By Ricky O’Bannon
robannon@bsomusic.org

According to various studies, listening to classical music can be good for you, but it might not be as beneficial for your wallet.

A new study out of the United Kingdom found that online shoppers listening to classical music overrated a product’s quality by 5 percent and were more likely to make a bad purchase decision.

The Sound of Shopping study — which was commissioned by the UK eBay offices — asked 1,920 participants to rate the value and quality of a product as well as their emotional response and intent to buy while listening to 18 different sounds. Those sounds included both classical and pop music, soccer play-by-play, a news broadcast discussing the economy and also environmental sounds such as a baby crying, birds singing or a running air conditioner.

Unsurprisingly, stressful sounds like a crying baby or roadwork put consumers in a bad mood. That negative attitude transferred to how participants viewed the quality or value of products. Similarly, positive sounds like birds singing, pop or classical music put consumers in a positive emotional and those good vibes were usually passed onto the product.

Despite those good vibes, consumers weren’t more likely to get suckered into making a bad purchase — except in the case of positive sounds that are associated with luxury or quality such as classical music.

According to the study, “It’s possible that the quality [associated with the musical sound] is being primed and transferred to the products, resulting in more favorable evaluations than should be afforded.”

The result did not surprise Patrick Fagan, a specialist in consumer behavior from Goldsmiths University who conducted the study for eBay. Fagan said he expected this result based on other research, and he pointed to a 1993 study out of Texas Tech University where participants who were listening to classical music bought more expensive wine than those listening to Top 40.

Sounds classified as rational and unemotional tended to cause consumers to make fewer bad shopping choices. Classical music is often written with a rational logic and much of it is arguably less overtly emotional than a lot of popular music — which was shown to be good shopping music as less than a third of pop listeners made a bad purchasing decisions. However, the associated quality and luxury aspects still won out for classical music, resulting in more frequent bad shopping decisions.

“While classical music is generally more cognitive than other forms of music, it still has an emotional and luxurious aspect, which is felt even if one is analyzing the structure of the music,” Fagan said.

Fagan said he believes that a participant’s experience and familiarity with classical music will affect the result. Listeners who associated the music with quality and luxury were the ones who were likely to overvalue the quality of the blender, shoes or barbecue grill they were offered. That association Fagan said might be influenced by culture, familiarity or personal preferences.

Using the sounds shown to promote smarter purchasing decisions, eBay has created a two-minute track that should help you shop wiser online. By all means give it a try while you’re shopping for that new Mahler recording, but maybe wait to listen to that recording until your credit card is safely out of reach.