Here’s why Japanese supermarkets play “cheap” background music all day, according to Twitter

There’s a reason why they don’t play other kinds of music!

If you’ve ever been to a Japanese supermarket like Ito Yokado, Aeon, Seiyu, or Max Valu, then you’ve probably noticed the elevator-style music they play on the speakers throughout the shop. Well, maybe it’s a bit cheerier than elevator music, and sometimes synthesized, but it’s definitely generic and so nondescript that you almost don’t notice it until you realize you’re humming it on the way home.

▼ Music like this

This kind of music is actually used not just in supermarkets but also in electronics specialty shops, discount stores, hundred-yen shops, and lots of other kinds of stores. You probably think its only purpose is to provide some background cheer, and maybe to keep the store from feeling awkwardly quiet…but you’d be wrong.

Japanese netizens say that this “cheap”-sounding music was specifically chosen for a reason. According to Twitter user Keisuke Fujita (@sato310sss), who saw a TV segment about it, the music of grocery stores is actually intentionally crafted to subconsciously encourage customers to shop there.

▼ Translation below

テレビで浅倉大介が「スーパーマーケットでチープなBGMが流れてるのは、チープな音楽を聞いてると値段を安く感じるから。重厚なクラシックとか流したら値段を高く感じる」って言ってて、調べたら本当に音楽と購買心理は関係あるんですね…
すげえな…

— 藤田佳佑 / アライドアーキテクツ (@sato310sss) January 3, 2021

“On TV, [musician] Daisuke Asakura said, ‘Supermarkets play cheap music so that customers will hear it and feel like the store’s prices are cheap. If they play solemn classical music, it makes the store seem expensive.’ I looked it up, and apparently music has an effect on the psychology of shopping. Wow…”

According to what Fujita learned from the television program, and from his subsequent research, the music of supermarkets is carefully crafted to have a psychological effect on its customers. For example, the “cheap” sounding music–which sounds like generic background music–is meant to subconsciously convince customers that shopping at this supermarket is cheaper than others. That’s why it’s so popular among cheap neighborhood supermarkets, discount stores, used goods shops, and electronics shops.

▼ “Cheap” sounding music includes this little ditty, which every Japanese supermarket shopper will probably recognize.

Fujita’s revelation has garnered a lot of attention in the three days since it was posted, gaining tens of thousands of likes, retweets, quotes and comments. Some netizens even had extra facts to add about the psychology of shop music:

“BGM is important! Playing faster-paced music around lunch and dinner time increases merchandise turnover in the restaurants and food shops, and some BGM can encourage customers to leave as well.”
“Apparently, playing French music by the sales corner increases the sales of French wine, and Italian music does the same for Italian wine.”
“I vaguely remember an experiment they did on TV a long time ago, which showed that playing faster music increased the number of people who walked fast, while people walked slower with slower music.”
“At the art section of the department store my dad used to work at, apparently when they played Debussy’s ‘Golliwog’s Cakewalk’ they would make a lot more sales.”

It makes sense that music played in a shop would affect purchasing habits and customer behavior, given that music in general most certainly has an affect on human psychology. Still, who would have thought that the corny background music of Japanese supermarkets, electronics stores, and discount shops was actually intentional, and not just a way to avoid paying licensing fees for popular songs?

▼ Or a really, extremely effective way of reminding you where you’re shopping. For example, this jingle is played on repeat at every Hard-Off used goods store in the country, no matter where you are.

Japanese netizens that didn’t previously know about the music psychology of shopping were similarly surprised:

“Now that you mention it, the fancy supermarkets do tend to play classical music, don’t they?”
“That’s true! The expensive supermarket in my neighborhood plays jazz. When it’s busy they play the Rocky theme song. I guess it stimulates your desire to buy more!”
“Oh, so there was an intention behind the cheap sounding music at stores like CANDO and Lopia. Interesting!”
“I wonder if the faster music they play in convenience stores around New Year is the reason why I always want to buy more expensive bentos around that time…”
“Now I understand Don Quijote…”

▼ The Don Quijote song. You may remember this discount store for selling all kinds of weird stuff for cheap, like realistic pizza slice keychains.

But the music might not all be for the sake of business. One YouTube user spoke with employees at Ito Yokado supermarkets, who said they have a special song they play when the registers are busy, to subtly ask for additional assistance at checkout.

YouTube user Histogram wrote in the description of their video above:

“This is the BGM played at Ito Yokado when the registers are busy to call for support for the staff. It’s called ‘help!’ and is based on a Beatles song. According to someone in charge, this BGM isn’t automated; the cashiers turn it on and off themselves, so when the registers are busy you will probably hear it.”

Who knew!

So the next time you’re in a Japanese store, pay attention to the music you hear! It might tell you a little bit about how the store is operating.

Source: Twitter/@sato310sss via My Game News Flash
Top image: FreeMaterials.com

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