…. it’s Christmas time!

Ok well it’s not, there’s still 60 days to go until the ‘big day’, but as I’m sure most of you are aware most of the shops are already in full swing of the festive season. Truth is we started prepping for Christmas in-store back in September when the first few boxes of sparkly, joyful cards started to appear on the shop floor. Then October rolled round and suddenly you couldn’t move for festive PJ’s, perfume gift sets and glitzy party wear without tripping over the mountains of boxed salted caramels on your way to the gift-wrapping aisle that was formally a till point queue!


When I first thought about my Christmas blog I thought about writing it on “why does Christmas start before Summer has ended?” but then I thought “surly that’s obvious, the majority of customers want it to” (and believe me customers do want gift-wrap & presents before their summer tans have faded just like I know you readers want a Christmas blog the week before Halloween!). So instead I shall focus on my favourite part of the lead-up to Christmas – the music – and the final touch we are waiting for in-store. Once it is turned on it there is no doubting that the busiest period of the retail year is finally upon us and sales consultants everywhere will need to become the happiest and most helpful elves to get themselves customers, and themselves, through it.

A poll conducted in 2009 (on several hundred consumers aged 15-54) by Entertainment Media Research found that 95% of the population prefer to go shopping when there is in-store music and 40% of these individuals prefer festive music playing at Christmas time compared to general hits. But customers don’t only enjoy it, it can also affect their shopping behaviour.

Firstly most people like Christmas music. It’s a hard to find a general top 40 hit that everyone likes but did you know that ‘All I want for Christmas’ is loved by 50% of the population (based on the statistics from this research). And if the music is making you happy then you will rate products more favourably and will be happier to shop for longer and to spend more (see my previous blog for more happiness related musings).


(^who knew charts could be so much fun!)

Furthermore customers are kept happy but the emotionally charged memories festive music often evokes. This activation can also make us recall the true meaning of giving at Christmas and 1 in 4 people report that they buy more generous gifts whilst Christmas music they like is playing. Even if this isn’t the case if you believe you will be more generous than that could work as a self-fulfilling prophecy and you will go and splash more cash all because you heard Jingle Bell Rock as you wandered past the gift-wrapped  dressing gowns. Additionally the emotional aspect of festive music could mean customers could start to associate a particular song with a brand (this study demonstrated that this worked for TV adverts & recall of brands).

Also who doesn’t love a good sing-a-long to Fairytale in New York?!? 53% of shoppers mentioned they often end up singing along to Christmas songs and the diaphragmatic breathing involved in singing stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system. This stops the fight-or-flight sympathetic nervous system becoming active, which is often accompanied by feelings of stress and anxiety, so you can keep your cool and continue shopping and spending. Plus when the other shoppers join in at “and the bells were ringing out…….ON CHRISTMAS DAY!” (or whatever song you happen to be singing!) suddenly you are belonging! You are an individual in a social group! Humans love to conform to the social group norms and this even applies to shopping behaviour especially when choosing a product.


However Christmas music can have a negative impact on shopper behaviour. Typically the jolly, festive earworms common in the Western World have fast tempos which have also been found to increase shopper arousal. In turn this decreases the amount of time customers spend shopping in a store – though customers often report themselves as having spent more time shopping – and most retailers believe there is a correlation between time spent in store and money spent. Hence if retail stores want to play festive jingles, but slow customers down, they would be better off playing unfamiliar Christmas tunes as unfamiliar songs have shown to increase the time shoppers spend in-store.

Additionally timing is important. Start playing the tunes too early (50% said November was too early) and customers can get bogged down in the whole ‘commercialisation of Christmas’/’it starts too early’ debate and hence feel less inclined to spend. Additionally it’ll get repetitive fast (for customers and the poor consultant elves). Also pick the playlist carefully as some songs are hated by individuals and some customers say they would walk out of a shop if they heard certain music playing (whether they actually would is a different matter but if anyone does it whilst I’m on a shift I shall let you know!) And of course your choice of festive music needs to be in-keeping with the store theme.

Anyway very merry early Christmas to you all (or Nadolig Llawen as they say in Wales!)

P.S. After reading a few studies(1, 2) on classical music making items appear more expensive I have been pondering whether festive music makes items appear more Christmassy? For example would a sparkly jumper be categorised as a Christmas jumper if Band Aid was playing in the background? Could this damage sales? I mean I love a good Christmas jumper but I can only wear it for a few weeks of the year. If I think this is a Christmas jumper I may not buy it for fear of being judged once January rolls around. Anyway just a thought (and one that there is no accessible literature on yet!)


