Jingle hell

Condemned to the torment of nonstop Christmas music.

Now that Halloween has passed, retail’s biggest season is upon us once again. Legions of stressed-out shoppers will be struggling to stay upbeat while they cope with the hordes crowding every outlet they enter. Even the many people who do not celebrate Christmas will be feeling the pressure. Everybody has to shop.

Thrown into this annual mix, of course, are the millions of retail employees who are working extra hard in the stores and then endure the same hassles as their customers when they go out to do their own shopping. Spending that much time in stores can wreak havoc on your ho-ho-ho. Stressed-out associates can be bottomless pits of bad morale and the attitude that flows from them is often conveyed to customers, which is never good for business or store image.

A common approach to improving morale—usually conceived by people who work in offices, not in stores—is to emphasize team spirit and send positive messages that will improve associates’ outlooks toward their jobs and their customers. But there is also great benefit to be had from simply eliminating some of the things that are putting people in a bad mood in the first place. You certainly would not want to reduce the number of customers your store-level associates have to deal with, but you can dump most of the Christmas music.

The morale-damaging effects of a constant stream of songs that we have all heard thousands of times was brought home one day last December when, within the space of an hour, a clerk in a sporting goods store and one in a supermarket both complained while ringing up my purchases that the really awful part of their jobs was putting up with eight hours of Christmas music every day. That is an extremely legitimate gripe, but you do not want your employees confiding their occupational dissatisfactions to random customers.

Backing off on the Christmas music will not only boost employee morale, it may make shoppers more willing to linger—they have been hearing this stuff in every store and it is no picnic for them either. One of the attractions of online Christmas shopping is that Amazon and its ilk do not assault your eardrums with songs you do not want to hear for the fortieth time this week. Getting rid of this stuff is no big loss. Musically, some of it is quite good, but a lot of it barely deserves to be played in an elevator. And all of it is worn out from overuse. Chestnuts have been roasting on an open fire since 1944; they were done long ago.

Employees who are annoyed, grumpy and trying to tune out everything around them are not showing the attitude you want your stores to project at any time, and especially not in a season when people are primed to spend more than usual.

When was the last time, walking into a store as a customer, that being bombarded by nonstop Christmas music put you into the holiday spirit? When you were 10? Give your customers and especially your associates a break. Get a mix of cheerful, relaxing music and throw in a Christmas song or carol every tenth track or so.

People know what season it is; they cannot avoid it. Find a way to help them get through it rather than rubbing their noses in it.

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