/ 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?


I’ve just endured 12 minutes of what might have been “heavy metal” music (if I knew what it was – lots of loud jangling and thumping, anyway) whilst waiting on the telephone. When you have to put up with long waits you need something to let you know you are still connected, but why not play gentle music – some Chopin piano perhaps – unless, perhaps, the aim was to get you to put the phone down.

You have just reminded me Malcolm….

When you speak to the complaints team at Network Three they have a song called “Happy” by Pharrell Williams as the on-hold music. Really strange.

Perhaps we should give them a bit of their own treatment. If we have to go to the customer services desk we could place something awful like ‘I can’t get any satisfaction’.

I happen to believe that here is no excuse for playing music in public places at all.It is totally unnecessary, and, inevitably, repetitive to the point where some of us would like to trace the source of it and eliminate it.

Sorry, grumpy old codger.

Margaret S says:
15 July 2014

How I agree! I’m a grumpy old woman. Music sends me OUT of shops in a bad temper.

Malcolm, I agree some hold music is truly awful and not having to wait on hold is the best option but at least at least some companies like Aviva give you a choice of music… http://www.pleasepress1.com/uk/aviva/aviva-queue-music-options/

Elaine Jacobs says:
16 July 2014

Scottish Power go one better and offer to phone you back within, say, twenty minutes.

Nigel Rodgers says:
12 July 2014

There is another aspect to playing piped music in shops (or hotels, pubs etc) often overlooked: the problem of presbycusis, which affects many older and some younger people.
This means that background noises of any sort actually strike the listener as louder than foreground sounds, such as conversation. Recent findings in the USA (see ) have revealed this remarkable syndrome.
‘Age-related hearing loss, called presbycusis, is characterised by loss of hair cells in the base of the cochlea, or inner ear, that are attuned to capture and transmit high-frequency sounds,’ says Dr. Anil K. Lalwani, director of otology, neurotology and skull-base surgery at Columbia University Medical Center, New York. ‘Loss of high-frequency hearing leads to deterioration in the ability to distinguish words in conversation. Additionally, any noise in the environment leads to even greater loss in clarity of hearing. Contrary to expectation, presbycusis is also associated with sensitivity to loud noises.’ Sensitivity to loud noise is what many people complain about.
This means that for shoppers over the age of say, 50, piped music is a real problem, not a minor annoyance. People with limited hearing (about one in seven of the population according to Action on Hearing Loss, formerly the RNID), often cite piped music as the most alienating aspect of modern life. Presumably stores are not intending to drive away most older shoppers? If they are not, they need to rethink their music policy radically. (The same problem affects staff working in places filled with endless, repetitive music that they cannot control or escape.)
Interestingly, chains without any music in their branches such as Aldi, Lidl, Primark and the John Lewis/Waitrose partnership have been doing well recently, while chains such as Marks and Spencer and the Co-op, which inflict music on shoppers and staff alike, have been doing badly

C Chapman says:
12 July 2014

I totally agree with you.

I would also add that there is a public safety consideration too. It makes no senses whatsoever for DIY stores such as B&Q and Homebase to be deafening their customers with background music when the customers in these stores are trying to concentrate making decisions about electrical, plumbing and other such purchases – which could cause harm if due to the distraction of the noise pollution in these stores they purchase unsuitable items.

Annie says:
13 July 2014

I am very encouraged that this subject has been taken up by Which, and that so many people are in agreement that music in shops is an imposition.The comment about the Co-op is so apposite. I live in a small town where the Co-op is the only store, yet they have the temerity to class it as a “convenience store”with each item priced above (anything from four to ten pence above) their stores in larger towns which have more competition.So not only does one have to grit ones teeth to accept the Hobson’s choice of higher prices, but one has to suffer the loud and inappropriate “music” which I understand is chosen and imposed from Yorkshire and cannot be switched off or even turned down. Shopping is no longer part of going out, meeting and conversing with neighbors and friends in what should be a public space, but a chore to suffered, or, if possible, avoided.

