Background music and store personnel


In this post I will address the considerations you, as a retailer, might have to make concerning your personnel when implementing background music in your shops. There are a few pitfalls you might encounter and I will try to give you some guidelines as to how to overcome them successfully.

It is important to realize that the interest of your store personnel might differ from yours. Whereas you are trying to create the perfect retail environment, they might see music purely as entertainment. Something to help them get through the day.

I often speak with shop personnel and they almost always have a strong view on the music playing. What they often fail to realize is that it is a vital part of the retail formula. The conversation immediately turns to music taste. The employees want to hear their personal favorite music played in the shop. This is understandable. They want to create a pleasant environment for themselves as they probably have to spend eight hours a day in it.

This often results in conflict between the retail chain management and the floor personnel. Management comes up with a music strategy and implements it, but the store personnel ignore it and plug in their own iPods or switch channels. The result is a waste of money and a non-uniform image across different locations of the chain.

The solution is in the supplied information. If your employees see music as a means of entertainment to get them through the day, they are not going to subscribe to your well thought-out strategic music formula. You have to inform them and convince them of the functional character of music as a marketing tool. Let them take part in the development of the strategy so they know what the music is doing there. I encourage retail chain management to share their music strategy documents with store managers and employees, to let them see why you do what you do. If they see the necessity of your approach, they will endorse it.

Another question that often rises is about music repetition. How long should an instore music playlist be? Some argue that it does not have to be any longer than the longest visit you expect from your customers. So let’s say your customers spend a maximum of fifteen minutes in your shop. A playlist of about fifteen to twenty minutes would suffice.

The advantage here is that you can choose extremely specific music. Just those couple of tracks that perfectly represent your brand. Nothing else.

The problem is that your employees will go crazy. They will hear the same song dozens of times a day. A general rule of thumb is that the length of the workday, times three, played in random order will be enough to keep your employees from getting bored of the same old song. So if your personnel works in shifts of eight hours, you would need twentyfour hours of music, played in random order. Then still, you will have to add and delete some music at intervals to prevent boredom.

The problem that arises is that you now have a very broad, radio-like music profile. Your specific branding might suffer.

The question is, which is more important? Here are some considerations for you to make:
– The narrower your music profile, the more recognizable it can be. That specific ‘brand-X’ sound becomes more recognizable with a narrower music choice. Whether this is important depends on your brand formula.
– Extreme repetition might demotivate your employees. A motivated employee is likely to sell more.
– It is key to inform your personnel of the functional character of background music. The reason you are playing music differs vastly from the reason why any individual would. Explain that.

The ideal solution is strongly dependent on your brand DNA and retail formula. Therefore I am afraid I cannot give you a ready to use solution in this article. Just be sure to make conscious and well-informed choices and communicate them clearly to your employees.

Leave a reply


  1. TruthInSound 12 december, 2014 at 17:20 Beantwoorden

    I have another problem with the music at the second-hand store chain in which I work: The volume is kept lower at our branch than at any of the other branches within 40 miles of us! To recognize what is playing, one must stand directly under a ceiling speaker, and tilt one ear up toward it. This means the periodic discount and public service announcements programmed between songs are also hard to hear.

    I have repeatedly mentioned these facts, tactfully, to our store’s manager, and his response was “It’s fine the way it is”, or, “Good, I hate what they play, and those dopey announcements promoting our mission in between songs”. ????

    Now that the holidays are here, the system playing our music BLASTS the Christmas songs, yet plays the regular pop-rock stuff at the usual, inaudible level. Now granted, I’ve shopped at our other branches, and one in particular has their volume set to almost EAR-SPLITTING’, but If I could just geet our boss to agree on something in between: not as loud as those other stores, but a hair louder than where it is set now.

    He did say our music is fed by the internet, so I know the BLASTING Christmas songs is a programmed function of the computer software playing it. The system is behind locked doors, but If I could get access to it I’d have sanity restored to those settings, plus, hearing some of my favorites would make my work day melt away. 🙂

  2. Thomas van Straaten 16 december, 2014 at 08:04 Beantwoorden

    Thanks for sharing your experience!
    Too bad your boss does not understand the potential power of music. Perhaps you should be the store manager!
    Indeed, there is a sweet spot for music loudness based on the kind of store. The volume you describe is indeed way too low. If your boss feels this way about his music, perhaps he should get an expert involved to help you guys find some more suitable music. Terrible waste of money to have commercials produced and not have them play back at audible level as well.
    Maybe share Triggerpulling with the boss? 😉
    Best of luck to you!

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