7 thoughts on “Grab your mulled wine…

  1. The Christmas community online have stated that “There is nothing sinister about stores who sell Christmas items at any time of the year. There is a market for it. Plenty of shoppers and buyers want those products (http://defendchristmas.com/2011/10/25/consumerist-com-takes-aim-at-early-christmas/#sthash.qFD44sPn.dpuf) and yes your blog has convinced me not to be as disturbed by the Christmas Creep as I was but I have a question and before you answer I did try found research on the topic but got no where so hers my question: does the Christmas Creep put an unnecessary pressure on parents while shopping? Also do you think that buy starting Christmas early we are teaching children new values and moving away from the Religious orientation of Christmas into a commercialised view of the holiday? – A

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  3. Personally from my experience at work parents are not faced with more hassle off their children than usual. But then I work on womens wear and rarely wander over to kids wear where there is Hello Kitty Pez dispensers and cuddly dinosaurs. I have seen some kids pressure their parents for stuff at our POP displays all year round (usually sweets or little lip balms) but most parents these days are good at saying no and if anything its the teenagers who are the most persuasive.

    If a parent does feel pressured then I’m more than happy to pretend I’ve put a jar of lollipops in the shopping bag but instead put them behind the till point ready to go back out again. After all its the parents who will be coming back to shop again so I need to keep them happy. I guess it depends on the morals and views of the staff as well. I would never target a child to buy anything, that’s morally wrong to me, but I know some people would think that’s a perfectly acceptable way to make sales.

    As for the commercialisation I guess that’s independent for everyone though i do agree it is very Western World focused and may annoy, upset individuals from other cultures. For me Christmas is about giving presents to thank people, show that they mean something to you and celebrate the end of the year. I think there is just more options available at Christmas now -there is lots of merchandise but you can choose to ignore that. I engage a little – i buy some gifts and some wrapping – but it’s cheap and too the point and I had that choice just like last year I chose to attend Midnight Mass on Christmas Day.

  4. I love your Christmas theme post, reminding me how close we are to Christmas holidays! However, there is one thing I dislike about Christmas is the Boxing Day (26 December), which reminds of how crazy consumers are about branded stuff. Boxing day has been known as the biggest price reduction season during the year. Promotion has been proven to effectively maximise the sales and profit (Delvecchio, Henard & Freling, 2006). However, according to the Delvecchio, Henard and Freling (2006), brand preference will reduce when a promotion of 20% or more is available on product value; thus, brand managers should offer small percentage price reductions to protect the brands. I have encountered London Boxing Day in year 2011, that experience was absolutely crazy, I saw many people shopping for branded goods in Selfridges and Harrods. I understand how expensive branded goods are but consumers tend to be way too invested in them! They are just waiting outside the shops and running to the platform once it opens. Please prepare yourself to be squeezed like a tuna if you are planning to visit those shops in London during Boxing Day! 😀


    DelVecchio, D., Henard, D. H., & Freling, T. H. (2006). The effect of sales promotion on post-promotion brand preference: A meta-analysis. Journal of Retailing, 82(3), 203-213.

  5. Christmas music sometimes could be defined the music which can hide people’s lonely. Especially when they are traveler or they need to celebrate this festival alone. I like that you connect Christmas music and human conformity together, when people singing together seems like you are one of the group, suddenly the lonely disappear.

    Another thing is that Christmas music make us buy some seasonable items for nonsense. Is there a moment that we keep looking at the stuff we bought but we can’t even remember why we buying this? .”Musical stimuli are a powerful means of influencing consumers’ affective responses in retail environments”(Spangenberga et al.,2005). The music could be the motivator to stimulate our emotion to buy the product which is more expensive and useless, people become more emotional when they listening the music, and it also lead consumers to impulsive buying. Because it could gives us many imagination like snowing,pine or cider. For me, i think it’s a good thing that sometimes we need to spend more money to stimulate economic growth.

    Spangenberg, E. R., Grohmann, B., & Sprott, D. E. (2005). It’s beginning to smell (and sound) a lot like christmas: The interactive effects of ambient scent and music in a retail setting. Journal of Business Research, 58(11), 1583-1589. doi:http://0-dx.doi.org.unicat.bangor.ac.uk/10.1016/j.jbusres.2004.09.005

  6. Music and Consumer Behaviour is always my favourite topic to talk about.

    It is really interesting to explore the fact that how music actually affect on consumer decision making process. Study found out that music could affect customer behaviour and increase sales rate as well. For example, store with pleasant music tend to increase the length of stay. In addition, classical music could lead cutomer to consume a rather expensive wine in a wine shop.

    However, based on S-O-R model (Buckley, 1991), explore the process of how music actually affect consumer. It involve 3 different stages and also known as Stimulus, Organism and Response model. In the Stimulus stage, individual involve in a music background environment. Then, the music tempo impact on the individual level of arousal (Organism) and finally the level of arousal will determine the amount of time spent in a store.

    I hope there will be more interesting research on the correlation between music and consumer in future.

    Looks forward for you next blog.

    Buckley, P. G. (1991) An S-O-R Model of the Purchase of an Item in a Store. Advances in Consumer Research, 18, pp. 491-500 doi: http://www.acrwebsite.org/search/view-conference-proceedings.aspx?Id=7138

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