I couldn’t agree more but please spare a thought for the staff. I used to work for a DIY company and during the month of December and first two weeks of January we had to listen to a 30 minute tape, on a loop that played cover versions of Christmas pop songs. That’s eight hours a day for five or six days a week for six weeks. If you’ve ever stared in to a shop workers eyes and wondered if anyone was in there. This is why. Brainwashing.

Bob Denmark says:
15 July 2014

I found this information very interesting. I suffer from mild hearing loss (I’m 63), but find loud music that younger people seem to enjoy really distressing, to the point of being painful. I had to leave one particular exercise class because I couldn’t stand it. Over the years different shops have lost many, many sales to me because, as the phrase has it “I couldn’t hear myself think”, and have gone elsewhere. I complained in ASDA today while trying to read the product details on a present for my granddaughter, to be told that the music was only loud because I was stood underneath the speaker! One tip – a request to turn music down in restaurants or pubs is sometimes politely complied with.

Elaine Jacobs says:
16 July 2014

I have complained to Boots, Co-op and Sainsbury’s that I cannot make purchasing decisions with loud music blaring in my ears. Yes, I do go through the shop quickly — without buying anything!

Have you considered shopping on line? You would get cheaper prices & no music!

Sue says:
17 July 2014

I love Aldi and John Lewis, but lately I have been turned off M&S for the very reason you mention – the music. Rather than piped music, they have started secreting small hi-fi systems around the clothing department, usually at floor level somewhere, which drives me away from what I was going to look at – and eventually out of the store in frustration. I can’t think straight and I certainly can’t enjoy a pleasant, relaxing retail therapy session – quite the opposite! Take note, M&S!

My local LIDL at Chessington started playing piped music last September (2013), The reply I got from my letter to LIDL was they are trying out music in store and they won’t stop it! The manager at the store will turn it off if requested, but I have to suffer until I find him. I haven’t been back to the store for 10 months. (so how does this improve their sales?). This store is now added to places where I don’t shop along with ASDA, HOMEBASE, B&Q, WICKS, ELECTRICAL STORES, BHS, SHOPPING MALLs to name but a few. I can’t also visit pubs (except Wetherspoons) / clubs / restaurants / Gymnasiums. YOU GUESSED—I SUFFER WITH MISOPHONIA.
I have taken to shopping online, so they have done me a favour in some ways as I find the cheapest store selling what I’m after.

Melanie says:
21 July 2014

And yet, when you write to complain, the Co-Op cites “research” which states that ‘Our customers agree that music makes their shopping experience into more of a leisure activity.” !!!!!

Melanie says:
21 July 2014

WRITE TO THEM! They do not take account of any complaints made n store.

I can never understand any announcements made in supermarkets. The so called ‘music’ is an irritation that I have to live with but could well do without- it’s just a raucous noise.
As regards music on TV/Radio at the same time as conversation, why do they do it? It does not enhance the programme in the slightest and makes it much harder to understand the conversation. There have been complaints about this for years but the people who do it take no notice.
I am glad that recognition is now being given to to this fact.
On a somewhat different subject, why is the sound of wailing women so often imposed on the most unlikely TV programmes?

Diane says:
12 July 2014

Last December I went to John Lewis in Bristol and they had a very loud live singer [who actually wasn’t that good!] telling us all to sway as we came down the escalator. It was impossible to hear what the assistants were saying so far from trying to inject some ‘Christmas Cheer’ therefore getting us to spend more I think it may have had the opposite effect by making sales difficult and causing some people to leave for some peace.

Any kind of rap or r & b has me running out of the shop as fast as my legs will take me.

