Reducing noise pollution in your retail store

Did you know a noisy retail store can drive customers away?

Noise pollution is a serious issue that can have negative effects on both businesses and the customers they serve. If you're a retail store owner or manager, it's important to understand what noise pollution is and how to reduce it in your store.

We'll discuss the harmful effects of noise pollution and give different tips on how to reduce it in your shop. We'll also explain why reducing noise pollution is important for improving the shopping experience.

Soon enough, you'll have a peaceful, lively store that's profitable for you, healthy for your staff, and delightful to your visitors.

What noise pollution is, and why it's harmful

Noise pollution is defined as unwanted or excessive sound that can have negative effects on people's health and well-being. It can come from a bunch of different sources, like construction sites, traffic noise, loud music, and more. The World Health Organization (WHO) has classified noise pollution as a public health hazard; they say sound above 65 decibels (dB) counts as noise pollution, above 75 dB is harmful, and above 120db it becomes painful.

Prolonged exposure to excessive noise levels has been linked to a variety of health problems, including high blood pressure, heart disease, sleep disorders, hearing loss, and more. In addition to these physical health effects, noise pollution can also lead to mental health issues such as anxiety, stress, and fatigue.

In businesses, noise pollution can have a bad impact on employee productivity, happiness and wellbeing. In retail, it won't just affect workers, but customers too.

Why reducing noise pollution is important for retail stores

Your first concern when it comes to in-store noise pollution is the negative effects it has on your workers.

If they're repeatedly exposed to sound pollution in store, they're going to suffer the problems we listed above – and that means they'll be less productive, less friendly to customers, and less willing to help people and make sales. You're also at risk of them wanting to leave and find another job.

It's been suggested by psychologists that retail workers exposed to lots of clichéd Christmas music in the winter can suffer damage to their mental health and ability to concentrate:

"It really does stop you from being able to focus on anything're simply spending all of your energy trying not to hear what you're hearing."

If your shop floor staff can't concentrate properly in their workspace, it's going to be much harder for them to do a good job.

Secondly, in-store sound pollution is going to badly effect the customer experience.

When you're giving your customers a headache throughout your noisy shop floor, not only will they lose their concentration on your products, they just won't be in a happy mindset.

They'll look for what they came in for, and get things done quickly.

You won't have the calm, attentive customer who's ready to engage with your merchandising displays or talk with your staff. They won't hear brand messages you play and won't remember the memorable products they would have enjoyed trying.

High levels of noise mean the intelligibility of conversations is lower. If people can’t hear each other, they get frustrated, and they won’t remember what they talked about.

In summary...

A noisy environment tends to make customers move on quickly. Here, we can borrow an observation from the food industry.

People have been shown to finish their drinks more quickly when fast music is playing.

One popular fast-food chain is rumoured to play loud, fast music along with bright lights, letting their diners sit on uncomfortable chairs. The result: people finish their burger and get out quickly. What's more: according to Zagat, too much noise is the second most common complaint from restaurant customers around the world.

And you don't really want these situations happening in your retail store, do you?

Even customers browsing products can contribute to noise levels.

With retail, there's a variety of customer opinions on what they enjoy and don't. One survey found that a higher volume of sound imposed on their experience:

"The greater the volume, the greater the imposition these shoppers felt. Some shoppers avoided altogether “noisy” or “loud” retail spaces. Others reported getting through the shopping experience faster than they would have liked."

And there's plenty of examples of shops putting on a sensory-friendly shopping hour for people who prefer a quieter experience.

So the demand is definitely there to reduce noise exposure for customers.

That said, we've previously seen how well-targeted sound or music can increase retail sales. Customers have different preferences, and some feel better when there's music playing. We're big fans of intentional sound enhancing the retail experience - for example, as part of your Point-of-Purchase (POP) displays.

So there is a balance to be struck – aiming for total silence isn't the best solution. If you want to reduce negative impacts and improve the shopping experience, it's important to reduce noise pollution in your retail store, and get more intentional with your sound.

Here's a few of our favourite tips on doing just that.

