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Shopping soundtracks: evaluating

the musicscape using
introspective data
Steve Oakes and Anthony Patterson
Management School, University of Liverpool, Liverpool, UK, and

Helen Oakes
Keele Management School, Keele University, Keele, UK


Received 5 January 2012
Revised 17 May 2012
Accepted 30 July 2012

Purpose Despite the relatively low cultural status of department store music, it is proposed that
music the shopping soundtrack is capable of transforming perceptions of the environment in
which it is heard, and eliciting immediate emotional and behavioural responses, thus underlining the
influence of music, regardless of whether it is passively heard as a background element or actively
listened to as a live performance in a dedicated venue.
Design/methodology/approach This study addresses a gap in the marketing literature for
introspective research evaluating the experience of music in service environments. It draws upon
auto-ethnographic data through which participants ponder their own consumption experience and
provide detailed, subjective accounts of events and memories.
Findings When considering the effects of music upon emotional, cognitive and behavioural
responses, it highlights the importance of musicscape response moderators.
Practical implications The service environment appears more exciting and attractive and
may encourage increased spending when background music is congruous with other
servicescape elements. Music with positive autobiographical resonance elicits pleasurably
nostalgic emotions, positive evaluations and longer stay. However, the aural incongruity of
unexpected silence in music-free zones produces feelings of discomfort leading to negative store
evaluation and departure.
Originality/value Qualitative data are deliberately represented using typically positivist discourse
to encourage resolution of the inherent tension between interpretivist and positivist perspectives and
stimulate increased methodological integration (e.g. through future studies of music combining
quantitative and qualitative data).
Keywords Music, Servicescape, Musicscape, Memory, Introspection, Department stores,
Consumer behaviour
Paper type Research Paper

While previous arts marketing research frequently considers the value of live music
(e.g. Homan, 2011) and designated music venues (e.g. Kronenburg, 2011), the current
paper examines shopping soundtracks, specifically the pre-recorded music heard
within a department store. Despite the relatively low cultural status of the latter form
of music, it is proposed that all music is capable of transforming perceptions of the
environment in which it is heard, and eliciting immediate emotional and behavioural
responses, regardless of whether it is passively heard as a background element or
actively listened to as a live performance in a dedicated venue (Oakes and Warnaby,
The authors gratefully acknowledge the helpful comments of Stephen Brown (University
of Ulster) and Alan Bradshaw (Royal Holloway University of London) in earlier versions of
the manuscript.

Arts Marketing: An International

Vol. 3 No. 1, 2013
pp. 41-57
r Emerald Group Publishing Limited
DOI 10.1108/20442081311327156



2011). While Bradshaw and Holbrook (2008) identify background store music
as an example of culture that has become degraded by marketers as a means of
social control, previous research also questions the automatic categorisation and
privileging of high art over low art (e.g. Visconti et al., 2010; Oakes and Warnaby,
2011; Oakes and Oakes, 2012).
Consequently, this study examines the consumer experience of music within
different retail zones of a department store. Such research is valuable because
music contributes crucially to environmental aesthetics and is regularly used to
make shopping environments more attractive to consumers. Kotler (1973) introduces
the concept of atmospherics (including sound) as a controlled marketing tool.
Bitner (1992) develops this theme by introducing the servicescape concept
highlighting music as one of a range of physical environment dimensions (e.g.
temperature, air quality and scent) that impact upon cognitive, affective and
behavioural responses of consumers and employees within service environments.
While music is a key component of the servicescape, the specific influence of
music upon consumers is identified in various reviews of quantitative studies
examining the impact of the musicscape (e.g. Oakes and North, 2008). In contrast,
the current study involves introspective research and considers music more
holistically within the context of the entire consumer shopping experience including
exposure to the full range of servicescape elements and personal interactions with
employees and other customers.
This paper acknowledges the need to expand upon the literature that examines
how music may be used to influence consumers in commercial environments. The
subjectivity and autobiographical complexity of consumer response to music illustrate
the narrow perspective of many studies regarding music as merely the functional
and convenient servant of commercial calculation capable of eliciting predictable
responses from consumers. The paper complements existing studies by highlighting
unpredictably subjective rather than predictably objective responses to music.
While there is a paucity of literature that seeks to evaluate the experience of music in
service environments using qualitative data, two of the studies that adopt such
an approach place more emphasis on the managerial perspective. For example,
Areni (2003) uses unstructured telephone interviews with restaurant and bar
managers to explore their perceptions of how music impacts upon consumer
behaviour, while Grayson and McNeill (2009) use in-depth interviews with bar
managers and conduct consumer focus groups to assess the perceived importance of
various atmospheric elements including music. DeNora and Belcher (2000) conduct
ethnographic research involving retail managers and shoppers to assess the impact of
music upon retail consumer behaviour, while Beverland et al. (2006) carry out
20 in-depth consumer interviews, highlighting the impact of musical fit upon brand
However, the overwhelming majority of studies that frame the field are quantitative.
These studies frequently tend to study isolated musical components such as tempo
(e.g. Mattila and Wirtz, 2001; Oakes, 2003b), genre (e.g. Baker et al., 1992; Grewal et al.,
2003) and volume (e.g. Yalch and Spangenberg, 1993). In order to comprehend the
shopping experience through the eyes and ears of consumers, the interpretive nature
of the current study is designed to gain vicarious access to the rich phenomenology of
their perceptions, experiences and memories. In order to encourage identification
of unanticipated themes whose marketing significance may have been overlooked or
only partially addressed by the extant literature, participants in the current study were