One option would be to fit ear plugs and take a ghetto-blaster with you to drown out the store music. Maybe a compromise could be reached – you turn yours off if they turn theirs off.
It is interesting that some shops play music outside to deter undesirable people from gathering there. I wonder who really knows the association between music that attracts, and music that deters? Someone must have done this research.
My compromise would be no music – I really do not see why we have to have background noise at all – what does it achieve? I accept that silent films used the piano to provide emotional responses in the absence of speech, but you don’t have music when you see a play at the theatre. So why do tv dramas need it – often making the speech more difficult to hear. Perhaps tv dramas and soaps are so bad the music is the main entertainment? 🙂

AndyB says:
12 July 2014

The most pointless music I have come across is not in shops (which is anooying enough) but in the three floors of car park under a shopping centre. Music is played to the cars. I cannot imagine what sort of mind came up with that idea and even less can I understand how such ideas were carried through the fruition. The music is very intrusive because the environment is essentually a quiet one.

James A. says:
12 July 2014

There is an association in this country called ” Pipe Down” with many eminent people in ihe group
they publish a quartely paper listing the many new pubs , restraunts, shops etc. that dont play Muzak. they also provide us with a variety of small cards that you can give to the shop or pub that either thanks them or says things like , I would have shopped here only the music was too much to bear.

Sue_marie says:
12 July 2014

Personally, I don’t mind music in stores because the volume is generally low enough for me to be able to ignore it (B&Q’s cheapskate covers being the exception). However, I absolutely can’t abide the sales videos that often play on a loop in department stores. Music is easier to ‘tune out’ to than speech, and I will walk out rather than be subjected to hearing about the miraculous properties of memory foam pillows, multi-functional pruning shears, or stains removers etc. Often, there’s no escape because each department will have at least one playing. Far from being a sales aid these only help to drive me out of the door.

Cliff Robinson says:
12 July 2014

Music is often piped into the loos at French autoroute Aires. Also, adverts and information are frequently heard while spending a penny, or rather, a cent! This I find irritating, as well as music in shops or public places.

Jennie Hughes says:
12 July 2014

B&Q are the absolute worst, because they play cheap covers of 60s & 70s pop songs over a very bad PA system. (If it’s only on Wednesdays that they play this era of pop, then that makes it worse, because they are assuming that all of us who are coming in on a Wednesday to take advantage of our over-60s discount are stuck with the music we grew up with and haven’t been able to move on.)

Dobbies also play cheap covers rather than the originals – if one is forced to listen to music, please can it be the real deal rather than bad cover versions?

Silence would be even better.

Graham Wadforth says:
12 July 2014

In Las Vegas there is a speaker playing pop music in the base of every lamp post so there is simply no escape.

alan from taunton says:
13 July 2014


A capital idea. 🙂

I assume that people differ in what type of music they find most annoying or pleasant. When I was a student I worked for six weeks for a small company where pop music blared out of the radio throughout each and every day. It was an enjoyable job where I was able to pursue my hobby of electronics and be payed for it, but I hated the music and was glad it was only a vacation job. I can still remember some of the records that were played time and time again. Some 44 years later I still cringe when I hear some of this ‘music’.

I wonder if there are others who find it difficult to tolerate music in the workplace.

Elaine Jacobs says:
16 July 2014

I had a night shift proof reading for UBS bank — and was placed next to the communal radio that played Virgin radio all night long. There were a couple of songs that came round about 4 times a night that made me want to scream!

It’s impossible to proof read when there are words coming into your ears. What was worse is that most of the the operators working in the room could zone out so well that they didn’t hear it at all.

rose howell says:
7 August 2014

I don’t want to hear mantovani
either thanks

Ivor in Maldon says:
13 July 2014

Yes, I agree with most comments – but at least the doors are open, so I can leave. I find it particularly annoying when I’m bombarded with adverts for things I’ve no interest in. And noisy staff announcements – my local Sainsbury’s, an otherwise pleasant place to shop, doesn’t seem to have heard of mobile phones (or perhaps they have the same trouble as me: no signal unless you go to the door).

I thought I’d be the first to inject a moan about TV and radio sound, but I see I’m not alone. The noise that really irritates me is on local radio – the percussive din that seems to be an essential accompaniment to many announcements. No, not music, noise. My cheap keyboard could do better.

Wouldn’t it be nice to think that if you told someone about noise annoyance in a shop that any of them would be empowered to do something about it, or even care?
Head office would have fits.

