Why Is Grocery Store Music so Intrusive?

It's pervasive, often loud, and uptempo. But does it work?

Posted Jul 06, 2019

Patricia Prijatel
Source: Patricia Prijatel

Loud music encourages consumers to buy red meat. How perfect a metaphor is that for the intrusive nature of music in our grocery stores? It’s literally a red meat issue. Store managers want us to buy more, and they think music is helping.

But if you’re interested in buying veggies and other healthy foods, you’re more likely to be motivated by quiet tunes in the background. And classical music? It makes you choose more expensive bottles of wine.

Loud music also sends you out of the store faster, while soft music is calming and allows you to ponder, select, and ultimately buy more. Likewise, store purchases increase with slow music, while faster tunes encourage us to skip impulse items and get out the door.

Why, then, is grocery store music often so loud and fast? Why does the health food store have rap music, for heaven’s sake? Or pop tunes cranked so high you can barely hear the rutabagas speak?

Grocery chains generally subscribe to music services that allow them to target their specific audience and to curate their music accordingly. A younger audience gets faster, louder music. An older demographic—the wine shoppers—may get classical. (Or, they may just get ignored.)

Music choices are difficult for a big box store that caters to all ages and sells red meat, veggies, and wine. Some experts suggest stores play tunes based on the time of day—quiet to begin with, louder as the day progresses, assuming that their clientele gets younger as the day gets older. And some marketers advise big stores to pipe in different music to different parts of the store.

It’s less clear why smaller health food stores would not comprehend that their music is running counter to their interests.

Why have music at all? It's a bit of white noise to break up the chaos elsewhere, and perhaps blunt the high-decibel conversation of the guy in the next aisle who can't find the sliced peaches without his wife's help on his phone. Silence can feel stark because we're so unaccustomed to it.

But given that we are all so plugged into our own devices, why not just shut the loudspeakers off and let those of us who prefer silence shop in peace? That would put a lot of music services out of business, so let's not plan on that happening just yet. 

Music a good thing, but like all noises, it needs to be managed. Too much, too loud, too jarring makes us edgy, and once we've bought our red meat, the effect remains, perhaps to the detriment of the rest of our shopping experience. Music is generic, but blasting it over a loudspeaker denies that fact.

The bottom line of music choice, though, is that it's left to the management of the store. And that means the final decision is in the hands of employees who have to listen to music all day long. That 26-year-old assistant manager who is in charge on Saturday is selecting music that helps his day go faster.

Plus, he likes it, so he assumes you do too.

If you don't, you can go somewhere else and listen to another store's annoying music.