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Sainsbury's team, BBC Inside the Supermarket

Inside the Supermarket

 Behind the scenes at Sainsbury's

About the programme

Sainsbury’s has been part of the British high street for 150 years. 26 million of us go through its doors every single week.  Yet the retail industry has never been more competitive, and this supermarket giant is under threat, losing market share to the growing discounters such as Aldi and Lidl.

To find out more go to the BBC programme page. 

Discover the range of qualifications and modules from the OU related to this programme:

Fishmonger - Inside the Supermarket - BBC

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The effects of ambient cues in retail environments

Research shows that within 17 milliseconds we've already judged how attractive we find a product. But how much does your environment affect you? could playing the right 'muzak' encourage you to spend?

Photo by Eduardo Soares on Unsplash

With online digital giant threats such as Amazon, the retail industry is in a state of continuous competition to gain customers’ attention in order to survive in today’s market. The research revealed that customers in a retail environment can make judgements on the attractiveness of products in just 17 milliseconds (Alexandre et al., 2012). It is important for retailers to understand consumers’ shopping behaviour and their movements within the stores, and precisely how physical environment and atmospheric cues such as ambient lighting, scent, and background music within a retail store may affect consumers’ attitude towards products, their attention and product judgements, their walking speed within the store, as well as their spending.

Photo by Eduardo Soares on Unsplash played in a retail environment positively influenced shopping intention of the customers.

Mehrabian and Russell (1974) suggest that individuals react to places with two types of behaviour: approach and avoidance. Approach behaviours involve all positive behaviours of an individual directed at a particular place, such as the desire to stay, explore, and work, while avoidance behaviours include the opposite, i.e., a desire not to stay, explore, and work. In the context of the retail environment, consumers’ approach behaviours such as shopping enjoyment, the time they spent browsing, spending money, and exploring the store may all be affected by their perceptions of the environment (Donovan and Rossiter, 1982).

The concept of servicescape was developed by Booms and Bitner (1981) to highlight the influence of the physical environment in which a service process takes place. The musicscape framework developed by Oakes (2000) is an extension of the Servicescape model, which highlights music as one of the environmental dimensions influencing customers’ behaviours within a retail environment. Music is sometimes created as muzak that is background music composed and used for creating a more pleasing and comfortable environment for consumers in various service or retail contexts, in which music is considered as something to hear and not listen to. Research on atmospheric cues in retail stores explored the effects of music on a wide range of perceptions and behaviours (e.g., purchase intention, actual purchase, actual and perceived shopping time and waiting time, store evaluations etc) through manipulating a range of structural characteristics of music such as volume, tempo, key, texture, arousal, familiarity, liking, complexity, and perceived mood.

Findings of the research by Turley and Milliman (2000) on the presence and absence of music suggest that background music makes consumers feel better and hence, makes them spend more time and in turn spend more in the retail store. On the other hand, Mattila and Wirtz (2001) reveal how liked music played in a retail environment positively influenced shopping intention of the customers. Musical preference can positively affect the amount of time and money retail shoppers spend in a supermarket (Herrington, 1996). A shorter perceived waiting time in retail environments such as supermarkets may result in increased customer satisfaction. Furthermore, it could affect customers’ purchase behaviour in terms of spending more actual time in the store which may result in a higher possibility for unplanned purchases. Also, consumers may find loud music in a supermarket annoying, which can result in decreased shopping time.

One of the most influential aspects of music in terms of its impact on retail sales is what has been referred to as ‘genre’ or ‘style’. Findings reveal that congruity or match between the connotations of the musical genre and a certain product may affect sales and perception of that product. Areni and Kim (1993) examine the effects of classical and top 40 music on consumers’ shopping behaviour in a wine store and found that classical music resulted in customers purchasing more expensive wines. This could be due to classical music being associated with sophistication and prestige, and hence, customers were subconsciously encouraged to buy more expensive brands. In this context, classical music was congruous as it was expected and had relevant upmarket associations.

