For years, shopping malls have piped in innocuous "elevator music" to soothe savage shoppers into unloading their bulging pocketbooks.
Well, it's time to say arrivederci to Mantovani.
Today, stores like Pottery Barn, Victoria's Secret, and even staid Brooks Brothers are blasting hipper background music to entice customers to buy. And it's worked so well, retailers are selling recordings of the music that echoes throughout their stores.
The result: The CDs conveniently displayed next to cash registers with a sign that reads "Now playing."
Take Banana Republic's "Road Trip," an eclectic selection of pop hits aimed at the store's young, professional clientele.
"It's a collection of tunes your best friend would put together for you if you were taking a road trip," says Cindy Capobianco, spokes-woman for the company. "Where else can you find Al Green and Iggy Pop featured on the same disc?"
The average price of a store compilation is $6 to $12. Retailers, however, say that the discs are not intended to be cash cows. "They're more like brand builders," Ms. Capobianco says. "When people listen to one of these CDs in their home or car, they're likely to think about the store where they bought it," she adds. "It's a brilliant way to market the company image as a lifestyle."
Many retailers attribute the popularity of their CDs to the frantic pace of American shoppers. They argue that these shoppers simply don't have time to browse through music stores, so they buy their tunes from other retail stores.
"These enormous music stores that offer thousands of discs are intimidating to many people," says Mike Roland, a spokesman for Starbucks. "People simply don't have the time to waste shuffling through hundreds of titles."
Starbucks was one of the first to offer a CD compilation. The company's "Blue Note Blend" was released in 1995. The disc, which featured classics by John Coltrane, Nat "King" Cole, and Billie Holiday, was an instant hit. Starbucks claims to have sold more than 50,000 copies the first month.
This year, the company plans to release 11 CDs featuring a wide range of jazz, classical, world music, and fledgling songwriters.
The cost of producing the CDs is relatively low. Stores choose inexpensive tunes from thousands of volumes of cataloged music.
"Music is an important part of the retail environment," says Barry Knittel, an executive with AEI Music Network, which mixes soundtracks for retail outlets.
"If customers like what they hear, they stay and spend," Mr. Knittel adds. "Selling compilation CDs of what they play allows retailers another avenue to advertise their image."
At this rate, it's fair to ask, "What's next?" Perhaps an Ace Hardware CD compilation with "If I Had a Hammer."
CDS: Pottery Barn and London Fog compilations represent a growing trend.