Jingles sell, jingles sell, swindle all the way
Here’s why you can’t go shopping without hearing those ubiquitous Christmas songs as early as November
Less than a month until the big day, Christmas music is everywhere ... and, like most people, you probably feel it’s been around too long already.
Surveys in America, Canada and the UK suggest that at least half of all Christmas shoppers believe November to be too early to start playing festive music, with one in three dreading the first blast of I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday.
Why do shops subject us to their yuletide playlists?
In 1973, Philip Kotler at Northwestern University coined the term “retail atmospherics”, the sounds, sights and scents in a shop, which – along with goods and quality of service – make up the shopping experience. Kotler claimed customers made purchasing decisions based not just on the product they were seeking, but on atmospherics as well.
Music is particularly powerful because it appeals directly to our emotions, often causing us to bypass rationality when making purchasing decisions.
Richard Michon at Ryerson University, Toronto, found that if customers heard music they liked while shopping, they rated the service more highly and tended to spend more. Charles Areni and David Kim at Texas Tech observed that customers in a wine shop spent more when it piped classical music, rather than the Top 40.
Eric Spangenberg at the University of Washington found Christmas music had a particularly positive effect on our evaluation of a shop if it was combined with ambient Christmas scents.
Nevertheless, playing Christmas music – however close to December 25 – is not without risk. If the music is too loud, shoppers express irritation, as Michael Walsh at the University of Canberra found. If songs are repeated too often, they become fed up, as Victoria Williamson’s studies on music appreciation show. And if a Christmas song is well loved, but the version is unfamiliar or played in a way the customer dislikes, it will do more than irritate: customers may leave before making a single purchase.
Managers would be wise, therefore, to do their homework before playing Christmas music. A festive playlist of songs likely to appeal to target customers will be best received (a local supermarket might be better off with the Carpenters’ Christmas Collection, rather than the We Wish You a Metal Xmas compilation), especially when piped across a store at an appropriate volume. Anything else may result in a drop in seasonal sales – and, if the music really irritates, a loss of valued regular customers.
Finally, what can you do if you’re on the receiving end of unwanted Christmas music and it’s getting on your nerves? Start by complaining constructively. Nowadays, most shops have a prominent customer service desk, as part of their ongoing battle with online shopping. Tell them what you would prefer, as well as what you don’t like.
But if you have little choice but to do your shopping as Mariah Carey warbles that all she wants for Christmas is yooooou ... you can always wear earplugs.
– © Telegraph Media Company Limited