Christmas background music: Just songs or sales booster?

So the Christmas season comes upon us once again and with it the tinsel gold shop decorations, the red and green sprigs of holly and festooned fir trees; all visual codes that help ensure we become attuned to the spirit (and spending pattern) of the season. 

A level of visual prompting is inevitable and often desirable but to what extent does music have a positive role to play helping businesses enjoy the most of the season? Or is it true that we are now so accustomed to the sound of carols and seasonal pop hits that the background music  for christmas has no effect? 

For some informed answers we turned to music research experts who had recently conducted a survey on the theme of Christmas music amongst several hundred consumers aged 15-54 year in the UK. 

When given a choice between Christmas shopping with or without music a remarkable 95% of consumers said they prefer shopping with in store music. Amongst this group 4 out of 10 prefer to shop where Christmas music is playing rather than music they already know and like. This starts to give us a pretty clear indication of consumer appetite for music at Christmas.

Music seemingly gets right down to the core of the enjoyment of Christmas. For 85% of people Christmas without Christmas music wouldn’t be as good and that’s because festive music operates in several powerful ways. Firstly, for three quarters of people Christmas music has a very powerful impact helping to surface strong emotions– it reminds them of happy memories.

Secondly, it’s a unifying and enjoyable experience, a mass-karaoke experience, evidenced by over 1 in 2 respondents (53%) saying they often sing along to Christmas songs  when in a pub or bar at this time of the year.

Thirdly, song research conducted for the compilation market reveals a strongly unifying affection for certain Christmas songs. As you can see in the accompanying panel the most popular Christmas song is All I Want For Christmas by Mariah Carey which is loved by an extraordinary number of people - 1 in 2 people in fact.

So at a personal level Christmas music for most people generates positive emotions and is a unifying and enjoyable experience. That’s all very well but does this impact apply in the retail world? In a word “Yes”. The research found that three quarters of respondents said that hearing Christmas songs they like when shopping gets them in a festive spirit and what ’s more nearly 1 in 4 reckon they’re more generous buying presents if Christmas music they like is being played. 

Interestingly, of those who prefer to go into a store which plays Christmas music 47% agree they do some shopping online so they’re more selective about the physical stores they visit compared to 60% of those who prefer stores playing general music they know and like. In other words, those who like Christmas music are more likely to visit more shops! 

What we conclude from this is that Christmas background music can be a powerful business tool when used properly. The research does however throw up the need to use it carefully. For example nearly 1 in 2 people questioned felt that November is too soon to start playing Christmas music in shops and bars.  Song selection should also be seriously considered given that 1 in 2 respondents interviewed stated that there are some Christmas songs they hate and which can drive them out of a shop.

The research was conducted online in October 2009 by the independent research company Entertainment Media Research Ltd

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