Regarding head office “policy” about playing music at a particular volume in-store.

Action on Hearing Loss have published a guide for services users – that would include shoppers – about the interpretation of The Equality Act 2010. In various sections it describes:

Indirect discrimination

This is where a policy, rule or practice is applied to everyone but it has a particular disadvantage for disabled people, and you are personally affected.

Failure to make reasonable adjustments

The Equality Act requires reasonable adjustments (changes) to be made where you’re put at a substantial disadvantage compared with non-disabled people. If reasonable adjustments are not made, that’s discrimination.

Planning for reasonable adjustments

Service providers have an ‘anticipatory duty’. This means that service providers should think in advance about reasonable adjustments they may need to make, and plan ahead. This is because the duties are owed to disabled people in general and apply whether the service provider knows that a particular person is disabled or not.

Service providers should not wait until a disabled customer wants to use the service before thinking about adjustments. They must plan ahead, not sit and wait until a customer asks for an adjustment.

Protecting the fundamental nature of the service

Service providers are not required to change the fundamental nature of their service. It then gives the following specific example: “If you wear hearing aids, it is unlikely that a nightclub would need to turn down its music because you find the volume uncomfortable.”

So, turning this all on its head, it would appear that playing loud music to the detriment of a hearing-impaired person is NOT a fundamental nature of the service of a supermarket, restaurant, clothes or DIY store, or even a music store that sells videos (HMV!).

Therefore – provided it causes that person a substantial disadvantage – it is a breach of the requirement to make reasonable adjustments. And note there is no requirement for the customer to ask to have the music turned down; the service provider has an anticipatory duty.

I am neither legally trained and nor do I wear a hearing aid, so would probably not be recognised as having a disability under the Act. But if anyone does feel sufficiently discriminated against (trying to get help from a shop assistant or placing an order for food should be sufficient grounds) they might like to try writing to head office along these lines.

The only problem I see with this approach is that we are nearly all at a disadvantage, so it could be difficult to show that playing loud music is discrimination!

Elaine Jacobs says:
16 July 2014

I do complain to a check-out person and ask to speak to the manager. Then I follow up with an email to head office.

Chris says:
27 August 2014

I work for a large High Street chain who have had a mention in the posts about this problem. The music has got louder and louder over the last couple of years. I used to be able to zone out and forget about it it it cannot be zoned out anymore.I am partially deaf and have been since I was a year old, I am now 64. I have asked for it to be turned down but just get the usual insults about being old, how customers enjoy it and the classic “well don’t listen too it then”. I now realise that customers hate it as much as I do. I am finding it increasingly difficult to deal with. Perhaps Which could take this on so we could all get some peace! Please!

Dodie Gale says:
27 August 2014

Chris, if you have been partially deaf since you were a year old and can no longer zone out this music, could you claim to be a victim of disability discrimination? Apparently, our hearing changes anyway as we get older. Older people with hearing loss often suffer from a condition called “recruitment” which means that they hear background music at a louder volume than younger people without a hearing problem. So it’s a double whammy – not only are they struggling to pick up conversations against the noisy background, but they are actually hearing the “noise” at a louder volume.
I know you are probably reluctant to name the chain you work for but, if you could give us a clue, I am sure many people would be happy to write to complain.
(Chris’s reply is to a comment from July 13th)

Chris says:
29 August 2014

Thanks so much for your comment. I have researched recruitment and it does seem to apply to me. I didn’t realise there was such a thing. Today I mentioned to my supervisor that I was struggling with the shops loud music and that it was causing me a great deal of stress. He reported this to the store manager who said she wasn’t interested in that. I had a job to do and she expected it too be done! Oh boy just let me simmer gently for a while and then I will hit boiling point!
We used to call the shop the Big Happy Shop. Initially it was. Hope you got the clue as I have to be very careful about what I say. If you don’t get it I will try and think of something else!
Thanks again.


