In a highly competitive industry where the ability to attract new customers is increasingly important, more retailers are using music to help shape a superior visitor experience – however it takes a lot more than just pressing play in order to create the optimum ambience. Alex Munro, Brand Director of leading audio brands Audica and Q Acoustics, explains the key considerations…

The importance of interlinking systems

Within any retail complex there are likely to be two separately managed sound systems. Typically, there will be a public address and voice alarm system for the entire complex, and secondly, there will be separate solution within each retail unit that is used to provide the ambience. It is important they are interlinked so that if the primary complex-wide sound system needs to be used to deliver an important message, or to sound an alarm, it will override the individual systems within each store. This is why you will tend to see two separate sets of speakers in a retail store – one that was installed when the fabric of the building was built, and another that was put in by the installer as per the requirements of the retailer.

Consider absorption

Believe it or not, the contents of any room – including staff, customers, garments, goods and anything else you may find in a store – will impact the absorption of sound. That is why the volume will have to be quite a bit louder than you originally anticipate, but don’t be scared off! Retailers must also be conscious that the level of sound doesn’t impact employees that are overseeing commercial transactions, or handling returns, or other areas of the shop where conversations will regularly take place throughout the day. This will involve lowering volumes delivered by speakers in specific locations. To overcome this, some retailers may opt to use a sound designer to create a computer model of the sound coverage, based on the correct parameters, where products will be stacked, and the busiest footfall routes.

The science behind a playlist

Quite often playlists are carefully chosen to feature tracks of a similar nature, which creates a consistent atmosphere, before slower music is introduced nearer to closing time. For some retailers, the science behind constructing any playlist may even extend to beats per minute. As a result, retailers require quality speakers that can deliver high-end sound regardless of what type of music is being played, as well as for a prolonged period of time.

Time to tamperproof?

Of course, one key consideration for retailers is to ensure the sound system is very easy to turn on and off, as well as tamperproof. Many businesses will also consider systems that incorporate hidden volume controls that have been pre-set by the sound designer. This is to avoid employees turning up the volume when one of their favourite tracks is being played, and then the sound remains 10db higher for the rest of the day.

The minimalistic approach

In recent years it has become more common for installers to work closely with the retailer’s building designers to ensure that the speakers play an important role in the overall look and feel of the store – for instance, replicating the look of a nightclub or university campus. However, the most popular brief for installers remains the challenge of fitting speakers that are essentially invisible, or seamlessly blend into the fabric of the store. This trend continues to grow in popularity as manufacturers develop smaller loudspeakers that deliver sound better than you’d ever expect by the clever use of equalisation – which has proven to be incredibly effective with our MICROdot ceiling speaker from Audica, measuring only 100mm wide.

There is a common misconception that good quality speakers must be bulky and therefore take up a lot of room. However, most installed speakers are discreet and easily inserted into the fabric of the building, without compromising on the sound quality. In addition, our range of speakers from Q Acoustics Install are covered by grilles that can be spray painted to match the surrounding wall or ceiling, so they seamlessly blend in with their surroundings.

Many retailers settling on a minimalistic approach may consider hiding both the speakers and the lighting, so some installers are now fitting troughs from the front to the back of a store. When peering up at the ceiling a customer may see a fresh, clutter free surface, however within the trough, there will be a plethora of components and wiring that are delivering atmospheric sound and audio.

The safety aspect

However, if a retailer chooses to install in-ceiling or in-wall speakers, there are a few things they must consider. The first is the potential for sound pollution between floors. Installing a speaker can dramatically reduce the acoustic integrity of a ceiling or wall. As many buildings are shared spaces with multiple tenants, it is important that sound doesn’t travel and disturb other occupants within the facility.

The second consideration is the increased risk of the spread of fire between floors. According to UK Building Regulations, it is a legal requirement that small spaces, such as cavities in external walls (i.e. the ceiling) need to be enclosed at the compartment boundaries by fire-resisting materials to prevent the spread of fire from one storey to another. That’s why our fire and acoustics hoods have been designed to melt when they come into contact with high temperatures, creating a robust seal, and thus dramatically slowing the spread of fire between floors. They comply with Part B and Part E of the UK Building Regulations, maintaining 30-60 minutes of fire-resistant rating.