Retail and the 5 Senses, Part 5: Sound

Every business has a soundtrack, whether they realize it or not. The only question is whether that soundtrack invites people in, or makes them look for the exit.

Throughout this “Retail and the 5 Senses” series, we’ve been hammering the point that humans only have 5 senses to work with. Your business should consider each one of them when building the ideal experience for your customers. Whether that means hiring an interior designer to overhaul your space or simply doing a good job of describing the scent profile of a bar of soap on your e-commerce website, the five senses should be at least considered if you’re going to sell to members of the human race.

To that end, we’ve saved our favorite (and often the most contentious) for last. So how do we make the most of those funny-looking ears of ours?

1. Stop what you’re doing and listen.


If you’re sitting in your business now, take a few seconds to open your ears and actually register what you’re hearing. The conversations, the low hum of the ventilation, perhaps some faint pop hits from the 80s? Half the battle of running a business is just being aware of what’s going on around you.

That’s the soundtrack your customers are hearing when they walk in. How does it sound? If this was your first time hearing all this, would you want to stick around, maybe browse through the merchandise? Or do you just want to get it over with and be on your way? The second isn’t necessarily a bad thing, mind you. Some businesses do just want customers in and out with merchandise in hand asap. The question is whether that’s what you intended.

2. Address the noise.


Just how loud was that ventilation? If you hadn’t noticed it until you listened for it, it was probably fine. But if you knew right away it would be the most prominent sound in the room, that may be a maintenance problem to look into. Same goes for buzzing lights, squeaky wheels/hinges, or just about anything that rattles.

Sound is a telltale sign that something needs repair. Things in disrepair are signs to your customer that they’re in a place that may not be here very long, or that it may have been here too long. Running a business is hard enough without having to worry about bedrock maintenance and repairs. Address those issues sooner rather than later. In the long run, you’ll be glad you did.

What was that conversation about? Was it work-appropriate? How about the tone, any tension there? Your people probably need more maintenance than your building. Make sure expectations are clearly set in terms of what language is and isn’t acceptable. A day care will probably have a much different vocabulary than an auto repair shop. Remember, your job is to make the customer feel welcome and confident they’re in professional hands, regardless of your industry.

3. Plan the soundscape


Once you’ve eliminated noise, whether a creaky door hinge or a loud break room TV, it’s time to start adding ambience. Remember, every business has a soundtrack. It may be the clattering of keyboards or friendly banter or chart-topping adult contemporary or a likely mix of all those elements. As long as it’s intentional and achieves the mission of making customers feel at home, it’s a welcome member of the overall chorus.

There are a few pitfalls to avoid, however. People often just think “add music” will solve the problems. Music in a business setting is usually fine, but it’s all in the execution. Setting up an unsightly boombox in one corner of a large store to blast the local radio station is not the way to go about it. Music should be distributed as evenly as possible (i.e. via multiple speakers in multiple locations). Speakers should be discreet and blend into their surroundings.

The volume should be low enough to still have a quiet conversation at the same volume as if there were no music. Unless you’re managing a nightclub, a customer should never have to raise their voice to communicate with an employee. The genre should suit the environment. You wouldn’t blast metal music in a nursing home for obvious reasons. Classical concertos are great for luxury merchandise, not so much for a child’s pizza party. And dixieland jazz is wonderful if you’re selling in the heat of New Orleans, but a little out-of-place during winter in Calgary. It’s best to just have one person in charge of the music selection and change should be rare (or at most seasonal).

Finally, it’s worth it to go ad-free. If a customer is standing in your store listening to ads, they’re now thinking about whether they should spend money with you or on that fancy new toothbrush everyone is talking about. Ads are made to distract (in this case, they’re distracting from the task of giving you money). Not to mention the awkwardness one feels when standing in a store and an ad for the competition suddenly starts blaring.


The recurring theme with this series has been awareness. There may not be anything you can do about a rattling radiator at the moment except start saving and keep an eye on it. But just knowing it’s there is putting you in a position to be proactive. That’s better than one day walking into a sauna of ruined papers and broken electronics (not to mention mold damage) from a radiator that could’ve been repaired months ago.

We definitely encourage you to go back through the full series and see where you can implement changes. So often we become blind to something until it’s pointed out to us. Phrases like “that’s how it’s always been” start to win the day instead of phrases like “is there a better way to do it?” that started businesses in the first place.

Sight, Sound, Taste, Touch, and Feel are how your customers experience your business. That’s it. Just those five methods of input are all we’re given as humans. How are you turning each one to your advantage? Which one is being neglected?

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