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Exploring the Role of Music on the Online Customer Experience
Authors: Sheilagh Resnick (Nottingham Trent University), Ayane Fujiwara Fujiwara (Nottingham Trent University), Abraham Brown (Nottingham Trent University), Kim Cassidy (Edge Hill University UK.)
Service literature has extensively acknowledged the experiential qualities of consumption (Holbrook and Hirschman, 1982). Customer service experiences, defined as a process for enabling hedonic consumption (McColl-Kennedy, et al., 2015; Jain et al., 2017) now encompass the online retail environment. Initially perceived as largely functional in design, retail websites frequently accommodate hedonic and experimental opportunities, positioned as platforms that offer enjoyable shopper experiences (Childers et al., 2001). The potential of web atmospheric stimulus, capable of inducing consumer emotional responses during the online shopping experience, has increased the importance of understanding their effects on both shoppers’ emotions and on cognitive evaluation (Hoffman and Novak 2009; Rose et al. 2012). Music, as a web atmospheric, has shown to trigger listeners’ cognitive and emotional processes, namely arousal and pleasure, which in turn influences shopper behaviour (Oakes, et al., 2013; Roschk et al., 2017). Although widely used as an aesthetic stimulus in a physical store environment, the understanding of music and its impact on shopper enjoyment in an online environment is limited (Wang et al., 2017). This research addresses this gap by exploring the impact of music as a web atmospheric on shoppers’ flow, a measure of online shopper enjoyment in an online fashion retail context. Flow is a ‘state occurring during internet navigation’ (Richard and Chabat 2016, p.542) created when consumers become immersed in, and feel in control of, the holistic online experience.
The research setting is the website of a UK vintage fashion retailer to replicate an authentic online shopping environment. Our first study used an online survey and intervention/control research design, to evaluate the relationship between the presence/absence of music as a web atmospheric on flow. Results indicated that music did not have a direct influence on shoppers’ state of flow but that it acts as a key moderating variable between arousal and flow.
A second qualitative study confirmed this result for some participants, who did not register the presence of music. For those participants, typical website browsing included simultaneous navigation of other sites, or social media links, which subsumed consciousness and reduced web atmospherics, such as colour, text design and music, to a subliminal level. For participants who registered the presence of music, results suggest they became immersed in the website browsing. The congruity of the music with other elements of the website design, and an appropriate volume of music, also enhanced a sense of shopping enjoyment. The qualitative findings support the view that when participants shop online, different cognitive elements are required to navigate a website and complete the shopping journey. Although both studies indicate that music as a web atmospheric may not directly influence shoppers’ enjoyment, our research offers a new understanding of the role of music as a web atmospheric.