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Music and Wine Online: Background Music Increases Congruent Online Wine Sales.

Camiel J. Beukeboom, Ivar Vermeulen, Loes Boot, Sonja Utz, & Enny Das

Department of Communication Science

VU University Amsterdam

November 3, 2009.

Dr. Camiel J. Beukeboom

Department of Communication Science

VU University Amsterdam

De Boelelaan 1081, 1081 HV Amsterdam.

The Netherlands


Phone: +31 (0) 20 598 8762

Fax: +31 (0) 20 598 6820

Music and Wine Online: Background Music Increases Congruent Online Wine Sales.

Atmospheric cues in physical stores, ranging from interior design to product displays,

and from aromatic cues to background music, affect consumer behavior. E.g., background

music played in a store influences time spent in a store, product evaluations, and money spent

(Kotler, 1974; Parson’s & Conroy, 2006). With the advent of internet as a consumer medium,

the question arises to what extent such effects apply to online environments. Does background

music in an online store affect consumers’ product choice? The present research replicates a

well known offline finding, showing that the type of music played in a supermarket influences

consumers’ wine choice (North, Hargreaves & McKendrick, 1999), in an online setting.

Effects of music on consumer behavior fall into three categories (North et al, 1999,

Bruner, 1990). First, musical tempo may influence time perceptions (Kellaris & Kent, 1992),

the pace of consumer behavior, like moving around in a supermarket, and spending (Milliman

1982). Second, liking for music may induce a preference for advertised products (Gorn, 1982)

as well as for stores and their personnel (North & Hargreaves, 1996). Third, musical

characteristics may lead to the activation of product-relevant knowledge structures (Bargh,

2002; Bargh, Chen, & Burrows, 1996) and, as a result, to an increased preference for

associated products.

As an illustration of the latter effect, Areni and Kim (1993) found that the use of

classical – i.e., high brow, sophisticated – background music in an American wine cellar

increased sales for more expensive wines. Moreover, North, Hargreaves and McKendrick

(1999) demonstrated that French music played in a supermarket led to increased sales of

French wine, whereas German music increased sales of German wine. This suggests that

music has the potential to activate knowledge structures associated to a particular country,

which, in turn, primes the selection of products congruent with these knowledge structures.

In the present study we aimed to replicate and extend these findings in an online

environment. Specifically, we tested whether the use of geographically associated background

music in an online store increased the choice for wines from congruent origin.


Participants and design. 110 participants (40 men, 70 women, mean age 29.1 years)

participated in an online study on online shopping. They were asked to select wines in an

online wine shop, and were randomly assigned to one of four between-participant music

conditions (French, South -African, South -American, or no music).

Procedure. After some demographical questions, respondents were randomly redirected to

one of four custom-made online wine shops that only differed with respect to the background

music that was played. Music was instrumental - a pretest had demonstrated distinctive

geographical associations with the intended country of origin. The used compositions were La

Valse d’Amelie by Yann Tiersen (French), Hlohonolofatsa by Soweto Gospel Choir (South-

African), and El Condor Pasa by Paul Simon (South-American). Participants were given a

virtual budget of

Participants were given a virtual budget of 25,- to spend on purchasing five wines (all priced

25,- to spend on purchasing five wines (all priced

budget of 25,- to spend on purchasing five wines (all priced 5,-) of their choice. The

5,-) of their choice.

The online shop consisted of a homepage with instructions, and three consecutive pages with

offerings of red, white and rosé wine. Each of the pages showed eight wines with, in mixed

order; two French, two South-African, two South-American and two other (i.e., Italian,

Spanish, and Australian) wines. With each wine a photo of the bottle, the flag of the country

of origin, and a brief description starting with the country of origin was shown. By clicking on

a specific wine, participants obtained more detailed information about the wine. After

selecting the wines of their choice, participants completed 4-item mood measure ( α = .83), a

manipulation check where we asked participants to indicate the origin of the background

music and its geographical associations. (9-items; α’s <.87), musical experience (loudness,

conscious listening, and music’s mood (3 items; α =.83). As the main dependent variable we

assessed the number of French, South-African, South-American and other wines chosen and

computed the overall number of music-congruent (e.g., French music/French wine) vs. music-

incongruent wines (e.g., French music/other than French wine).


