/ 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?

Terry Birchmore says:
3 August 2014

This web page lists some tactics for effective protest regarding shop muzak:


It also provides customer complaint leaflets to download.

Good ideas, Terry! There are more on the “people power” section of Pipedown’s Quiet Edinburgh site (Google it…)

I notice that on the site you recommended they mention W H Smith. As far as I am aware, W H Smith has stopped playing music in its shops. So has Waterstones in many of its branches. Just shows – they can be persuaded if you can get the Chief Executive’s ear. Not always easy, especially in the case of chains, such as M&S, Debenhams, and House of Fraser…

Julie O'Toole says:
25 August 2014

The not-so-background music in my local Asda store is just about bearable, but what is REALLY annoying is when the ‘DJ’ occasionally talks between tracks as it is intrusive. Last week he was talking about the previous evening’s episode of The Great British Bake Off which I had recorded for later viewing – I was furious!

lizbie says:
3 August 2014

If classical music makes you spend more as opposed to pop, then why is the vast majority of piped ‘music’ pop?

We can only suppose that the music agencies who choose this music for their clients have never actually looked at the research, lizbie. Or perhaps they are putting other clients first, such as the musicians they are promoting? Does anyone know how this business actually operates? It always puzzles me that PRS (Performing Right Society) and PPL (Phonographic Performance Limited), the two main private music licence collectors in the UK, say they are helping musicians and yet so many professional musicians support Pipedown International, which is campaigning against piped music in public places? Any professional musicians out there who can explain what is going on?!

lizbie says:
3 August 2014

I am in the music business and know something about this. Basically, there is no connection between real musicians, who earn their living from making music, and organizations which promote piped ‘music.’ It is a different industry.

rose howell says:
7 August 2014

The coop plays their own radio station loudly with adverts booming out. I have complained in my local store and so have many people. I believe that they get paid to advertise. I just hope that the money that they get paid out ways all the money they have lost from customers who get too irritated to shop with them any more. Perhaps not as I think they are now losing money. I know that dividends are now non existent or at least not worth having.
Sainsbury has a non music policy except for a few days at xmas. I don’t know why they have to spoil a good thing just because it is Xmas but till then they get my money.

Hello Rose,
I was interested in your comments on Sainsbury’s. I understand that some of their stores are muzac free but not all. At our local store (which is normally muzac free) they did start playing muzac at Christmas 2012 & I complained to a member of staff, who said that he hated it too but it was even worse for him as he had to put up with it all the time until Jan 1st. I then wrote to complain to Sainsbury’s head office & then later when I went in the store between Christmas & new year there was no muzac! This Christmas there was no muzac at all at anytime over Christmas. I hope that I have had some lasting effect.

There is nothing quite so awful as Christmas music, is there? I contacted Tesco via their feedback website and congratulated them on a very pleasant shopping experience due various things including the lack of piped music. I also said that if they introduced musak at Christmas as they had done previously then I would be ordering from ASDA via the net. The next Christmas was wonderfully free of noise nuisance. Excellent!

Co-op is one of the most stubborn offenders I’ve ever known. I am aware they have had a great many complaints, and I know that locally their own staff have complained, both for themselves and on behalf of customers. However, the Co-op management’s attitude seems to be that they know best and we’ll all just have to put up with it. Well not me; I haven’t been into any of their shops for years, and nor will I until they take notice.

On one of my last ever visits to one of their stores I complained to a Co-op branch manager, who told me they couldn’t switch it off because ‘it comes down from a satellite’. Another customer, upon overhearing our conversation, gave the poor chap such an earbashing about the noise nuisance that I felt quite sorry for him.

Tony Osborne says:
31 August 2014

Good for you! I wish more people would do this. I am a musician, by the way!

A few people have mentioned the co-op refusing to turn off music. I worked in the co-op for 3 months in late 2007 and we could always turn off the music.

The co-op has it’s own radio station that comes from head office, but the volume etc was in the office. I worked split shifts. 6.00am – 10.00am, then 8.00pm – 11.00pm.

Our evening manager loved the music so we already had it on, but on a morning we had a women manager and she hated it, the first thing she would do was turn it off.

