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

42 Comments
By Dale Roll, SoraNews24

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

Screen Shot 2021-01-09 at 13.14.49.png

“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 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

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© SoraNews24

©2021 GPlusMedia Inc.

42 Comments
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I have actually made a hasty exit from some of the stores that play those relentless jingles. I would not classify them as elevator music at all (which is usually barely noticeable and soothing).

Surely I am not the only one that gets irritated by these jingles and the relentless noise (especially in electronic type stores)

14 ( +15 / -1 )

The Aeon near my house plays 80's hits all the time. Cindy Lauper, Journey, Michael Jackson! I feel like I am back in high school every time I go shopping there!

14 ( +14 / -0 )

I heard that the Nojima song looped every 15 seconds inside the stores is used in the same way by some police agencies to entice confessions.

"OK, OK! I confess! Just stop the music!"

11 ( +11 / -0 )

So why do they play three or four totally unrelated "songs" at the same time? Even in plush hotels, I've had dinner ruined by "Leaving on a jet plane" coming from one side of the room and the plink plonk of a koto from the other.

And at New Years, in the cheapo department store near where I work, we were treated for a whole week to some ultra trite song that started up as soon as it finished, over and over and over. It was the only thing they played. I still shudder when I recall the "jam" section.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

Never leave home without my headphones. Specifically worn to keep out noises from elevator music, kids, loud obachans, people talking about gaijin, ultranationalists and more.

8 ( +8 / -0 )

Fortunately no music in our local food stores. I don't miss it.

4 ( +6 / -2 )

An article based on what a twitter user saw on TV? Journalism at its finest here. But yes, this "music" drives me nuts, especially the endless pan-pipes Beatles in Ito-Yokodo. Japanese society is very uncomfortable with silence, preferring non-stop background music and endless pointless safety announcements.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

Me too....I find almost all the BGM too noisy and irritating. I carry my ear-plugs to use whenever I can't stand to listening to them anymore.

The only melody I like is the [Hotaru no Hikari], played in the stores closing-time...I love it, but It's sad that then, I have to rush against the closing time.(^^)

3 ( +3 / -0 )

An article based on what a twitter user saw on TV?

Yes with claims that the music is "carefully crafted" and has a "psychological" effect with no evidence or expert opinion to back it up. Opinions as fact, post-truth writing for people who want to believe what they want to believe.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

I don't mind the music so much. It's every employee that sees me screaming "IRASSHAIMASE" that makes me cringe. I often reply with, "Irasshaimashita." I mean, really, I'm there. They don't have to tell me where I am.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

Supermarkets here are stress inducing. Not just background noise, but forcing people to buy 6 onions when they only need 1 or 2.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

My local Seiyu plays early 80s Brit post-punk, like the Chameleons, which is pretty cool.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

kohakuebisuToday  10:23 am JST

An article based on what a twitter user saw on TV?

Yes with claims that the music is "carefully crafted" and has a "psychological" effect with no evidence or expert opinion to back it up. Opinions as fact, post-truth writing for people who want to believe what they want to believe.

It's actually true. A lot of money goes into research about what music to play and where in order to entice people to buy. Though Japanese supermarkets and electronics store seem to have taken the theory and doubled down, making shopping an even more excruciating experience than it already is.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Of course media has a tremendous effect on people's psychological state, not only audio but also visual.

Why do you think the elite invest so much in 'news' channels, which intentionally omit certain topics and while emphasizing a particular view on select others?

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Think about it. It would not be Japan without the noise!

You can hike 10 miles deep into a forest in the sticks, and the loud speaker comes on asking you to look for Sato-San who left home eighteen hours ago wearing flip flops, and his pajamas. He went out to walk the dog.

But as we all know, he does not have a dog, and his relatives a bit late on contacting the police.

4 ( +6 / -2 )

@ Bill Lewis

I don't mind the music so much. It's every employee that sees me screaming "IRASSHAIMASE" that makes me cringe. I often reply with, "Irasshaimashita." I mean, really, I'm there. They don't have to tell me where I am.