Manipulation check. 74 % of participants in the music conditions correctly identified the

music’s origin. Moreover, three ONEWAYs with posthoc analyses showed that geographical

associations were as expected (see Table 1). No differences were observed between

conditions in how participants experienced the music (i.e., loudness, conscious listening,

music’s mood; Fs < 2.2, ps > .12), in participant’s mood, or in time spent shopping (Fs < 1).

This suggests that the manipulation was successful.

Hypothesis testing. Consistent with our hypothesis, a paired samples t-test showed that

background music increased the preference for music-congruent wines (M = 1.89, SD = 1.61)

over music-incongruent wines (M = 1.10, SD = 0.77; t (83) = 3.25, p = .002). Thus, compared

to the other music conditions, participants in the French, South-African, and South-American

music conditions chose respectively more French, South-African, or South-American wines.

Table 2 shows the effects for each wine separately. In all cases, preference for a particular

wine is highest in the congruent music conditions. In most cases the simple differences are

(marginally) significant.

As a tentative test of our notion that wine choice should be mediated by music-induced

accessibility of geographically congruent knowledge structures, we conducted a number of

correlation analyses (results are displayed in Table 3). Overall, geographical associations

correlated with congruent wine choices, with exception of associations of the music with

France which did not significantly correlate with the number of French wines chosen. This

indicates that accessibility of geographical associations were more important in explaining the

choice for South-African and South-African wines than for French wines.


Our study shows that background music positively affects congruent wine choices in

an online shopping environment. Our correlation analyses suggest that this effect is most

likely due to the music-induced increased accessibility of geographical associations, which

prime the selection of congruent products. Our findings extend those of North et al. (1999) by

showing (1) effects of different musical selections, and (2) generalizing them to an online

shopping environment.

We postulated that the observed wine choices may be induced by an increased

accessibility of music-induced geographical associations. Indeed, research has demonstrated

that the mere (unconscious) activation of knowledge structures may automatically result in

congruent behavior (Bargh, 2002). For instance, people primed with the stereotype of the

elderly subsequently may walk more slowly (Bargh, Chen, & Burrows, 1996). Alternatively,

knowledge structure accessibility may lead to attitude accessibility, which is highly predictive

in forced choice situations (Fazio, Powell, & Williams, 1989). Also, knowledge structure

accessibility may lead to inclusion in consumers’ awareness sets, which, in turn, predicts

inclusion in their consideration and choice sets (Roberts and Lattin, 1991; 1997). These

mechanisms may also explain why accessibility of associations with France did not

significantly correlate with the choice for French wines in our study. For many consumers,

French wine is a chronically accessible choice option. Thus, inducing associations with

France may, due to a ceiling effect, do little to increase the consideration of French wines.

Based on this argument, it can be inferred that background music in online wine shops may be

especially effective in promoting wines from lesser-known origin.


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Fazio, R.H., Powell, M.C., Williams, C. J. (1989). The role of attitude accessibility in the

attitude-to-behavior process. Journal of Consumer Research, 16, 280-288.

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Table 1.

Mean reported (and SD) geographical associations of the music with France, South-Africa,

and South-America in the different music conditions.


Music condition


Geographical associations





6.50 a









1.67 c

6.13 a







1.88 c



5.13 a




Note. Means vary between 1 and 7. Music-congruent associations in bold. Means with

different subscript (a, b) in rows are significantly different (p <.05) according to LSD post-

hoc test.

Table 2.

Mean number (and SD) of ordered French, South-African, South-American and other wine in

the different music conditions.

Music condition

Ordered wine




No Music

French wine

2.19 a

1.47 b

1.38 b


a, b





South-African wine

0.81 b

1.88 a









South-American wine

1.12 a, b



1.62 a







Other wine

0.88 a











Note. Means vary between 0 and 5. Music-congruent wine choices in bold. Means with

different subscript (a, b) in rows are significantly different (p <.05) according to LSD post-

hoc test. Different subscript and † are marginally different (p < .09).

Table 3.

Correlations (and significance levels) between reported music-induced geographical

associations and wine orders.

Music-induced geographical associations

Ordered wine




French wine




South-African wine




South-American wine




Other wine




Note. Congruence between associations and wine choices in bold. (*) denotes significance at

p = .02, (***) denotes significance at p = .004.

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