Hearing management

Updated 13 December 2017

The effect of Christmas music on our shopping behaviour

December is all about festive gift shopping, but have you ever considered how the Christmas music playing in the background may actually affect what you buy?

It’s that time of year where you can’t step into a shopping centre without having your senses hijacked by the festivities.

Christmas carols on repeat, trees and decorations everywhere, kids having their photo taken with Father Christmas and all the other Yuletide madness that comes along with it.

If you’re someone who wants to just buy your presents and get out, all of this can be highly irritating to say the least.

Many marketers believe that playing Christmas music in malls will get shoppers in a good mood, making them spend more time in malls, buy more impulsively and ultimately, spend more money.

The idea that a shopping atmosphere can influence buyers’ behaviour was initially introduced by internationally-renowned Professor of International Marketing, Philip Kotler in the Journal of Retailing in 1973.

In his paper, Kotler described that shoppers aren’t as swayed by the actual product as they are by the total experience that goes into buying the product.

This includes the packaging, service received and the atmosphere of the place where the product is bought. In particular, what the shopper sees, smells and hears are critical factors.

Read: Are you allergic to Christmas?

What does Christmas music do to our behaviour?

Lisa Cavanaugh, Assistant Professor of Marketing at the University of Southern Carolina’s Marshall School of Business, states that hearing Christmas songs can actually change people’s mindsets.

Cavanaugh, a ‘gifting’ psychology expert, found in one test that when religious Christmas music is played, people, religious or not, were more likely to spend money on others.

When non-religious (secular) Christmas music is played, people are more likely to spend money on themselves.

Cavanaugh has also been quoted in an article by Livescience where she stated that the tempo of music can affect our shopping behaviour.

Slower music encourages browsing where more up-tempo music keeps people moving.

Classical Christmas music encourage consumers to spend more in total or buy more expensive items. A study by the Texas Tech University shows that people are likely to spend more money if a store plays classical music than if the same store plays Top 40 chart music.

The combination of favourable Christmas smells with Christmas music can also have a powerful effect on shoppers’ perceptions.

A 2003 Washington State University study showed that when a store plays Christmas music and also is scented with a Christmassy smell, shoppers have more positive attitudes towards the store than when those stimuli are missing. This didn’t however have any effect on whether they purchased more or not.

Read: Music distracts the brain, affects concentration

What if you don’t like Christmas music?

The problem with many studies into Christmas music is that they are often based on the assumption that consumers actually like Christmas music.

This is simply not true. Many people find it extremely annoying.

If you don’t like it, it is very unlikely that Christmas music will have a positive effect on your mood or encourage you to spend more money – in fact, it may cause you to do the exact opposite.

According to a Forbes article by Dr. Ron Friedman, a motivational psychologist, some consumers could also feel that malls playing Christmas music are deliberately trying to manipulate them into spending money.

When people feel that they are being forced or manipulated into something, it often causes them to do the exact opposite. In psychology, this is known as Reactive Theory.

So, in short, if you do enjoy Christmas music, don’t let the feel-good atmosphere in your local shopping mall sweep you off your feet. Avoid impulse purchases by drawing up a budget and a shopping list now.

This actually works for those who hate Christmas music too. If you have a plan, you can get in and out of the mall quickly without feeling like you’re about to fly into a violent rage. Stick to this and you’ll have yourself a merry little Christmas.

Read more:
Last minute Christmas shopping
How lighting and music impact how much you eat
Is pop music linked to depression?


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Hearing Expert

Minette Lister graduated with a Bachelor of Communication Pathology (Audiology) from the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Westville in 2015. Thereafter, she completed her compulsory year of community service at Phoenix Assessment and Therapy Centre in Durban. In 2017, Minette started working for Thompson and Hoffman Audiology Inc. She is passionate about working with children and adults to diagnose and manage hearing loss using state of the art technology. Minette offers hearing screening programmes for newborn and high-risk babies, as well as school-aged children, in order to decrease the incidence of late or unidentified hearing loss.

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