that shoppers tend to move more slowly. Depending on the goal of the grocery store, one will be more beneficial than the other.

For supermarkets or smaller grocery stores, for example, slowing shoppers down means they’ll have more time to look and, subsequently, buy. In fact, in Milliman’s study, he discovered that sales volume for grocery stores was, on average 38% higher on days when the stores played slow tempo music. This is a serious difference that simply cannot be ignored by any grocer who wants to up their sales.

You might now conclude that using slow background music is the best option at all times. However, this really depends on the characteristics of the environment. For example, in a restaurant where the objective is to maximize the number of seats turned, speeding up customers with fast background music is likely to ultimately lead to higher revenue.

The same is true for shops with a high visitor density, since this can cause people to purchase less when a shop feels too crowded. Speeding up the process causes customers to spend a little less time in the store, but it does lead to more transactions, which is again likely to increase total sales.

When it comes to tempo, then, you must determine whether your grocery store attracts a large number of shoppers at a time or a lower amount. You might even want to change the tempo of the music depending on the time of day, according to the amount of customers you have at different times of the day.


Another important factor to consider when it comes to in-store music is volume. One of the earliest studies on the effects of music on retail shoppers looked at just that. How does loud or soft in-store music impact shoppers?

In 1966, researchers Cain-Smith and Curnow specifically examined how volume affects grocery store shoppers. What they found was that loud music resulted in shoppers spending less time in the store. Soft music calmed shoppers and allowed them to spend more time examining, selecting, and ultimately purchasing products. The goal of background music is just that―it shouldn’t seek to drown out conversations or distract customers from the task at hand.

However, Another study by Yalch and Spangenberg (1988) revealed that age moderates the effects of volume: younger shoppers are more likely to spend more time shopping when music is being played in the foreground, whereas older shoppers are more likely to spend more time shopping when music is in the background.

Whether this is actually an age effect or has more to do with generational culture norms is a hard distinction to tease apart, but the fact remains: using music volume to influence consumer behavior is not a ‘one size fits all’ tactic.

Keeping it Family Friendly

Grocery stores need to be a place where everybody can feel comfortable. This means that grocery stores should make sure to play music that is family-friendly. Playing the hottest new rap track may not be the best idea for an environment where kids often accompany parents.

Simply put, the music should not be explicit. Moreover, grocery stores should also avoid religious music since there are many people for whom this type of music will not be appealing and will make the shopping experience less enjoyable.

Tailor the Music to Your Brand

While each of these factors is important in its own right, when it comes to the science behind grocery store music, genre―or the style of music―reigns supreme. While studying modes, tempo and volume can give grocery store owners and managers tons of great information, the work isn’t universally applicable―meaning that what works for one store won’t necessarily work for another if the genre doesn’t fit.

If your brand projects a high-end, leisurely image, such as a specialty wine store, the best music will integrate with that persona. It’ll likely be more classical, quieter, and low-tempo. If your grocery store aims to create a more light and casual atmosphere, on high customer, faster-paced, more popular tunes can greatly enhance the atmosphere.

For example, a 1993 study found that when classical music went head-to-head with pop music in a gourmet wine shop, classical won out. Customers bought more expensive wine with classical music, enjoying the upscale, sophisticated vibe. Keep in mind, they didn’t buy MORE wine, just more expensive wine.

The difference is (according to the study) that while genre impacts bottom lines in an impactful and measurable way, unlike the other criteria above, it doesn’t necessarily mean an increase in the number of sales, but rather in purchasing more expensive items.

Music Familiarity

In general, it is best to play music that customers are familiar with. Just as listening to songs that you know and can sing along to can make a road trip go by faster, familiar music can make perceived wait time in lines go by a lot quicker.

There is, however, a risk that playing music that is too familiar will be more cognitively demanding on customers, such that they are not able to focus on the task at hand. Fortunately, grocery shopping is not terribly cognitively demanding, so playing familiar music is likely to have a good effect.

Of course, it is important to remember that what is familiar music to one age group may not be so to another age group. If you are a grocery store that caters to young professionals and college students, you can probably safely bet that pop music will go over well.

To use the example of a specialty wine shop again, playing jazz hits or classical music may be more familiar and enjoyable to the age range shopping at your store.

Language of the Music

Even the language of background music can affect consumer behavior. For example, as North (1999) found when a supermarket played German background music, German wines outsold French wines, whereas when French background music came out of the speakers, French wines sold way better.

The Color of the Music

The ‘color of music’ may sound a little bit silly. In the end, music is an auditory sense while color is a visual sense. However, in our brains, music is often associated with visual cues.

If we ask you in what environment Ed Sheeran is likely to perform versus Marilyn Manson, we would probably agree upon the fact that while Ed Sheeran is more likely to perform in a light, open environment, Marilyn Manson would better suit a dark basement kind of environment. This has everything to do with our unconscious associations.

Our brains like it when these associations are congruent. Even so much that they drive our purchase decisions. In an experiment, a supermarket manipulated both the color of the backdrop of the banana shelf (dark versus light) and the type of music (high in treble versus high in bass).

You might be surprised by what they found! When the background of the shelf was congruent with the background music (dark and high in bass, or light and high in treble), banana sales increased. So, it is important to match the style of the background music with the design of the grocery store environment.

The Likeability of Music

It might seem obvious that stores should play music that people like. However, the issue is a little more complex than that and needs further consideration.

Music likeability has a negative influence on wait-length evaluation. People think that they are waiting longer than they actually do when they like the music they hear while in line. But music likeability has also a positive influence on the mood of people. People’s moods become better when they listen to music they like, and the better the mood, the better the overall experience.

When people think they have to wait too long, the overall experience will become more negative. Thus, music likeability has a double influence on the overall experience, a negative one on the waiting time perception and a positive one on the mood on the other hand.

When people like the music they hear in a certain environment, it has a positive influence on liking the atmosphere in that environment and the likelihood to return. The more the music was liked, the more people wanted to return to that situation. So likeability has an attractive influence on the behavior of people. If they do not like the music, they will not come back. If one likes the music that is played, they will feel more at ease and enjoy the moment.

Again, it is very important to determine who your typical customer is. Some grocery stores cater to people from all different age ranges, socioeconomic backgrounds, cultural backgrounds, and more. For these kinds of environments, a supermarket or grocery store should stick to music that might have the broadest appeal, or, to put it bluntly, the type of music that will at the very least be palatable to all.

This could mean pop hits from the 50s or 70s. On the other hand, there are grocery stores that cater to a younger clientele, and these stores might want to play some of the contemporary hits.

What Music Should You Play in Your Grocery Store?

As you can probably tell from reading this article, there is no one type of music that will best serve all grocery stores. When choosing the type of music that you are going to play, it is extremely important that you consider the type of environment that you are trying to create, as well as the clientele you are primarily serving.

Once you figure that out, you can best choose the right type of music to play in your grocery store. Of course, it is important to remember that music is just one of many factors that you can use to your advantage, and it's best to make sure that your displays fit the type of music you are playing.