How in-store music increased French wine sales by 330%

Intervention · Business


Every day we’re bombarded with music that we didn’t choose to hear. From advertising jingles, hold-music on a busy phone line, Top 40 pop blaring at the dentist, to the smooth jazz pushing you through the aisles of your local grocery store. Sometimes, this music can be a welcome soundtrack to our day (Top 40 beats the sound of the dentist’s drill!), be downright annoying, or sometimes doesn’t even register our attention. 

Whether all of this music registers consciously or not, an increasing number of studies indicate that music can have a powerful effect over our perception, feelings, and actions. To find out whether in-store music could influence purchasing behavior, researchers conducted a field study in a UK supermarket to observe how in-store music impacted wine purchasing choices. When French music was played, buyers bought more French wine. Conversely, when German music was played, German wine outsold the French. However, when participants were asked whether the music influenced their choice, most said it didn’t. 1,2


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Rating: 4/5 (significant results from a limited sample; easy to implement; may not be in consumers’ best interests)

How playing regional music in-store influenced shoppers’ wine choices
French music  76% French wine bought
German music 73% German wine bought

Key Concepts

Priming: Occurs when a person is exposed to a stimulus (this could be words, ideas, images, or in this case, music), that influences the person’s actions on a subconscious level. 

Mere Exposure effect: The tendency to feel greater affection for things we’re more familiar with, also known as the familiarity principle.

Suggestibility: The susceptibility to change behavior based on what others are doing. Alternatively, suggestibility can also occur when the recollection of an event is altered after hearing a different retelling or perspective. 

Observational study: a method in which researchers simply observe the impact of the intervention, without trying to influence who is or isn’t exposed to it or alter the outcome in any other way. 

The Problem

Make licensing fees work for retailers

By the mid-90s, tens of millions of pounds were paid in music royalties and licensing fees each year in the UK alone. Much of this licensing was done by commercial businesses, hoping to bolster sales by improving customer’s experiences, but little actual research had been done to uncover if this music had the potential to alter purchasing and product choices. Researchers Adrian North, David Hargreaves, and Jennifer McKendrick were inspired to test this potential by an increasing number of studies that indicated a relationship between musical tempo and the speed of consumer behavior. For example, faster music resulted in shoppers moving faster through a shop, or diners in a restaurant eating faster. 

Tapping associated knowledge

A 1993 study by Areni and Kim, in which Classical and Top 40 music was played in an American wine cellar, was a significant touchpoint.3 Although the music had no significant impact on the number of bottles sold, the study found that playing classical music led to more expensive wine being sold more often. Areni and Kim argued that for the consumers, the classical music experientially fit with buying expensive wine, which prompted the behavior. 

Other prime examples

Supermarkets and retail stores already use several environmental variables to encourage purchasing behavior, such as lighting, scents, the store’s layout, and how products are arranged on shelves. With this study, the researchers aimed to understand how music could be added as another influential factor to this repertoire.


Observing wine selection

Over the two week experiment, stereotypically French and German music was played on alternating days in the wine section of a suburban UK supermarket. The wine selection displayed French and German wines of similar price points and sweetness. Two researchers, disguised as shoppers, observed the wine buyers from an unobtrusive distance, noting whether the buyer selected a French or German wine. Flags next to the display prominently denoted each wine’s country of origin. The wines were rearranged at the start of the second week.

Survey for musical influence

Following the purchase, shoppers were then approached by the researchers and asked to participate in a questionnaire. First, shoppers were asked an open-ended question about their reasoning behind the selection of their chosen wine. They were then asked whether they generally prefer French or German wine on a scale of 0 (always prefer French) to 10 (always prefer German). Next, they were asked to rate the extent to which the music made them think of France or Germany. Finally, the participants were asked whether the music influenced which wine they chose to purchase.


Much like how music tempo and genre had been shown to influence consumer behavior, researchers were motivated to understand how priming with music could be tied to other attributes, such as French or German style of music. Priming is part of the MINDSPACE framework, a set of strategies for influencing behavior change. MINDSPACE encompasses nine aspects that are thought to have the most significant impact on the automatic processes of judgment, these include Messenger, Incentives, Norms, Defaults, Salience, Priming, Affect, and Ego. 