not briefed specifically to include their responses to music. Various themes emerged
that have received minimal attention in the literature:

sensory congruity;

music and autobiographical memory; and

music and silence.

Introductions to these three themes appear in a brief literature review preceding

presentation and analysis of introspective data provided by participants visiting a
retail department store.
Music and congruity with other servicescape elements
The overwhelming majority of studies examining music in service environments are
quantitative and typically dissect and manipulate the structural components of music
in order to measure and generalise the effects of variables such as tempo (e.g. Oakes,
2003b) and volume (e.g. Yalch and Spangenberg, 1993). Such variables are well suited
to quantitative research as volume can be quantifiably measured in decibels, while
tempo can be measured using a metronome to monitor the number of beats per minute
(Oakes and North, 2006). Most empirical studies focus on single servicescape elements
rather than attempting to incorporate effects of more than one servicescape
element (Harris and Ezeh, 2008). Millimans (1982, 1986) papers are by far the most
frequently cited studies in the field. After altering the tempo of background music
in a supermarket, Milliman (1982) reports increased sales when slow-tempo rather
than fast-tempo music is played, attributing higher sales to shoppers moving slower,
shopping longer and increasing impulse purchases. However, a replica study
controlling for interactive effects reveals no significant findings (Herrington and
Capella, 1996). While the Milliman studies are criticised for ignoring interactive
effects between tempo and other servicescape variables that may confound results
(Kellaris and Kent, 1991), such conflicting evidence from quantitative studies may
also be attributable to musicscape response moderators (e.g. differences in the
autobiographical resonance of music used in different studies).
Music and autobiographical memory
Pine and Gilmore (1998) underline the importance of designing retail experiences for
consumers incorporating a range of stimuli including music, although music may
unintentionally trigger extremely personal memories that colour evaluation of the
entire retail experience. People consume music symbolically in order to construct and
present their identity (Larsen et al., 2010), but also to recapture memories associated
with the music. Ethnographic research reveals how personal stereo music aids
consumers in their construction of boundaries around the self, and as the site of
fantasy and memory (Bull, 2006, p. 2), allowing them to access an autobiographical
memory bank of significant narratives (Bull, 2006, p. 24) and recreate the feelings
and sensations of whatever their memory conjures up (Bull, 2006, p. 188). Likewise,
Hesmondhalgh (2008) reveals how music brings back powerful memories for
participants and acts as a repository for memory. However, he suggests that such
memories may be unreliable, perhaps through romanticisation of relationships that were
actually inherently ambivalent. Consumers may evoke the past through a nostalgic lens
or by imagining what they never actually experienced.
Baumgartners (1992) quantitative study reveals how participants experience
situations where a piece of music has become associated with an episode from their





lives. When hearing the music again, memories of the original episode are evoked. He
argues that if some pieces of background advertising music trigger autobiographical
memories, implications for subsequent attitude to the ad and brand are likely.
However, when episodes of memory are evoked by music, the evoked emotion may
not correspond to the emotional intent of the composer. For example, a happy piece of
music may remind someone of a sad memory in the past, thus eliciting a sad mood.
DeNora (2000) discusses how music (like scent) has the potential to make the past come
alive, while Krishna et al. (2010) highlight the relationship between product scent
and memory. Brown (2005) suggests that novels can provide a rich insight into the
mind of the consumer. Just as characters in Virginia Woolf novels experience
moments of being with triggered memory flashbacks eliciting sensations more real
than the present moment, the following passage from a famous Marcel Proust novel
underlines the evocative potential of sensory perception, highlighting how the taste of
a piece of madeleine facilitates vivid recollection of the building in which the taste
was first experienced along with the emotions originally experienced:
As soon as I had recognised the taste of the piece of madeleine soaked in her decoction of
lime-blossom which my aunt used to give me (although I did not yet know and must long
postpone the discovery of why this memory made me so happy), immediately the old grey
house upon the street, where her room was, rose up like a stage (Proust, 1996, p. 54).

