Why birdsong makes you shop more

Share this article

IF YOU'VE ever been to Glasgow airport and imagined you heard the sound of birdsong as you waited to board your flight, don't worry - you weren't in cloud cuckoo land. But you might want to check your bank statement.

Experts have been carrying out tests in the airport to see how the "soundscape" can help improve passengers' experience and make them spend more money in the process.

A mixture of computer generated ambient music and bird sounds has been subtly played into departure lounges.

The trial at Glasgow is believed to have increased sales in departure lounge shops by between three and 10 per cent.

BAA now plan to carry out a similar experiment at another of their airports later in the year - but minus the birds.

The technique is the brainchild of Julian Treasure, chairman of strategic sound consultancy business The Sound Agency. He has also worked with companies including Marks & Spencer, The Body Shop and InterContinental Hotels.

Mr Treasure, whose book Sound Business details how sales can be boosted and productivity lifted by the power of sound, said companies needed to take the noises they made very seriously.

"Sound affects human beings profoundly. Psychologically, it changes moods and emotions.

"It changes how effectively we can think and in terms of behaviour it can change what you do, choose and spend.

"Many businesses spend millions on their design and how they look, but they do nothing about how they sound.

"The sounds you hear in shops, offices, in cafs are often just the result of how things are. No thought has been put into them. We are trying to encourage business to change that."

Mr Treasure said supermarkets were the worst sound offenders, followed by shops, offices and airports.

He said there was a "huge opportunity" to improve the soundscapes and improve many businesses.

Mr Treasure said in the trials at Glasgow airport at the end of last year, the sound was generated in a way so it was never repeated and passengers did not get bored of hearing it.

"The effect on passengers was very profound. They enjoyed it. They found it restful."

It is thought that the relaxing effect of the sound also encouraged more browsing in the shops, and so more spending.

Charles Byrne, head of sponsorship and experience at BAA, said the trial at Glasgow was deemed to be a success.

"It helped to improve the experience of passengers at the airport because we were providing an appropriate soundscape.

"There was also a sales benefit. It was not enormous, but it was there," he said.

Mr Byrne said they were now looking at how they could take the idea forward with a trial at another airport.

But he said they would be taking away the birdsong in the future tests.

"The feedback from passengers was largely positive, but we did get one or two who were worried that there were birds in the building," Mr Byrne went on.

Dr David Lewis, a consumer psychologist, said more and more businesses were starting to take notice of the importance of sound in their premises.

"They realise that sound is not just background noise. It does affect how people behave."

"People do not like silence but it is how you fill that silence.

"I think sound design will become more important as stores compete with each other."

More noise less work

OFFICE workers are also the victims of noise pollution at work, according to experts.

Julian Treasure, from The Sound Agency, said research showed that working in a noisy office could distract employees so much that it could cut productivity by as much as two-thirds.

He said this was a particular problem in an age where more companies are opting for open-plan offices.

"Often if you work in a very noisy environment it is hard to concentrate," he explained. "If you cannot concentrate, it takes longer to do what you are doing."

Mr Treasure said offices needed to supply quiet areas where people could work.

"What we suggest is that there is a working space, meeting space and quiet space in offices.

"People can then go and work for as long as they want in complete silence; a bit like a library," he said.

Back to the top of the page