The information I supplied above about The Equality Act 2010 is of particular relevance to employees. Rather than get worked up about your manager’s inappropriate reaction, I would suggest you discuss it with a BHS staff representative, if you would feel confident speaking to them, or a confidential independent organisation like the Citizen’s Advice Bureau.

Make sure you have read your staff grievance procedure in the BHS staff handbook and follow it to the letter at all times. One thing you should probably not do is make public your complaint against your employer – hopefully they won’t see this!

Typically, the process you would follow is to make it clear to your manager that you are making a formal verbal complaint under the staff grievance procedure. You are entitled to have a staff representative or a work collegue present when you do this, both for moral support and as a witness, or to help mediate.

If you are not satisfied with the outcome of this first meeting, you will most likely need to put your grievance in writing, referring to your verbal discussion. They would then be obliged to involve HR who you can expect to have a better understanding of the duties of the employer.

Obviously, at any stage, you can end the process or revert back to the CAB for further advice. Unfortunately, I can’t advise on whether the noise is excessive and is discrimination. Only you can decide that, but your employer has a duty to listen to your grievence and respond in an approriate and professional manner. Good luck, Em..

Chris says:
29 August 2014

Thanks. I actually didn’t name anyone! But thanks anyway.

I sincerely hope that Which? will now be taking action over this dreadful nuisance; it must be obvious that piped music is a really big problem for consumers, judging by the response to this thread. In the meantime I strongly suggest that sufferers should join Pipedown International; there is strength in numbers!

I used to deal with a travel company wno always played “there is no place like home” as their hold music.It brought a smile to my face so it was.nt annoying

As a break from a bit of gardening I watched Countryfile last night; frequent bursts of intrusive anonymous background music whilst people were talking about various topics. What purpose does it serve? Perhaps there is a contract with the musicians’ union to broadcast a minimum amount in any programme? It also happened in Flogit, just after. I’m surprised that there was not continuous emotive music to enhance the world cup final.

Oh how I wish it was only Countryfile! Music can add ambience to a movie or drama, etc. But what does it add to factual programs? And it isn’t even pleasant music: just royalty-free garbage.

I get immensely annoyed when the play inane music on Channel 4 racing when people are talking. It adds nothing to the ambience, information or interest whatsoever. Perhaps a fanfare when they announce the winner of a big race as it enters the winners’ enclosure, but when someone is reading through the card!!! I can only guess that the director is bonkers and bored silly by racing.

Paul W Hunt says:
14 July 2014

I make it a practice never to patronise shops with loud music if they won’t turn it down when asked.

There are convenient Wickes DIY stores near to my house and to my son’s house. It’s a good store and the staff are helpful. However, the music is so awful, I have to plan my visit carefully in order to spend as little time in Wickes as possible.

Redwing says:
14 July 2014

I remember reading some while back of a shopping mall in the USA that played Mantovani music to keep the skinheads out… it worked, they loathed it so much. The point being that no matter what genre of music is played there will always be groups of people who will try to avoid it. If none is played, nobody complains. I’m surprised the penny hasn’t dropped for the businesses involved.

Sue says:
17 July 2014

“If none is played, nobody complains” – that sums it up perfectly!

lizbie says:
30 July 2014

Not according to the manager of my local M&S, who told me that as long as he was manager, loud pop trash would ALWAYS be played (his emphasis) because “One day when it was not on, someone said how much he missed it.”

Bob R says:
14 July 2014

B & Q gets my vote for the worst music, not because of the type of music but because of the quality.
They play the most awful cover versions I’ve ever heard, I think the staff should get extra pay for having to put up with it all day, I know I couldn’t !..
What with those hated self service tills (often with no other ‘manned’ tills) I only visit B & Q as a last resort.

Sick to death of never been able to go anywhere without being subjected to the vile noise shops call “music”. Nearly every shop and garden centre has it, and it is sometimes even piped outside! I find it incredibly stressful and it simply makes me walk out or spend as little time as possible in the shop depending on the volume. Saves me a lot of money! I suspect the “music” is for the benefit of the assistants, not the customers.