How The Right Sounds and Scents Can Drive Sales At Your Store

June 29, 2017 - 14 minutes read

“In some cases, the place – more specifically the atmosphere of the place – is more influential than the product itself in the purchase decision. In some cases, the atmosphere is the primary product.”

-Philip Kotler

When it comes to driving sales in a retail store, ambiance matters.

There’s no doubt about it – a store that has the right scents and sounds associated with it will make more money than one that doesn’t.

In this post, we’re going to outline a bunch of actionable tips you can use to increase sales at your retail store through changing how they perceive your brand.

Specifically, how their noses and ears lead their brains to perceive your brand.

It’s All About Branding

In the modern retail environment, NOTHING is more important than your brand. Face it: unless you offer truly customized products and services in your store, it’s likely that customers could get your products or services elsewhere.

In other words, your customers can probably find what your store offers on Amazon or eBay. So: why do customers still come in?

Because your customers want to experience the feeling of walking into a pleasant smelling and sounding store, being greeted by helpful and knowledgeable employees, and having a face to face interaction that leaves them feeling reassured, satisfied, and ready to come back.

So, if you don’t think the sounds or scents in your store matter, you can view this blog post as an opportunity to upgrade your knowledge (and your revenue) in one fell swoop.

The Absolute Basics of Ambiance

Before we get too far into the nitty-gritty details of both music and scents, let’s go over the most important basics for both.

You can view these as “ambiance 101” or your “ambiance bootcamp”. If you’re getting these wrong, you’re definitely actively driving customers away (or causing them to spend less).

So, get these fixed ASAP before moving on to more advanced maneuvers.

#1: Your store must NOT have a bad smell.

This should be obvious, but it bears repeating: if your store has a bad odor, people will NOT buy as much. Even if they don’t consciously think, “Wow, this place smells terrible, I’m leaving” they will subconsciously be influenced by the odor.

Additionally, you need a “neutral” odor background in order for you to be able to strategically use scents, like the smell of leather in a wine store. Trying to mask a bad odor with a good scent never works well.

A neutral or nonexistent smell acts as a “blank canvas” for your future scent efforts.

#2: Your store MUST have some sort of music playing

When it comes to music, you really don’t want your store to be silent.

Yes, it would be worse to blast gangster rap at your wine store than it would be for there to be no music at all. However, if you have a small amount of common sense, and play your music at soft volumes, you’ll almost always make more money by having some sort of music playing.

In a survey we’ll reference later on in the article, it was found that people rank music as more difficult to live without than sports, movies, and newspapers.

In other words – people love music. Give it to them.

But…How Does Music Help Me Make More Money?


Your Quick Start Ambiance Guide: Click here to download a 5 step checklist for scent and sound marketing!


Here are three reasons you should play music in your store:

  1. Shoppers feel like less time has passed if they are listening to music they perceive as pleasant. This is particularly useful when lines are long, or for getting customers to spend more time in your store.
  2. According to LS Retail, “A 2005 study revealed that people tend to spend more on impulse buys when pleasant music is playing. The effect was present even when people did not notice the music playing in the store, showing that music has a subconscious (yet very real!) effect on shopping habits.”
  3. It helps your staff! And as we’ve talked about before, a happy staff leads to happy customers (and more profits). As long as your staff doesn’t hate the music (and hopefully they really like it if their personality fits in with your brand) then they’ll be more productive and happy working while music is playing.

Now, let’s dive a bit deeper into the tempo, volume, and genre of music you should play in your store.

Change the rate at which shoppers move through tempo

Here’s a rule of thumb: the faster the tempo of the music you’re playing, the faster shoppers will move through your store.

While there is a bit of disagreement among studies, it appears that sales volume per customer goes up when the tempo of music is slower, as customers spend more time in the store.

So, all else being equal (which it rarely is), slower is better.

However, there’s a lot to be said for having enough space in a retail store, and knowing your business and your customers. If your customers are all young metalheads, you probably should cater to their love of metal instead of trying to play slow music.