Likewise, previous auto-ethnographic research (Holbrook and Schindler, 2003) reveals

how a perfume smell evoked memories of an early romantic encounter. Comparable
responses arise when a piece of music triggers memories of events in earlier life that
become inextricably associated with the music, such as the association of a song with a
romantic first date. For example, actress Kristin Scott-Thomas first heard the Miles
Davis album Kind of Blue during a car trip with her future husband, revealing when
I hear it, it reminds me of the smell of old leather and being tremendously in love and
going to the seaside (Williams, 2009, p. 9). When considering music as a memory
enhancer in patients with Alzheimers disease, Simmons-Stern et al. (2010) highlight
empirical research showing the autobiographical memory recall benefits of listening to
music. Anecdotal and empirical examples of this nature suggest a need for research
that gains access to the richness of consumer perceptions, experiences and memories
triggered by music heard in commercial environments.
MacInnis and Whan Park (1991) define indexicality as the extent to which
music may trigger memories of previous emotion-laden experiences, such that
high-indexicality music induces the strongest emotions tied to memories of past
experience. Indexicality identifies how music emotionally resonates with positive or
negative memories through association with an extramusical object so that emotions
previously associated with the extramusical object come to be associated with the
music (Dowling and Harwood, 1986, p. 204). Music thus becomes a conditioned
stimulus with emotions as the conditioned response. In this context, music is culturally
ubiquitous, capable of becoming inextricably intertwined with passages of our lives,
thereby contributing to self-identity and the perception of others (Sloboda and ONeill,
2001). Pieces of music are able to attach themselves to memories and emotions felt
during specific life episodes, and even when heard many years after the original event,
the music can unleash autobiographical memories or emotions in a trickle or a torrent
depending upon its indexicality. A song may recapture memories of a dance at which
thrilling, exciting emotions were deeply felt, or perhaps elicit the frustrating memories
of social awkwardness and unrequited love. While there is vast anecdotal evidence of

the power of music to evoke such memories, little empirical research in the retail or
service environment literature documents how hearing a piece of music from ones past
may trigger these memories and associated emotions.
Janata et al. (2007) show how popular songs evoke such autobiographical memories
and reveal episodic life narratives associated with individual pieces in which music
helps shape the emerging life story, particularly during adolescent relationships.
They suggest how hearing a piece of music that typically represents a particular genre
(even using unfamiliar songs) may be enough to elicit autobiographical associations
and memories. However, since psychological research by Schulkind et al. (1999) reports
that popular songs do not spontaneously trigger many memories of specific events
from peoples lives, introspective data in the current study may provide further insight
into such apparently conflicting quantitative findings.
Music and silence
Bull (2006, p. 26) reveals how personal stereo users feel isolated by silence, frequently
referring to feelings of unease when there is nothing but natural sound, unadorned
around them. Beverland et al. (2006, p. 987) show how in-store music that is too quiet
imposes an undesired obligation to interact with sales staff, while Olsen (1995) reports
increased spoken content recall when ads with music cut to unexpected silence.
Such findings indicate a need for further research into the experience of unexpected
silence in retail and service environments, and suggest that consumers are likely to try
to evaluate the purpose of silence or music in different store zones. The use of silence
in an environment where sound is normally expected has a musical precedent.
For example, avant-garde composer John Cage challenged musical conventions and
shocked concert audiences with his composition entitled 4 33 in which musicians
sit in silence for the allotted time of 4 minutes and 33 seconds. Cage argues that
unexpected absence of music is capable of eliciting an emotional response. Indeed,
musical presence or absence may be imbued with meaning depending upon the social
and cultural context (Hargreaves et al., 2005), thus reinforcing the recognition that
music exists within silence (Williams, 2009, p. 258).
The current study draws upon an extensive collection of auto-ethnographic data
written by 232 student participants aged 18-20 visiting a UK department store for
course credit. All of their comments on music were extracted and analysed and the
ones most pertinent to the research questions have been included in this paper.
The student segment was selected since Holbrook and Schindler (1989) reveal how
consumers sensitivity to pop music peaks in the early 20s age band. Indeed, bonds
with individual pieces of music that can last a lifetime may be created, thus explaining
why many organisations attempt to attract older consumers by playing chart hits from
the era when such consumers were aged approximately 20. However, it is interesting
to consider the extent to which music may also trigger autobiographical memories
in young people. Consequently, participants in this age band pondered their own
consumption experience and described their responses in an extended introspective
essay (e.g. Patterson 2012). The current research highlights the value of subjective
personal introspection in accessing participant life experiences as data, and adopts
a guided introspection approach (Wallendorf and Brucks, 1993; Woodside, 2004) by
encouraging written accounts of reflective introspection on the shopping experience. In
discussing the five categories of introspection proposed by Wallendorf and Brucks