Close-up of a speaker

Research on atmospheric cues in retail stores investigated the effects of the congruity of the country of origin of music and the product upon consumers’ product choice. North et al. (1999) played French and German music on alternate days alongside French and German wines in the alcoholic beverages section of a supermarket. They examined the effects of stereotypically French and German background music on supermarket customers’ selection of French and German wine and revealed that French music resulted in higher sales of French wine and German music resulted in selling more German wine. This study indicated how music can subconsciously prime relevant knowledge and the choice of certain products if they match that knowledge. It demonstrates that music has the capability to activate knowledge structures associated with a specific country which may, in turn, result in the selection of products that are congruent with those knowledge structures.

Baker et al. (1992) investigate the effects ambient cues (lighting and music) on respondents’ pleasure, arousal, and purchase intentions and found that musical genre/lighting congruity increased willingness to buy through enhancing customer pleasure. Baker et al. (1994) use similar stimuli and report that classical music and soft lighting result in expectations of higher service and merchandise quality compared to pop music and bright lighting. In this context, the ambient elements of classical music led to assumptions that goods and service quality would be higher when compared to top 40 music. Oakes et al. (2013) examine the role of background music within different retail zones of a department store informing consumers experiences and transforming perceptions of the retail environment and revealed how using background music that is congruous with other servicescape elements (e.g. light, air, colour, temperature) enhanced consumers’ perception of the retail environment attractiveness.

Milliman (1982) explored the effects of fast and slow tempo background music in retail environments and reported that using slow-tempo music increased shoppers’ purchase levels compared to fast-tempo music. This may be due to the fact that fast music increases the speed of walking tempo, while slow relaxing music makes the walking tempo slower (Franěk et al., 2014). The slower a consumer walks in a retail store, the more time they may spend in the store, increasing the possibility of purchase.

In summary, reviewing the literature dealing with the influence of background music in retail stores on consumers’ shopping behaviour suggests that music can affect customers’ evaluations of the retail environment, improve their shopping experience, as well as affecting the time duration and the amount consumers spend in the retail store.

A toy shopping trolley on yellow

How retailers exploit events to boost sales

In today's retail landscape, shoppers are presented with a multitude of promotions to encourage spending, but how significant are seasonal events and factors such as the weather?

Low prices and innovative items may not just be sufficient for retailers’ survival in today’s retail environment. Retailers should develop strategies that integrate a variety of factors including assortment, store atmosphere, price, and service interface in order to create a desirable shopping experience that may lead to increase in sales (Grewal et al., 2009). Furthermore, retailers are expected to profit from various events and use it as an opportunity to boost sales. Today’s retail landscape is filled with multitude events such as Mother’s Day, Easter, Valentine’s Day, Halloween, sporting events such as Football World Cup, as well as major weather events, all affecting the ways consumers shop. Additionally, there are numerous promotional events such as Amazon Prime Day and Black Friday which may change consumers’ shopping habits as well as changing retailers’ marketing activities and supply of products.

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

Take Mother’s Day as an example. Gift giving during various events is a part of the human heritage and a universal act that has been practised in various societies worldwide (Sherry, 1983). As Anthropologist Terry Y. LeVine said: “It is a part of what it means to be human” and is an act of symbolic communication associated with an important event. Consumers are expected to spend big on every Mother’s Day, and retailers compete to take advantage of shoppers’ spending habits and drive sales on this day. It is very important for retailers to maintain a high level of creativity and innovation as the competition heats up to boost sales around the occasion. It is a special day, and consumers are looking to purchase something special. So, what retailers do to stand out in the market?

There are numerous strategies to capitalise on Mother’s Day. Retailers may dedicate an aisle or section in stores to Mother’s Day or have a dedicated Mother’s Day tab or category containing the gift options and recommendations on their websites, for example, ‘Top Gifts for Mom’. This is all about offer convenience, facilitating a comfortable purchase experience, and making it easy for busy consumers to find that special gift for their mothers in-store and online. Consumers usually look for retailers that provide gifting inspirations, and therefore, retailers may create a list of products that they think are most suitable for different mothers (e.g., new mother, grandmother, etc.).

Data shows that there is a spike in traffic the week before events such as Valentine’s Day or Mother’s Day. This means that retailers need to start their promotional activities in perfect time. In addition to consumers who plan well ahead for purchasing personalised gifts, there will also be some last-minute busy shoppers who just want to grab something and go. Therefore, retailers may place Mother’s Day gift baskets for those who are busy or not sure what to purchase for their mothers.