Ha! It must be another one of those tricks to increase cutting turn over rates. Sure helps to get me out of the store quickly.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

My local Seiyu plays early 80s Brit post-punk, like the Chameleons

I've heard Voice of the Beehive and XTC in there. Was the Chameleons tune "In Shreds"? Has that stormer become part of the machinery?

5 ( +5 / -0 )

No one studied the actual melody of that background music, it's suppose to sound cheap to make you literally feel sorry for it... it plays on Japanese emotions...

"I'm trying my best, I sound cheap but I'm trying really hard...." is what they are going for.... the emotion of feeling sorry for it and that it is cheap makes people buy it.... it's all physiological.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

I would much rather hear this msuic than what I have to listen in my current city that is also played too loud.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

My local Seiyu plays early 80s Brit post-punk, like the Chameleons, which is pretty cool.

Yes, Seiyu is the only supermarket I've come across that plays something decent. I heard that it is Peter Barakan that chooses which music they play, but I have no source for that at all. Pity it's being bought up soon by a Japanese company.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

You can hike 10 miles deep into a forest in the sticks, and the loud speaker comes on...

I went to the park on Sunday buy had to leave after 30 minutes, the endless high-volume announcements literally drove me out!

3 ( +3 / -0 )

This drives me mental. I shop at places that do not play muzak, and I try very hard to avoid visiting places that do. I also use earbuds to kill the sound. I think that employees at places like Yamada Denki, Bic Camera and the rest of them (sorry, I won't set foot in those places) should bring suit against their employers for abusive working conditions. Finally, here's to Yamaya for playing real jazz.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Think how bad it must be if you work there!

In a couple of stores where the music was coming out of a cheap mini hifi, I've turned the volume down as it was making my ears bleed. Probably freaked out the staff to have a gaijin adjusting the volume.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

My local Seiyu super plays some interesting tracks.

Today I had to use Shazam to find out what the song was..

Supermarket blues by Eugene McDaniel.... hilarious!

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Cheap Music ( not cheap thrills ) , "IRASSHAIMASE", Sales promotion poor young girls yell all day , Jesus...

Spoiling the whole beautiful, posh, chic atmosphere.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

I thought it was to psychologically drive workers nuts if they work a full day, so that most do not ask or try to be full time employee and cost the company by having to give them full benefits.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

“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. 

True. BGM in the floors is coded strategically for in-house communication. For another instance, a music switches to a designated one when it starts raining outside (so that shop crew prepare for it by putting extra mats and plastic bags for guests' umbrella at the entry). Staff language is also often coded.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

If you want cool (Brit) 70s and 80s classics, boys,n,gals, now then-now-then arrgh. arrgh, Hanamasa supermarket in Tomigaya (Yoyogi) in Shibuya-ku, I can imagine nearby resident Shinzo Abe playing air-guitar to Duran Duran's "Ordinary World" in the wee hours there. Oh yeah, Rock On!

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I love the Don Quioxte theme tune and often sing it at home. Its usually a signal for us to pay a visit. But at the store itself a lot of the music is played so loud its distorted and in the men's underwear and sock section they creepily have the same Michael Jackson track on permanent loop also disturbingly loud. It's hard to believe it helps sales stall.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

At all. Not stall.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I will take the Handsman theme song (even on loop) in Miyazaki. Hired a local high school girl with bell clear singing voice for it. That and I like hardware stores, I guess.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I hate that music, I get out as soon as I can. This Muzak is everywhere, this is such a noisy country.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

dont forget the auld lang syne that push you out from the store.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I can understand playing French music in the French wine isle and possibly German music near the German wine etc, and faster music in the store so people buy more etc, but what sort of music do they play in other stores? like in an adult material shop?, or a DIY shop? or a car sales show room?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Brian Wheway-- a few suggestions for your first place? M Jackson--Beat it or Devo-Whipit

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I came in here for that special offer – guaranteed personality

Lost in the Supermarket, The Clash

2 ( +2 / -0 )

My memory might be fading, but not my ears. I, for one, appreciate more of the background music in Japan than can be usually found in my native U.S. Even in a fairly cheap hole-in-the-wall restaurant, I can often identify an original piece by Bill Evans, Miles Davis, or Herbie Hancock. But two shops stand out for me.