Additionally, if your store is in a peak period where things are quite hectic, faster music can cause people to “clear out” faster if that’s what you want. This can be particularly useful at close time.

However, during times that are off-peak, if you have a business model with a smaller number of high ticket customers, or if you want your customers to linger in your store, go with slow music (after accounting for your customers’ music tastes of course).

Match Your Volume and Your Genre To Your Demographics – And Your Brand


Your Quick Start Ambiance Guide: Click here to download a 5 step checklist for scent and sound marketing!


As with many things, the “right” music for your store really depends on your customers and the type of experience (and image) you’re trying to give them.

We’ll break things down with some scenarios.

  1. Your hardware store serving mostly older men. Older folks have been shown to prefer softer music than younger ones, and this demographic would probably enjoy some classic rock. So, soft classic rock is the way to go – and maybe put on some uptempo stuff when it’s closing time.
  2. Your wine store serving affluent customers. Studies have shown that when classical music is playing in a wine store, people tend to purchase more expensive bottles. Presumably, the music makes them feel elegant and refined – and they want a bottle to match those feelings.
  3. Your clothing store serving hip young women. You COULD get away with putting at Top 40 playlist on here, and you can crank up the volume a fair bit. However, you’d probably get better results by asking one of your (presumably hip) staff members what kind of music your customers would like, or having her make a playlist (or five) for you.
  4. Your sporting goods / lifestyle clothing store serving younger men who are pretty laid back in their style. Maybe some reggae, some “beach music”, or some low fidelity rock music would be good here – at a decent volume, but not too loud.
  5. Your athletic goods store, serving college and high school athletes. Again, you could do a top 40 mix, but you’d probably do better with upbeat hip hop, rock, and pop songs with a more “motivational’ message. Spend some time making a playlist along those lines – and don’t be afraid to crank up the volume.

Bonus Tips For Music

  • You don’t need to use “music”. You can use sounds, such as rain sounds, nature sounds, etc if it makes sense for your store.
  • If you’re completely clueless about what kind of music your customers would like, ASK THEM! All you have to do is ask about 10 customers (20 or more would be better) what their top 5 favorite artists are, and their favorite genre. After you find some patterns, make a playlist!
  • Another good approach, if you have an employee who is in the same demographic as your customers, (and who understands how to create a good atmosphere) is to simply ask them to create some playlists for you.


Your Quick Start Ambiance Guide: Click here to download a 5 step checklist for scent and sound marketing!


Scents Sell!

So far, we’ve focused on music and sounds in retail stores, as frankly that’s an easier area to take action on for most people.

If you don’t know much about scent marketing, you can “shoot yourself in the foot” more powerfully than you can with playing bad music.

However, scent marketing is also a powerful way to sell more. As a Shopify post titled “The Science of Smell” states, “major retailers like Nike found that scent marketing in retail stores “increased intent to purchase by 80%.”

Here are three keys to using scent marketing in a conservative way:

  1. Less is more. Remember that guy or girl from high school or a college class who always wore too much cologne or perfume? Remember how that felt to be around them? That’s not the kind of experience you want people to associate with your brand.
  2. Knowing your customers is crucial. If you cater to mostly women, use “feminine” scents, and the reverse if most of your client is men. Research suggests you can turn people away if you get this wrong.
  3. Also make sure your scents fit the context and brand of your business. Leathery, musky tones could work well in a hardware store or high end cigar shop that mostly caters to men – but would be terrible in a clothing store.


Having the right scents and sounds in your retail store is vitally important.

They help to create a pleasant ambiance for your customer, which in turn makes them buy more things overall.

And the beautiful part about creating a “sales driving” ambiance is that your staff gets to enjoy the perks as well – making your employees happier and more productive, and further increasing sales through their contagious emotional energy.

After all – doesn’t everyone want to shop in places that are enjoyable to be in, and helped by staff who are happy and helpful?

Your Quick Start Ambiance Guide: Click here to download a 5 step checklist for scent and sound marketing!


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