The Effects of Music in a Retail Setting on Real and Perceived Shopping Times

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The Effects of Music in a Retail Setting on Real and Perceived Shopping Times


This article extends research linking shopping behavior to environmental factors through changes in emotional states. With time fixed or variable during a simulated shopping experiment, shoppers were exposed to music varying by degree of familiarity. Afterward, subjects reported their percep- tions of shopping duration, their emotional states, and their merchandise evaluations. Analyses revealed that individuals reported themselves as shopping longer when exposed to familiar music but actually shopped longer when exposed to unfamiliar music. Shorter actual shopping times in the familiar music condition were related to increased arousal. Longer perceived shopping times in the familiar music condition appear related to unmeasured cognitive factors. Although emotional states affected product evaluations, these effects were not directly related to the music manipulations.


The results of this study support the belief that shopping time is affected by a retail environmental factor like store music. Individuals who had a choice as to the duration of their shopping experience shopped longer when listening to less familiar music compared with more familiar music.

Individuals reported being less aroused while listening to the unfamiliar music compared with the familiar music. Once the effect of arousal on shopping times was considered, other reactions to music familiarity (either measured or unmeasured) did not have an effect on actual shopping times.

The effects of familiar and unfamiliar music were very different when perceived rather than actual shopping times were considered. When total shopping time was controlled, individuals reported shopping for a longer time when they had been exposed to the less familiar background music compared with the familiar foreground music. This effect was not mediated by the emotional response measures, suggesting that it might reflect cognitive rather than emotional reactions.

The results of this research revealed that environmental music affected product evaluations in a less clear way than shopping times. In the fixed time condition, products were evaluated higher when subjects were exposed to familiar compared with unfamiliar music. However, when time was not controlled, music had no effect on product evaluations. Although product evaluations were positively related to the pleasure measures and negatively related to arousal, these emotional relationships could not be related to the music manipulations. For example, in the fixed time condition, subjects reported higher product evaluations but lower pleasure ratings when listening to familiar music


How to conduct similar music research for your brand



Focus on how much time consumers choose to spend shopping as a function of the type of music played in the store.

  • A 2 x 2 factorial experiment was conducted to determine how time spent shopping might be affected by the type of music being played in the environment.
  • Half heard familiar “contemporary” music, and the other half heard unfamiliar “easy listening” music.
  • Half the subjects were given a fixed amount of time to shop whereas the other half could shop as long as they wanted.
  • Subjects entered a classroom set up to appear like a clothing store.
  • Each subject completed a questionnaire while examining three items they chose from those on display. Half of the subjects were given a fixed amount of time, 11 min, to complete the task. The other half had an unlimited amount of time.
  • Two tapes were provided by a national supplier of environmental music. One tape consisted of familiar music, mostly top 40 songs designed to appeal to college- aged individuals. The other tape was unfamiliar (to our subjects) music, older songs played in an instrumental form. Although songs on the unfamiliar music tape were less well known to subjects, it was still likely that they would find it enjoyable as this music was designed by the providing firm to appeal to a broad cross-section of the population. Thus, it was expected that subjects would express little or no difference in liking for the two types of music; only differences in familiarity should be found.





Product evaluations
Seven bipolar adjective scales consisting of items like lowest performance/ highest performance and not at all stylish/very stylish.

Emotional state (PAD)
17 bipolar adjective scales adaptive from Donovan and Russell’s (Donovan and Rossiter, 1982). Relaxed/stimulated, annoyed/pleased, free/restricted, and wide awake/sleepy.

Perceived shopping time
Horizontal line with markings at various time intervals.

Actual shopping time
Clocking time.

Upon entering the simulated shopping area, subjects received a shopping booklet that included an eight-page questionnaire. After reading a cover sheet describing the task as an evaluation of several proposed new types of outdoor equipment and clothing from a local manufacturer, subjects answered two pages of background questions related to subjects’ experience and interest in outdoor activities. This was largely used to disguise the study as concerning outdoor products. The next three pages were identical and provided evaluation questions for three of the items on display. Subjects were instructed to assume that they were shopping for outdoor equipment and to select items of interest. The subjects wrote the name of the item at the top and evaluated it on seven bipolar adjective scales. In addition, subjects indicated their likelihood of buy- ing the item, what they thought was an appropriate price, and the maximum price they would pay. Finally, they were provided with several blank lines and encouraged to write down any other thoughts that they might have. This was intended to encourage additional scrutiny of the items and provide an opportunity for shoppers to expand or shorten the task.

Subjects informed the experimenter when they had completed their shopping experience. At this point, they estimated the amount of time they had spent doing their product evaluations by marking an “X” on a dashed line with 60 dashes and points marked at 0, 5, 10, 15, and 20 minutes. The next to last page of the questionnaire consisted of a series of bipolar adjectives assessing the emotional responses (PAD) of the subjects to the simulated retail environment. The last page had several scales to determine the subjects’ reactions to the room (sense of being crowded or not, temperature, lighting) and the music (liked/disliked and usually listened to/rarely listened to). These scales were used to test the construct validity of the music manipulation. Debriefing occurred after all groups had participated.