One is a Daiso ¥100 shop near Mukogaokayuen station. A couple of years ago while picking up a few pieces of stationery, the barely audible background music made me stop in my tracks to identify what I thought was the trailing falsetto of Milton Nascimento in 'Miracle of the Fishes'. No way, I thought to myself, so I remained frozen in my tracks, listening to hear if the next piece was an indication of whether I was right. The next piece was Tom Jobim and Elis Regina's classic rendition of 'Waters of March'. I looked around as if I were in an episode of 'Dokkiri Camera' (an old Japanese version of an even older U.S. program ... 'Candid Camera'). My guess is that not a single other shopper or worker could identify those two songs, but I wanted to hug whoever chose the bossa / MPB internet radio site.

The other shop, I haven't been to lately, but the Machida Tokyu Hands was also all-Brazil, all-the time. I used to window shop there just to listen to the music.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Oh ... and one more song that I liked, but because it was the only song the shop played at the time, was P.C. Depot's use of the Al Jarreau hit, 'Mornin'. Great song, but a thousand times a day?

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Steve MartinJan. 13  07:21 pm JST

Oh ... and one more song that I liked, but because it was the only song the shop played at the time, was P.C. Depot's use of the Al Jarreau hit, 'Mornin'. Great song, but a thousand times a day?

A few years ago I was shopping at a Media Play entertainment store and the TV section kept on repeating/looping this ad promoting the current Paul McCartney tour and it kept playing that clip of him singing, 'Back In the US, back In the US, back In the USSR!' Every 5 - 10 minutes this ad would repeat itself. Now I like the Beatles and Paul's solo career as well but the constant replay would get on anybody's nerves. When I was at the checkout line I could still hear Paul singing, 'Back In the US, back In the US, back In the USSR!' and by that time I was ready to scream. To quote another Beatles song, 'It's All Too Much'.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

At my first job after my military discharge we had canned music over a PA system of 'light' rock and pop songs from the past 10 years or so - everything from 'Waiting for a Star to Fall' by Boy Meets Girl, 'Handle With Care' by the Travelling Wilburys, 'Avalon' by Roxy Music and so forth. Most of the setlist was pretty good, and palatible to most of us.

Ten years later I was another job working for my city at a computer terminal and a PA constantly flooded us with a local radio station whose format is the slow, boring, soulless variety of absolute schlock called 'adult contemporary' AKA , 'Radio KRAP' or Queen might refer to as 'Radio Gaga, Radio Googoo, Radio Nana'. JUNK! It had an afternnon show featuring 'love songs and nothing but love songs' hosted by John Tesh and his wife Connie Seleca and some teary-eyed caller would ask them to put on a 'piano + howling vocal' piece of mush for them. And every hour on the hour there was Celine 'the Wounded Feline' Dion, wailing her 'Titantic' or whatever ear gruel. I hated it, it made me sick. Wretched and totally unlistenable. Yeeeccchhh.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Not only in Japan, in many stores all over the world they play jingles/music and there is a reason behind it.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

tottenhaminremnantsJan. 12  07:19 pm JST

If you want cool (Brit) 70s and 80s classics, boys,n,gals, now then-now-then arrgh. arrgh, Hanamasa supermarket in Tomigaya (Yoyogi) in Shibuya-ku, I can imagine nearby resident Shinzo Abe playing air-guitar to Duran Duran's "Ordinary World" in the wee hours there. Oh yeah, Rock On!

That's the stuff that I like to hear when I am in a supermarket. I've also heard some really good 'cool' stuff like 'Captain of Her Heart' by Double and even pub rock like 'Crackin' Up' by Nick Lowe, or something smooth like 'Don't Stop the Dance' from the suave Bryan Ferry. Good mellower rock, no schlock.

OTOH I went to an electronics store once and the sheer volume was so damn overwhelming when you entered thru the doot. A sonic assault! I couldn't even hear myself think. The song was by Celine Dion, too. I went to the offending stereo on display, turned the volume down and switched stations. A meathead employee switched it back and cranked that crap up to max volume again. I left, they lost a customer. I never entered that store again, not even when they had their going-out-of-business sale.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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