How to reduce noise pollution in your retail store

Lots of things go into designing your acoustic environment, and it can be a complex mix of physics, architecture, psychology and hygiene.

For example, we could recommend you use soundproofing material: materials that can help reduce the amount of noise that travels through walls, ceilings, floors and even windows. But sometimes you can only decide on these while designing and rebuilding the whole environment.

It's more likely you're already settled in your space, so instead, we'll look at some quicker fixes. There are various ways to reduce noise pollution in your retail store without going through a full redesign. Here are a few tips.

Reduce the number of sound sources

Firstly, in a retail store, you need to understand where the sound is coming from – there can be various different types of noise.

Start by doing a background noise audit - go around your store and pick out all the sound sources you can find. That might include music from speakers, point-of-sale equipment, interactive product demonstrations, printers, and copiers. It could be a squeaky door. Or there could be a busy shopping centre or road traffic outside.

Then, eliminate whatever noise nuisance you can. It might include fixing the squeaky door, or silencing the point of sale equipment. Or you might have sound from a TV playing that could be silent with subtitles, instead. Quick noise control fixes like this are the easiest way to make things a bit quieter, although you won't be able to remove everything in one try.

Noise from shopping centre concourses can leak into your store. (Photo source)

Install acoustic foam

Acoustic foam panels are a cheap way to absorb ambient noise and reduce echo in a room. (If you’ve ever seen a recording studio, they’re the angular black pads that sit on the walls to reduce noise issues).

They come in a variety of shapes and sizes, so you can easily find some that'll go with your shop fittings. While they can’t really reduce the sound level if it’s loud, they can stop it bouncing around and travelling through walls.

Use rugs and carpets

Rugs and carpets are a useful part of retail acoustic design, helping absorb sound and reduce echo. They can also help reduce the amount of noise disturbance that travels through floors because of people's footsteps.

Make sure you use retail-appropriate flooring for high-traffic areas, so they maintain their neat look over time!

Rearrange visual merchandising

By thinking about where your visual merchandising displays are located, you'll have the chance to block unwanted sound going from one place to another.

POP displays and product displays can be moved to different parts of the store – for example, a display quite close to the front door can help prevent the spread of noise pollution from outside the shop.

It's a simple change, but it could have a big impact in making your store more peaceful and blocking environmental noise.

Maintain your equipment

It's not just a squeaky door that can cause unwanted noise in your shop. Malfunctioning equipment like air conditioning systems or lifts can be disruptive sources of noise. Make sure you keep your equipment in good condition and fix anything that's broken, to reduce the amount of noise problems in the area.

Use plants and other decorations

You might be surprised at how well this works. Well-placed plants can help absorb a good amount of noise within the space.

In a small store, just a few large plants placed between noisy areas can help, or you could go further and install a plant wall between enclosures for a bigger effect.

That’s just one of the quality of life improvements they offer, though. The other advantage is that it'll improve your aesthetics and air quality. Nice!

A plant wall to reduce sound echo and noise pollution. (Source: WorkDesign)

Employee awareness

You could encourage employees to be mindful of how they're speaking and what they're doing, and to keep their voices down when they're talking to each other.

But this also includes training staff on how to use equipment quietly. It could even extend to creating quiet zones (where staff and customers can go to chill out) or quiet times of the day (for example, times where you don't receive deliveries or do phone calls).

These noise reduction strategies depend on many factors of your setup, but hopefully this makes it clear that you have plenty of creative opportunities.

Use directional speakers

We saved the best until last.

Directional speakers are an ideal solution: they play sound in a narrow beam directly to the listener, without people in the surroundings being able to hear.

No sound leakage = no sound pollution!

They integrate nicely with your POP displays and visual merchandising. They can influence customer purchase decisions with ambient sound, guidance and information, and branded displays.

Directional speakers can also attract attention over long distances and create unique, memorable branded shopping experiences. And they remove the need for headphones (which require regular maintenance and hygiene procedures).

Thankfully, there's no difficult setup involved. Just a simple audio connection and power source. If you'd like to know more, have a look at our focused speaker B or contact us and we'll be happy to talk.