When the point of sale

WHEN THE POINT OF SALE SOUNDS SMOOTH_ Reflections on the DOMUS system at L’illa shopping centre



L’illa shopping centre has scrapped the piped ‘music’ and has replaced it with a computer system that automatically generates abstract sounds. It is a radical innovation in the shopping experience field.

Researchers at Florida Atlantic University have shown that a given melody does not simply depend on musical parameters but also on each individual’s experience. In a multi-segmented retail setting such as a shopping centre, this initiative may make sense.


Since the 31st of March 2010, the 17 million customers who have wafted through L’illa, Barcelona’s up-market mall, have done their shopping without music.

The decision was a controversial one because many authors, such as M. Gobé (2001), assert that music influences on the time customers take to do their shopping and even on the amount they spend.

The DOMUS system

DOMUS is not just another piped music system. In fact, it does not play music at all. Rather, it provides what might be termed “smart soundscapes”. This sound system has been specially designed for L’illa.

The heart of the computerised system is an automatic sound generator which adds in natural pre-recorded sounds—the tweeting of birds in a garden, waves breaking on the beach, the chimes of bells at midday, for example. It is as if the machine thinks up sounds in real time and orders them without any human help according to the following rules:

The sounds  have to be unpredictable, not repetitive, subtle, pleasant, and different for each area in the shopping centre.

The time of year, day of the week, weather, frequency of visits and pace of shoppers have to be taken into account.

The sounds must not be aggressive or ram tunes into shoppers’ ears. Rather, the idea is that  the soundscape ‘accompanies’ customers, especially when there are few people.

The soundscape should not alter visitors’ behaviour.

The sounds are appropriate for L’illa, an open building with lots of natural light and with its own courtyard.

The sounds appraisal is based on each customer’s subjective perceptions.

This innovation in retailing was the result of collaboration between L’illa’s management and Gracia territori sonor, an interdisciplinary social platform based in Barcelona’s Gracia District whose members share a passion for innovative music.

Doubts regarding DOMUS’ effectiveness

DOMUS is a ground-breaking system but like any innovation, it raises serious doubts.

On the one hand, there is still no evidence that it improves sales or creates greater customer satisfaction.

To measure its real impact, instead of administering questionnaires, whose replies may be biased, it would be better to look at the statistics on complaints to L’illa’s management before and after installing the DOMUS system.

On the other hand, DOMUS breaks with the idea (seldom well-implemented) of using music to change shoppers’ behavioural patterns in order to make more money.

However, Chapin et al (2010) at Florida Atlantic University have discovered that emotional responses and neural triggering depends as much on the parameters of the musical stimulus (for instance, type of sounds, tone, tempo) as on each person’s musical experience.

Accordingly, a given kind of music may generate different emotions in people. In a multi-segmented shopping centre, it therefore makes sense to avoid conventional songs.

Paradoxically this system maximises personalisation given that the sounds are subjectively interpreted at the neurological level.s

Innovation and leadership

Leaders, like L’Illa, may innovate with less risk and their customers expect so. Sometimes –  when innovating – they may save the music license expenses. s

(1) Chapin, H.; Jantzen, K.; Kelso, J.; Steinberg, F.; Large, E. (2010): Dynamic emotional and neuronal responses to music depend on performance expression and listener experience. PLoS One, Vol.5, No.12, p.1-14.


Lluis Martinez-Ribes

Source: Distribución Actualidad, the spanish retail magazine

(nº 422, january/february 2011)