(1993), Emile (2011) suggests that guided introspection offers considerable future
potential (p. 195) and has been well received and applied in the literature (p. 197).
Woodside (2006, p. 269) argues that the future is bright and the possibilities are
profound for advancing SPI (subjective personal introspection) in consumer research.
Gould (2006, p. 69) further highlights the value of introspection since without
considering the introspective, meditative, and meta-cognitive aspects of consciousness
and mind, how can we understand spirituality, consumption, or any other phenomenon?
In auto-ethnographic studies, a reflexive narrative transmits subjective experience
as data for analysis by including accounts of events and memories that become
the primary rhetorical device to engage and persuade the reader (Hackley, 2007).
Rather than measuring quantitative constructs such as customer satisfaction through
a cumulative tally of positive and negative responses (Patterson et al., 2008), subjective
personal introspection aims to discover personal experience unknowable to anyone
else (Stern, 2000, p. 72). Participants were encouraged to comment on any aspect of
their browsing and shopping experience including their personal responses to the store
environment, but were not asked specifically to comment on music.
Previous relevant quantitative studies (as well as the small number of relevant
qualitative studies) have prompted participants with questions concerning music.
For example, while the in-depth interview data of Beverland et al. (2006) is prompted
by specific questions about music based upon what the interviewer considers to
be important, the current research includes no reference to music in the brief.
Consequently, unsolicited references to the impact of music in the store environment
are unconstrained by any interviewer preconceptions. Furthermore, participant
disclosure of personalised, emotional responses to music is not inhibited by face-to-face
spoken interaction that requires immediate response to questions from an unfamiliar
interviewer. In contrast, introspective data allow the opportunity for considered
reflection and is more likely to generate coherent, analytical organisation of that
wonderful, if messy stew of memories, emotions, thoughts and other cognitive
processes (Zaltman, 2003, p. 9) which characterises pre-reflective experience. Therefore,
the current introspective research is able to draw upon deep-seated, personalised
memories of emotions, thoughts, events and contexts referring back to when the music
was originally heard outside of the store environment, acknowledging that such
memories may influence subsequent responses to a store environment in which the music
is later heard. In contrast, previous research (e.g. Beverland et al., 2006) focuses only upon
direct responses to retail environment music and does not elicit disclosure of the musics
prior autobiographical associations outside of the immediate store context. Indeed, while
the use of questions may create as well as measure attitudes, and may exclude data
collection of most thoughts (Woodside, 2004), introspection is likely to be a particularly
effective method of data collection to access milestone musical memories that may
consciously or unconsciously influence consumer responses to a store environment.
This exploratory study clarifies key themes regarding introspective responses to the
musicscape and establishes priorities for further research. These themes could be used to
generate hypotheses for testing in larger scale studies or utilised as part of further
holistic, phenomenological analyses.
Auto-ethnographic data
In total, 451 pages of auto-ethnographic text were collected. Consistent with previous
research (Holbrook and Schindler, 2003), the auto-ethnographic text was treated as a
collective essay involving multiple participants from which different themes could be

drawn up. The paper was motivated by an overarching exploratory research question
seeking to enhance our understanding of the effects of music upon emotional, cognitive
and behavioural responses using auto-ethnographic data. In seeking to address
this research question, the analysis process involved various stages. First, the authors
of this paper read each auto-ethnography separately. Sections of the written
introspections that related to the experience of music in service environments were
extracted and pasted into separate files. Second, the emergent themes were grouped
together and preliminary categorisation of these themes was made on a paragraphby-paragraph basis guided by literatures from cognitive psychology, phenomenology
and the writings of Proust. The authors subsequently settled on a final choice of
themes and selected introspective extracts to illustrate each of them. The three
themes that emerged through this process relate to the effects of musical congruity
with other sensory elements, music and autobiographical congruity, and the
incongruous absence of music.
Sensory congruity
The following extract identifies the benefits of high levels of sensory congruity
between music and other servicescape elements resulting in increased arousal,
excitement and purchase activity:
I entered through the electric door. The warm air hit me and I felt I was entering a controlled
environment. The light, the air, the music, it was an environment perfectly designed for
spending, heightening the senses, exciting the brain with colour and choice, and helping me
open my wallet (Male aged 19).

