And it’s true, isn’t it? A walk down my local high street shows all the shops gearing up for Christmas with their window displays and plenty of shiny, colourful stock in place, while John Lewis, Boots, Asda et al have picked their Christmas songs carefully and started to unveil their Christmas TV commercials.
I get it, I do. Trading is tough at the moment. The fear of tax credit cuts, public sector workers without pay rises for years, energy price hikes, redundancies in British steel manufacturing and the solar industry, etc., these all put the fear of God into people who have less and less money to spend. Retailers are having to make the most of the run up to Christmas. Christmas songs in November though? That might be a step too far for most of us.
How much is too much?
There is just no getting away from it. Radio stations are duty bound to play Christmas songs, and every shop you go into will be torturing their staff with cheerful tunes.
The first time you hear a Christmas song you may well feel jolly about it, but soon enough there is no escape and before long you will start to suffer with over-exposure. Research conducted by NBC News in the USA demonstrated that there is a “statistically proven progression from love to hate during Christmas season. The chart looks like an upside-down U: Our familiarity with something across a couple of listens makes us think we love it, then it becomes oversaturated and we begin to hate it. It’s like being tortured.”
Interestingly, people tend to have different breaking points when it comes to Christmas music. If we have happy memories of past Christmases, we’re less likely to feel stressed when we hear Christmas music, but if we’re currently stressed (because of personal or professional situations) or if we have bad memories of Christmases past then we start to go slowly bat poop crazy.
I’ve had a look for proof that Christmas music is good for business, and unfortunately the jury is out of this one. Half the websites I had a browse through said Christmas songs were good for business, and half said they weren’t. That’s research for you! It does what you want it to! Some claim there is plenty of evidence that suggests that shoppers spend significantly more time and money in stores that play slow-paced Christmas music for example.
Why do shops play music? Does it make you spend more money?
Some research suggests that if retailers choose their music carefully, it can encourage people to spend more time in their shops and help people spend more money. Obviously it all relates to the mood the retailer is trying to create. ‘Pleasant music’ puts us in a good mood and we tend to buy more, and will invariably spend more on impulse purchases when music is playing – although what is one person’s ‘pleasant’ music and another person’s ‘unpleasant’ music is open to debate.
If you’re a small business and want to play music in your shop, there are some things you should consider.
Loud music decreases the amount of time people spend browsing. Encouraging shoppers to stay longer with ‘soft’ music, invariably leads to increased sales. Where people are overwhelmed by noise they tend to leave rapidly. You’ll find that fast food restaurants etc., who want turnover to be fast, will have loud music so that tables keep re-emptying.
Simple music is best – too much stimulation is often too much for many people.
Fast music tends to encourage a number of physiological changes to the body. The heart rate can increase, and therefore the pulse and your breathing. People will start to do things more quickly – so they will shop quickly and leave. Slow music does the reverse – meaning people browse for longer and spend up to a third more, according to Ronald Milliman, Professor of Marketing at Western Kentucky University, published in the Journal of Consumer Research in the USA.
Type of music
If you sell products aimed at young people, there’s probably not a lot of point playing The Carpenters and Fleetwood Mac. Conversely, if you’re targeting people aged 25 and over, there’s no profit to be made by allowing the Top Forty to belt out in your premises. Ideally you need to appeal to a cross section.
Should you play Christmas music?
The first thing to ask yourself as a retailer is, “Do I sell Christmas stock?” This could be broadly related – table cloths, clothes etc. If the answer is yes, you’re on fairly safe ground. If you don’t then there’s probably no need and you should avoid adding to the Christmas music stress pollution overload.
Research seems to suggest that adding to the festive spirit by playing Christmas music when people are shopping for Christmas related items (and therefore probably LIKE Christmas) makes the whole experience more pleasurable for them.
Where people really dislike Christmas they will tend to avoid shops selling Christmas items. If you don’t sell Christmas items and you want to encourage sales, don’t play the music!
What type of Christmas music should I play?
If you are a mid to low end retailer, going poptastic is the answer. If you sell high end, then jazz, classical and smooth music will encourage shoppers.
Is it manipulative to play Christmas music?
Well of course it is. Clever marketers impose cultural behaviour by commercialising Christmas and feeding the festive music frenzy. Dr Alan Bradshaw of Royal Holloway, University of London, has categorically stated that, “Festive jingles are force-fed to Christmas shoppers in a bid to change their mood, influence their sense of time and what sort of products they buy. In other words, this is an attempt to manipulate your shopping habits in a way that you might barely be aware of.” He adds that, “Often we are told that we have the freedom to choose where we want to shop, but during Christmas the use of music in this way is so ubiquitous that our freedom to choose disappears.”
Phew. Not sure we’re all taken in quite that easily …
I wish I was a song writer!
Popular Christmas songs rack up hundreds of thousands of airplays every year, earning the writers and performers a nice little annuity. Apparently the top ten most popular Christmas songs in the UK are:
Fairytale of New York – The Pogues feat. Kirsty MacColl
All I Want for Christmas Is You – Mariah Carey
Do They Know It’s Christmas – Band Aid
Last Christmas – Wham!
Santa Claus is Coming to Town – Harry Reser
Do You Hear What I Hear?- Bing Crosby
Happy Christmas (War Is Over) – John & Yoko/Plastic Ono Band with the Harlem Community Choir
Wonderful Christmastime – Paul McCartney
I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday – Wizzard
Merry Xmas Everybody – Slade
Over to you
Are Christmas songs a complete no-no for you? Which Christmas songs make you snap? When do you start playing Christmas music? Get into the festive spirit (or not) by adding a comment below or come and chat all things Christmas on Facebook with us! 🙂