Results and Application

French music = French wine

On days when French music was played in-store, French wine outsold German wine, and vice versa on days when German music was played. On average, 40 bottles of French wine were bought when French music was played, compared to just 12 bottles of German wine. Conversely, when German music was played, 22 bottles of German wine were bought, versus 8 bottles of French wine. 

Subconsciously influenced by music

About 50% of the observed shoppers took part in the subsequent survey,and most confirmed that the music had made them think of France or Germany, respectively. This finding verified the researchers’ hypothesis that the music activated the shopper’s associated knowledge with either country. 

Despite this priming effect, only one person (out of the 44 survery participants) specifically mentioned the music as the primary reason for choosing a particular type of wine. In the final question where participants were asked explicitly if the music had any influence on their wine choice, only six said yes. 

Education Music can have powerful associative qualities which could be helpful for students when studying to improve memorization.
Health & Wellness The type of music played in restaurants, cafes, and bars could have a significant effect on what patrons order, how much they order, and how fast they consume their order.
Retail & Consumer Deliberate music use in advertisements can influence consumer’s feelings, thoughts, and ideas they associate with a brand, product or service.  


  • As an observational study, participants were not aware they were taking part in the experiment, although the questionnaire portion of the experiment was optional. 
  • Shoppers do not have control over how they might be influenced; some could be negatively impacted by this intervention (eg: playing French music could make a person who is trying to cut back on drinking buy their favourite Chardonnay!)  
  • Shoppers observed were anonymous and the supermarket’s location is vague. 

Does the intervention demonstrably improve the lives of those affected by it?
Room for Improvement
Retailers are presented with new opportunities to influence buyer behavior. Shoppers have little control over how they might be impacted. 
Does the intervention respect the privacy (including the privacy of identity) of those it affects?
Shoppers were not identified in this intervention. The location of the supermarket was only broadly indicated. 
Does the intervention have a plan to monitor the safety, effectiveness, and validity of the intervention?
Researchers observed shoppers from a distance in the supermarket; intervention is not ongoing. 

Does the intervention abide by a reasonable degree of consent?
Room for Improvement
Shoppers did not consent to being observed or their purchasing behavior being recorded, but survey participation was optional. 
Does the intervention respect the ability of those it affects to make their own decisions?
Shoppers could choose whether or not to buy wine and which they preferred. 
Does the intervention increase the number of choices available to those it affects?
Insufficient Information/Not Applicable
The number of available choices was not affected by this intervention. 

Does the intervention acknowledge the perspectives, interests, and preferences of everyone it affects, including traditionally marginalized groups?
Room for Improvement
No - the intervention may have a stronger impact on shoppers with a stronger predisposition to music, or those with stronger associations with German or French music.
Are the participants diverse?
Room for Improvement
Of those who agreed to participate in the survey, there was a fairly even mix of male and female participants. The split of age groups was similarly even, though the 60+ age group was slightly over-represented. No other demographics were noted.
Does the intervention help ensure a just, equitable distribution of welfare?
Insufficient Information/Not Applicable
Welfare is not an imperative of this intervention.  

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The Soundtrack to Decision Making: conducted in collaboration Man Made Music, novel research by The Decision Lab explores the effects of the acoustic environment on  consumer decision making, with outcomes ranging from brand loyalty to distorted time perception. 

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  1. North, A. C., Hargreaves, D. J., & McKendrick, J. (1999). The influence of in-store music on wine selections. Journal of Applied Psychology, 84(2), 271-276. 
  2. North, A., Hargreaves, D. & McKendrick, J. In-store music affects product choice. Nature 390, 132 (1997). 
  3. Areni, C. S. and Kim, D. (1993) ,"The Influence of Background Music on Shopping Behavior: Classical Versus Top-Forty Music in a Wine Store", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 20, eds. Leigh McAlister and Michael L. Rothschild, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 336-340.
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