The content reflects previous research by Baker et al. (1992) revealing increased
willingness to buy with musical genre/lighting congruity, and also acknowledges
Spangenberg et al. (2005) who report enhanced store attitude, intention to visit and
evaluation of the environment with musical genre/scent congruity. However, such
findings are built upon by highlighting multiple servicescape interactive effects involving
music, temperature, lighting, air quality and colour. Nevertheless, the comments of the
following participant indicate that congruity between different servicescape elements is
only likely to be effective with appropriate target age band segments:
I immediately see the huge sign sizes 16-18. This floor is targeted at older women. There are
little old ladies everywhere bumping into old friends they havent seen for ages. I notice the
more classic decoration on this floor, more wood and deep brown colours. I can hear the faint
sound of Classic Gold radio station playing in the background (Female aged 18).

This participant has ventured into a realm that is unappealing to her because the
servicescape elements are targeted at older women. This demarcation is highlighted by
the huge sign that would be evident from a distance, even to the most myopic mature
shopper. Classic Gold radio station music conveys the zonal and intrinsically ageist
nature of the shopping experience, reinforced by visually congruous classical
decoration and mature colour schemes. Response to the music blends with responses
to visual servicescape elements (signage, decor and colours):
I didnt spend time looking at the confectionery stands on this floor as the items werent to my
taste. One thing I thought a bit strange was that the same sort of dance chart music played on
the previous floor was also playing on this floor. I thought more appropriate music for the
calmer surroundings would have been better suited (Male aged 20).

Modern department stores may be regarded as secular cathedrals of consumption

where members of the community come to practise sacred shopping rituals





(Kozinets et al., 2004). The previous passage reveals how even musical genres that are
generally liked are considered to be incongruous in some contexts. This participant
believes that fashionable dance music should be played within the exclusive domain
of store zones selling fashionable clothing targeted at young adults. Since the
confectionery stands target children and adults of all ages, playing dance music here
is perceived to undermine the genres exclusivity. Dance music demarcates zones of
sacred consumption for young adults involving their purchase of fashionable
accessories. The music becomes incongruous and loses value when used in a context
of profane consumption involving ordinary, everyday products that do not share the
reverence attached to sacred ones. The sacred music itself becomes contaminated in
attributing sacred qualities to mundane objects, and appears incongruous with the
calmer servicescape elements.
Music and autobiographical congruity
Data collected in the current study suggest that music with autobiographical
resonance heard in retail environments is capable of eliciting powerful memories
accompanied by the original emotions. Sloboda and Juslin (2004) argue that sources
of emotion in music may be intrinsic because they are caused by the structural
characteristics of music (e.g. tempo and volume). However, sources of emotion may also
be extrinsic because their primary reference point is outside the music, involving
relationships between the music and other non-musical factors. As demonstrated in
the following two extracts, a piece of music may trigger autobiographical memories
of events in earlier life that have become inextricably associated with the music.
The extracts show how nostalgic pleasure appears to enhance store evaluation and
increase the likelihood of staying longer:
This music takes me back to the first time I went to France. Its a pleasant environment and
makes me stay and listen (Female aged 19).
I start reminiscing of a fun fair of all places as dance classic Music sounds better with you
by Stardust comes on. It makes the store seem brighter and makes me feel like staying here
(Male aged 19).

The concept of indexicality (MacInnis and Whan Park, 1991) suggests that music can
evoke autobiographical, emotion-laden experiences and associations from the listeners
past, with subsequent transfer of this positive or negative emotion to evaluation of any
environment in which the music is heard:
The song brought back memories of the Whitley Bay times my hometown where the song
was in all the bars, and me and my best friend Amy would like look out for the hot guys with
the hope that theyd come over and talk to us. They never did (Female aged 19).

This heartfelt extract provides an example of how music may stimulate memories.
In conjuring up the original hometown experience and emotions, the past comes
alive to its soundtrack (DeNora, 2000, p. 67). This reconfiguring of a musical past in
the unfamiliar surroundings of a previously unvisited retail environment may make
the store appear more familiar and reassuring. However, the memories of
disappointment are still strongly associated with the music, and such negativity
may influence perceptions of the store environment. Although quantitative research
establishes the positive impact of carefully selected musical tempo (Oakes, 2003b) and
genre (Spangenberg et al., 2005) upon perceived service environments, autobiographical
memories associated with music may be positive or negative, thus potentially overriding

its intended impact and underlining the unpredictability of consumer response

to music. The discussed extracts involve participants responding powerfully to music
originally heard when they were much younger. This suggests that consumers
sensitively internalise and emotionally bond with music at a younger age than the
early 20s age band previously suggested (Holbrook and Schindler, 1989):
The upbeat rhythm of a scouse house track invades my ears and reminds me of the first club
I ever went to in Liverpool by mistake (Male aged 19).

