/ Shopping

Which shops play the most annoying background music?

Fingers in ears

We’ve had lots of requests to cover annoying music in shops, from radio stations in supermarkets to pop hits in tech stores. So we want to know which shops and music irritates you the most.

A bunch of Which? members have been in in touch to tell us how annoying they find it when they’re forced to listen to music in shops.

I must admit, I only ever notice if it’s a song I particularly don’t like – or if it’s too early in November for me to be able to stomach festive pop.

I’ve got particularly fond memories of Gorillaz’s ‘Dare’ coming on in a clothes shop, and all the customers and staff spontaneously dancing along. But, for me, shop music is generally something that usually washes over me. Or does it?

How music in shops affects you

There have been numerous studies that have discovered that the volume, speed and type of music played does have an effect on a shopper’s behaviour.

Unsurprisingly, loud music makes people spend less time in a shop. If you’re in a supermarket, music doesn’t affect how much you buy, but it does mean you make your way through the store more quickly. This means that the supermarket can get customers in and out more quickly, freeing up space in the car park and at tills, without seeing a drop in profits.

Slower music is likely to result in shoppers spending more time in a store, and thus buying more. And classical music is more likely to make people spend more compared to pop.

But if a shop gets the type of music wrong (the latest pop hits for over-25s, or easy listening for under-25s) then customers reportedly think that they’ve spent more time in store than they actually have.

So, with all this research to hand, which shops are getting their music wrong and what is it that’s irritating their customers so much? Are there any particular shops that stand out for you for their poorly-chosen, too-loud music? Or are you a shop worker who’s being driven mad by the same songs being played on a loop?

And do you feel the same about music in restaurants and pubs?

Philip Vaughan says:
27 May 2015

Music in restaurants and pubs is even worse than in shops. In a shop you can quickly get what you need and then escape – in a restaurant or pub you are there for pleasure so noise pollution is even more annoying. Sometimes it is difficult to find places which are unspoilt.

Geoff Brett says:
29 May 2015

This is a huge bugbear. We recently stayed a few days at an Old English Inns hotel, where all
meals had to be taken to the accompaniment of drooling pop music – nothing fun or attractive, just
whining ‘ballads’. This is extremely annoying at breakfast when you would think a bit of peace and quiet would be just right. We were told it couldn’t be turned off, as it was required by company policy. Same thing applies at Loch Fyne restaurants; in that case I wrote to the Marketing Director, and got a quick reply expressing regret (possibly at my lack of taste) and an assurance that at a future visit staff would turn the music down. Nothing changed. At Waterstones – a bookshop for goodness sake – the same regime applies. Anyone remember 1984?

Sally says:
30 May 2015

Don’t give up on Waterstones, Geoff. The Chief Executive, James Daunt, doesn’t like background music himself but he is leaving it up to each individual Waterstones manager to decide whether or not to stop playing it. Many branches of Waterstones have stopped playing instore music since James Daunt took over. If your local Waterstones branch refuses to stop it because “everyone likes it”, you might like to point out that their own CEO doesn’t!

CarolSue says:
31 May 2015

I agree that music in restaurants is as bad as music in shops. When eating in a restaurant one normally wants to enjoy a meal and have a pleasant conversation with friends – not to have to try to speak above the music. I have often found that restaurants are happy to turn the music down, so it’s always worth asking.

I find music in shops very distracting and often just leave without buying anything.

Do people really want it? I also feel sorry for the staff who have to put up with it all day.

Anita Brown says:
31 May 2015

If the music is loud when we enter a restaurant we turn round and go out. However, sometimes the volume increases mid-meal and then we are stuck with it. Sometimes a word with the staff will result in the volume being turned down but not always. Gentle background music is acceptable and in some cases welcome, but the music should never interfere with conversation.


So-called ‘fine dining’ is sometimes worse for music. Some hotels have really good restaurants with excellent cuisine and service but the effect is ruined by a nauseating pseudo-romantic tape-loop that hasn’t been changed in a generation.

For some of those who dislike music in restaurants there is another option. Go to one of those establishments where the the kitchen is open to the dining area and there is a constant banging and clattering of pans accompanied by multi-lingual shouting. When your meal comes after all that mucking about it’s on a bit driftwood with the chips in a bucket. But there you go.

Some pubs have got the wrong idea altogether. We can put up with a bit of background music in the easy-going casual environment of pubs, many of which are half-empty at lunchtime, but then they decide to put the television on as well and the only person watching it is also making a racket with the amusement machines. At least Wetherspoons have silent fruit machines, no music, and no TV’s [although some of them have silent screens showing videos and promo tapes]. Luckily, living in the country, we have a fabulous choice of old village inns with nothing to disturb our enjoyment but the crackling log fire and the lively conversation of the regulars at the bar [I think the current term is ‘banter’].

Thank goodness Which? hosts a polite and decent Conversation and not Rants and Banter.


Damn, I had ‘Which? Rants & Banter’ on my list of names for the new Convo 😉 Joke!


“old village inns with nothing to disturb our enjoyment but the crackling log fire and the lively conversation”. To some, John, I predict this will also be annoying – so perhaps a campaign to ban talking in restaurants? All conversations could be carried on in text messages by phubbing? Can you cancel those irritating beeps though?