Shopping out loud: Retail stores getting noisier to stimulate more purchases, study says

Published: Tuesday, Nov. 6 2012 4:47 p.m. MST

Shopping malls and stores are not noisy by accident — noise makes people buy more, a study says.

N.karim via Flickr under creative commons license

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Retail stores are getting noisier — and they're doing it on purpose. That's what Emily Anthes reports in Psychology Today.

"Loudness may annoy the sound-sensitive customer, but overall, it pays," Anthes writes. "Shoppers make more impulsive purchases when they're overstimulated. Loud volume leads to sensory overload, which weakens self-control."

"Overload makes people move into a less deliberate mode of decision making," Kathleen Vohs, an associate professor of marketing at the University of Minnesota, told Psychology Today. "People might be more likely to be lured by brand names, fooled by discounts on items that they might not really want, and susceptible to other influences."

A Fox News outlet in central Arkansas tested noise levels in an Abercrombie and Fitch: "We used a decibel meter to check and it pegged at 85 decibels," Fox reported. "That's about the same level as busy city traffic, or an idling bulldozer. Your lawnmower and hair dryer are just slightly louder with decibel readings in the low 90s."

Doctor Michael Winston, director of audiology at UAMS, told Fox News, "A level of 85 is considered hazardous if you're exposed to it for more than eight hours a day."

Riley Mason, a former employee and frequent shopper at Abercrombie and Fitch, told Fox News he became used to the music and it didn't stop customers from shopping.

An MSNBC contributor talked about the study on noise and shopping: "Moderate noise — around 70 decibels — is enough to distract us from our normal thought patterns, said the study's lead author Ravi Mehta, an associate professor in the Department of Business Administration at the University of Illinois at Urban-Champaign. And once we're distracted, we tend to think in broader and more creative ways, which apparently allows us to better appreciate the value of innovative products."

But not everybody likes the louder music and noise in stores, according to KATU in Portland, Ore. Like the Arkansas Fox News station, KATU found high levels of music in Abercrombie and Fitch (90 decibels) and in the teen section of Nordstrom (80 decibels).

"Employees could not talk to us on camera," KATU reported, "but told us they're not allowed to turn down the music, even though customers complain all the time. They say it's their corporate policy."

So that ringing in your ears may not be Christmas bells — but ear damage.

EMAIL: mdegroote@desnews.com

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