In this extract, music evokes the memory of an initial experience of club culture in an
unfamiliar city. Although the details remain unstated, the experience was probably
negative. Use of the verb invades suggests that feelings of insecurity and threat
may be transferred from the original club encounter to the current retail experience.
This potential outcome is supported by advertising research (e.g. Blair and Shimp,
1992) revealing how music associated with an unpleasant experience lowers
brand evaluation through transfer of affect. In this context, the music triggers recall
and subsequent emotions, perhaps suggesting that the participant may be likely to
limit his stay or even depart immediately. Although retailers may choose a genre of
music that is generally liked by the demographic segment they are targeting, they
cannot account for the potentially negative associations that a song or genre may
have for particular individuals. Furthermore, consumers respond to individual
and collective elements of the servicescape that embrace a range of aural, visual,
olfactory and tactile sensory experiences, any of which may be capable of triggering
autobiographical memories.
Incongruous absence of music
Managers may wish to create zones of their store in which the background music is
less discriminating and more inclusive. They may also seek to ensure that some zones
are not contaminated by music that triggers unpleasant memories. To ensure such
neutrality, managers may decide to introduce more silent zones within the store.
However, such a decision may be problematic if consumers are surprised by the
incongruous absence of music. The following extract highlights the discomforting
feelings caused by the unexpected absence of the security blanket of background
music in a retail environment:
The atmosphere downstairs was an eerie one to say the least. There was no music on and the
silence felt very intimidating and uncomfortable (Female aged 18).

In silent areas of the store, the unexpected absence of music and people can create
feelings of insecurity, isolation and threat. Such feelings could potentially result in a
consumers rapid departure from this zone of the store:
I can no longer hear the music from the previous floor as the atmosphere is deadly quiet.
There is also a different smell, slightly flowery. I feel instantly uncomfortable in the situation
and decide to pass through quickly (Female aged 19).

In the extract above, the term deadly quiet suggests that the participant feels
threatened by the silence. This deadliness is intensified by a strange flowery scent,
perhaps evoking images of funeral wreaths. The olfactory element of the servicescape
becomes unpleasant in this context. Unsurprisingly, the visit to this zone of the store is
rapidly aborted. Just as audience members walked out during the world premiere of
John Cages previously discussed silent composition, the following extracts reveal how




feelings elicited by an unexpected absence of music could potentially result in a

consumers departure from a store zone:
I jumped off and walked round the corner to menswear. I felt pretty surprised when I got there
as it was nothing like what I had imagined. It was very quiet with no music and there was
barely a soul in sight (Male aged 19).


Once I was actually in a changing room, I noticed there was no music playing. It was dead
silent and kind of eerie, making me want to leave (Female aged 19).

Studies suggest that music can shape perceptions of identity and self-image
(e.g. Oakes and North, 2008), but in a store zone devoid of musical signposting,
the concept of self-identity may be disconcertingly eroded due to a lack of confirmatory
musical evidence. The following extract acknowledges awareness that music
is used as a means of communication between seller and consumer, directing the
pace and direction of their movements within a store. Absence of music is somehow
Im used to having my attention grabbed in all directions. However, it is in hibernation in this
store. Then I realise there is no music playing, no infectious pop song to get me motivated,
nothing to quicken my pace, no rhythm to flick the rails with (Female aged 18).

In the next extract, feelings of insecurity due to the lack of background sound are
compounded because even the television sets are silently transmitting images without
words or music:
I went straight down to the basement. It seemed like the forgotten world down here.
A few of the TVs were showing Neighbours but there was no sound. I think I would have
preferred Radio City than this silence; its always nice to have a bit of background noise
(Female aged 19).

Likewise, the following participant feels more comfortable having escaped from
the threatening and potentially embarrassing conspicuousness of the silent zone of the
store. Affective responses are enhanced in the presence of music and likelihood of
purchasing items is increased:
The music was louder and mood elating which can sometimes provoke buying things.
It wasnt as intense as downstairs, where I felt that dropping a shoe would resonate,
attracting the attention of the surrounding people, which consisted largely of employees
(Female aged 20).