Gift giving during various events is a part of the human heritage

Image by Hans Braxmeier from Pixabay 

Various traditional, religious, and sports events, and unseasonably warm weather or snow on Christmas day may all contribute to enhancing supermarkets’ sales growth. For example, Kantar’s data demonstrate that consumers purchased £335 million worth of Easter eggs and seasonal chocolates in the 12 weeks leading up to the Easter 2019 (Nazir, 2019).

Photo by Vincent Keiman on Unsplash

Just like many annual calendar events that change customers’ shopping habits, a sudden heatwave or a weather forecast predicting snow on Christmas day may influence customers’ purchase behaviour. In the summer of 2017, Sainsbury’s had its highest sales growth in more than four years after hot weather boosts demands for items such as fresh fruit and vegetable, padding pools, summer clothes, and fans (Butler, 2017).

Similarly, soaring temperatures in 2017 resulted in a dramatic increase in sales of ice-cream, gin and cider. Good weather was also responsible for increase in outdoor dining with sales of fresh products rising 3.4% and sales of quiches soaring 11% (Butler, 2017). Seeing England football team in the semi-final of the World Cup was almost as unusual as finding Britain in the middle of a heatwave. However, the combination of the two during the World Cup 2018 led to an increase in retail sales. In particular, England’s successful World Cup campaign along with the ongoing hot weather resulted in the boost in sales of barbecues, beer, and big-screen TVs in the UK. For example, John Lewis reported a dramatic rise in the sales of TVs after each England win in Russia.

It is essential for retailers to forecast consumers’ shopping behaviour shifts during weather or various calendar events and plan accordingly. Consumer research data can provide valuable information about buyers, their shopping trends, how store traffic changes during different events, and what specific items they purchase on different occasions. It may help retailers to get ahead of the game by making sure that their brands are in front of customers at their moment of interest, rather than waiting until buyers already made their purchase decisions. A wide range of factors may dictate the influence on sales and what consumers purchase. However, because of the entertaining nature of events, they create a level of excitement in customers that is above the usual quality of the shopping experience. It is important for retailers to react immediately during the sporting, weather, calendar and other events and take advantage of opportunities to enhance their promotional activities and drive awareness, passion, and excitement among buyers. In other words, retailers need to be aware of what items they need to put on the shelves and when.

Meet the OU experts

A photograph of Morteza Abolhasani
Dr Morteza AbolhasaniLecturer in Marketing - The Open University Business School Department for Strategy & MarketingVIEW FULL PROFILE
A photograph of Morteza Abolhasani
Dr Morteza AbolhasaniLecturer in Marketing - The Open University Business School Department for Strategy & Marketing

Morteza’s main research interests focus upon investigating consumer responses to background music in advertising and service/retail environments. Following on from the programme of research in his doctoral studies including examining the effects of background music in advertising for services such as higher education institutions and restaurants, he is embarking upon exploring the effects of musical in/congruity upon consumers’ affective, cognitive, and behavioural responses, as well as their lived experiences of musical consumption in advertising and service/retail environments.

Morteza is chairing BB844 Marketing in the 21st Century and B324 Marketing and Society . He is in the production team for B206 Understanding Customers and is a module team member for B122 An Introduction to Retail Management and Marketing.

Dr Rajiv PrabhakarSenior Lecturer in Personal Finance, Economics - School of Social Sciences & Global StudiesVIEW FULL PROFILE
Dr Rajiv PrabhakarSenior Lecturer in Personal Finance, Economics - School of Social Sciences & Global Studies

Rajiv is the Module Chair of DB125 You and Your Money  which is the Department of Economics flagship course introducing students to personal finance. He has also been involved in producing a range of modules include the core social sciences module DD102 Introducing the Social Sciences and he is part of the module team producing a new module DD226 Economics in Practice.

Rajiv has written on 'financial inclusion' - the access that people have to the financial system - as well as inheritance tax and wealth inequality. He is currently writing a book on Financial Inclusion for Policy Press.   

Rajiv has been an academic consultant on previous BBC co-productions such as Billion Dollar Deals and Wastemen, he has also appeared on Radio 4 to talk about personal finance and written for publications such as The Guardian and Discover Society. 

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