The findings address a gap in the marketing literature for introspective research
evaluating the underlying emotions and thoughts of consumers responding to
shopping soundtracks in service environments. Although participants were not
asked specifically to comment on their engagement with the music, preliminary
evaluation of the data revealed a considerable number of comments relating to music,
thus indicating its potential impact as part of the overall shopping experience. Figure 1
highlights findings from the introspective data and reveals how emotional responses,
cognitive evaluation and behavioural outcomes may be elicited by the intrinsic,
individual effects of structural musical variables such as tempo (e.g. Oakes, 2003b) or
volume (e.g. Yalch and Spangenberg, 1993), as well as through the complex, interactive
effects of numerous structural musical variables. In addition, associational effects of
music may be attributable to its stereotypical relevance, especially regarding genre.


Intrinsic effects

Individual and
interactive effects
of structural
musical variables








Spend more




Longer stay

Aural expectation





Associational effects

For example, Grewal et al. (2003) reveal how the up-market associations of classical
music enhance the perceived atmosphere of a luxury goods store.
Bitners (1992) servicescape identifies how internal response moderators such as
consumer mood and personality may make the impact of ambient conditions less
predictable. However, musicscape response moderators are generally overlooked by the
empirical literature examining the impact of music in commercial environments.
Figure 1 demonstrates a contribution of the current paper relating to identification of
the importance of three musicscape response moderators as demonstrated in the
introspective data (sensory congruity, positive autobiographical resonance and aural
expectation incongruity). The data underline the perceived importance of congruity
between music and other servicescape elements. Heckler and Childers (1992)
identify expectancy and relevance as the key components of congruity. The service
environment thus appears more attractive when expected background music seems
relevant and intrinsically congruous with other servicescape elements. While a small
number of quantitative studies (e.g. Spangenberg et al., 2005) have reported the
interactive effects of two servicescape variables (sound and smell), the current paper
highlights the complexity of simultaneous experience of multiple servicescape
interactive effects (including temperature, lighting, air quality and colour), any of
which may function as musicscape response moderators.
The data reveal how a more profound understanding of the impact of prior exposure
to music may be reached by encouraging research that examines how musics personal,

Figure 1.
Introspective responses
to the musicscape



autobiographical meaning may actually moderate responses and override the

predicted effects of studies manipulating musical variables such as tempo, genre and
volume. Music is strongly linked to values of personal authenticity and emotional
self-realisation, and its effects are particularly potent when familiar songs with
autobiographical resonance are played, suggesting the potential to trigger retrieval of
consumer memories either voluntarily or involuntarily. The strong personal relevance
of such pieces is likely to elicit either approach or avoid behaviour depending upon
whether memories are positive or negative.
Links are identified with findings from the music and advertising literature that
have not previously been examined in a retail/service context. For example, this paper
highlights how attitude to a retail environment and evaluation of fellow shoppers may
be influenced by musical attribute transfer of affect in the same way that transfer
of affect is reported to influence attitude to the ad in advertising research (e.g. Oakes,
2007). Just as attitude to the ad may be modified due to the cuing of autobiographical
memories (Baumgartner, 1992), attitude to retail environments may be moderated
when music with autobiographical resonance is heard. The data also reveals how
participants have emotionally bonded with music heard in their childhood, a much
earlier age than previously suggested as typical by Holbrook and Schindler (1989).
The current study shows that store music may elicit positive or negative memories
that can permit consumers to momentarily transcend time and place, while music-free
zones often trigger feelings of insecurity, particularly in relation to maintenance of
self-identity. Where music is expected but absent, the ambient environment frequently
lacks relevance, thus resulting in avoid behaviour due to the incongruous absence
of music. Such behaviour indicates that a decision to exclude music from a store
zone is not always neutral and devoid of risk in terms of impact upon affective and
cognitive responses. While Olsen (1995) highlights the benefits of unexpected silence
in increasing attention and subsequent recall of ads, the current study reveals how
unexpected silence in service and retail environments may actually have commercial
Consequently, Figure 1 identifies how musical stimuli are subject to various
response moderators before impacting upon emotional, cognitive and behavioural
responses. Although research is equivocal regarding the directionality of the subtle
relationship between emotion and cognition, Figure 1 is consistent with most studies
in suggesting that emotional responses to music are antecedents of cognitive responses
(Oakes, 2007). The introspective data represented in Figure 1 demonstrate how
congruity between music and several servicescape variables leads to enhanced
arousal, excitement, store evaluation and purchase activity. Figure 1 reveals how the
positive autobiographical resonance of music may trigger nostalgically pleasant
memories that enhance store evaluation and increase stay duration. However, it
also highlights the negative impact of aural expectation incongruity where the
incongruous absence of music creates discomforting feelings, negative store evaluation
and intention to exit the store zone.
The current paper analyses qualitative data with reference to a review of
predominantly quantitative studies, attempting to reconcile the contrasting
methodologies in order to draw appropriate conclusions. Qualitative data are
deliberately represented in Figure 1 using typically positivist discourse (e.g. interactive
effects and response moderators). Through such considered incongruity, the paper
encourages resolution of the inherent tension between interpretivist and positivist
perspectives to stimulate increased methodological integration in future studies

examining the impact of music (e.g. through research combining quantitative and
qualitative data). The paper adopts a pluralist methodology by attempting to draw on
some of the strengths of interpretivism and positivism. From a phenomenological,
interpretive perspective, music, memories and emotions would be regarded as
holistically connected in a moment where past, present and future are coterminous.
This contrasts with a positivist approach to perception, where it is regarded as
meaningful to isolate sense impressions and associations of memory as fundamental
atoms that form the foundations on which to build a theory of perception. MerleauPonty (2003, p. 26) explains:
To perceive is not to experience a host of impressions accompanied by memories capable of
clinching them; it is to see, standing forth from a cluster of data, an immanent significance
without which no appeal to memory is possible. To remember is not to bring into the focus of
consciousness a self-subsistent picture of the past; it is to thrust deeply into the horizon of the
past and take apart step by step the interlocked perspectives until the experiences which it
epitomizes are as if relived in their temporal setting.

According to Merleau-Ponty (2003), the positivist approach hides from us the cultural,
human and emotional world in which most of our life is led. In his view, the atomistic
approach of positivists cannot explain the complexity of the perceptual field.
Such positivist theories describe only blind processes which could never be the
equivalent of knowledge, because there is, in this mass of sensations and memories,
nobody who sees, nobody who can appreciate the falling into line of datum and
recollection, and, on the other hand, no solid object protected by a meaning against the
teeming horde of memories (Merleau-Ponty, 2003, p. 25).
An implication of the phenomenological view of perception as complex and holistic
is that attempting to control perceptions through music will be an uncertain art
requiring careful reflection. However, phenomenologists such as Heidegger (1962, p. 29)
acknowledge the value of scientific approaches to explore certain research questions,
as follows:
Scientific research accomplishes, roughly and naively, the demarcation and initial fixing of
the areas of subject-matter.

Therefore our pluralist approach suggests that future research can build upon the
current study using a variety of methodologies. For example, it could generate
hypotheses based on each of the musicscape response moderators previously
discussed. The exploratory nature of the current research paves the way for future
introspective in-store studies where the brief is focused upon music using a nonstudent sample. Research involving a more diverse age range of participants could
examine whether the valence and extent of autobiographical memories triggered by
store music may override predicted musical effects on consumer behaviour suggested
by prior quantitative studies, and should further evaluate the extent to which
expectancy of music influences consumer responses in silent zones of a store. Such
studies should be mindful of the narrowly focused and perspectival nature of any
future findings and acknowledge the consequential constraints to their practical
applications. Our pluralistic approach also justifies the need for future research to
examine the impact of music holistically within the context of a wider range of
servicescape elements and personal interactions. A phenomenological approach
informed by Heidegger also suggests that future research could consider the ethical
implications of using music to attempt to influence buyer behaviour.





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About the authors

Steve Oakes is a Lecturer in Marketing at the University of Liverpool Management School whose
research interests include arts marketing and cognitive and affective responses to music in
advertising and service environment contexts. He has published articles on music in marketing
in various journals including Psychology & Marketing, Journal of Advertising Research,
Marketing Theory, Journal of Marketing Management, Applied Cognitive Psychology, The Service
Industries Journal, Journal of Services Marketing, and the International Journal of Service
Industry Management. His research is informed by extensive experience as a jazz guitarist
performing at a wide range of venues. Steve Oakes is the Corresponding Author and can be
contacted at:
Anthony Patterson is a Reader in Marketing at the University of Liverpool Management
School. His research projects have investigated book marketing, theme pubs, text messaging,
speed-dating and nation branding. His articles have been published in Journal of Business
Research, Psychology & Marketing, Journal of Marketing Management, and Marketing Theory,
among others.
Helen Oakes is a Lecturer in Accounting at Keele University. Prior to obtaining a PhD and
professional qualification in Accounting, she received degrees in Music and Philosophy. She has
research interests in the roles of accounting, marketing communications and arts management.
She has published empirical work in various journals including Accounting Forum and Critical
Perspectives on Accounting. She is also an accomplished jazz pianist.

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