When I used to walk in store at 5.30am ready to start at 6.00am the music would be so loud, but on a evening we couldn’t tell. Plus no customers asked us to turn it down or off too.

I’ve also worked as a night manager at both Tesco and Sainsburys, we never had music apart from xmas time. Xmas music was amazing as it took me right back to being a child again and it didn’t really feel like work when we could sign along to music all night. Again, no comments from customers too.

Sally says:
8 August 2014

My daughter had the opposite experience when she worked on the check-outs in Asda as a student. She said that customers complained all the time about the music. On one occasion the system broke down and there was no music for a few hours. Several customers commented on how much nicer it was without music. Then the system was mended and the customers started to complain again. When I asked my daughter if she had passed on this information to her manager, she said she hadn’t as she didn’t want to annoy her manager.
You say you worked as a manager, Lee. Possibly you didn’t hear the complaints that the check-out staff heard. Very few people complain to the manager about background music in shops as they don’t like to make a fuss. Virtually everyone I know either dislikes it or can “switch off”. This Which? conversation seems to bear this out.

Co-op are the worst offenders in my opinion. Their music is horrendous and loud, and they are very very rude when dealing with complaints. I have been told in no uncertain terms that ‘feedback’ proves that their customers enjoy the music. I think this is simply a lie; the customers in my local supermarket seem all to be over 70, and I doubt very much if they enjoy the caterwauling that they are forced to endure.

The situation is even worse than it seems at first sight. I can (and do) shop elsewhere, but I have to use the post office which is directly opposite the loudspeakers. The Post Office pass the buck back to co-op and deny that they can influence the owners of the site from which they operate. What rubbish!

Further to my comment on the 30th July when I outlined my B&Q ‘shopping experience’ where, because of the music, I hurriedly left and ended up purchasing my good on-line (not B&Q).

As indicated I had written to the B&Q HQ explaining my position (for information:-
B&Q plc, B&Q House, Chestnut Avenue, Chandlers Ford, Eastleigh, SO53 3LE)

Whilst my letter was sent on the 21st July, as yet there has been no response in any shape or form!!

Unfortunately there are none who are as deaf as those who do not want to hear!!

Having moaned about Homebase at the start of this Conversation I thought I’d give B&Q a try for some decorating material today. The dreadful din from the loudspeakers made it almost impossible to find the paint colours I was looking for in their higgledy-piggledy stacks. So we got what we had to get and exited tout de suite going to the excellent Wilko for all the other stuff we wanted.

John, there is an e-mail address for the CEO of B&Q. I wrote to complain and did get a reply. It is Kevin.OByrne “at” kingfisher.com

The Dealer: Did the CEO take your point or did you get fobbed off?

Thanks for the suggestion, The Dealer. Since the nuisance persists to this day I conclude that the CEO took no notice of your complaint. There are more pleasant altenative sources of DIY goods so I have withdrawn my custom from B&Q. Homebase likewise. I can order things upto six o’clock from Screwfix and have them delivered by 12:30 the next day.

Screwfix, like B&Q, is part of the Kingfisher Group. It’s odd that they feel their trade customers don’t need instore music to “entertain” them.

His assistant, who replied and said he reads all his e-mails, was very sympathetic because she doesn’t like piped music herself. However, she admitted that B&Q had no plans to stop playing it. I am sure a few more complaints wouldn’t go amiss, especially if this Which? research was cited. I haven’t counted up the complaints about B&Q but I am sure it is in the top two!

Alison Thurgood says:
18 August 2014

I regard piped music in shops, public places, restaurants, etc. an invasion into my personal audio space and respond by turning round and leaving. Vote with your wallet is my advice. However, there are areas where it can’t be avoided, such as surgeries, hospitals, and so on which I find intrusive, stressful and unnecessary. It is no surprise to learn that the Americans use loud pop music as a form of torture – personally, I’d spill all the state secrets of which I might be in possession,

Jenny W says:
18 August 2014

Not music but very irritating and intrusive even when at low volume: the little screens and recorded sales voices in Robert Dyas stores, telling the unwary shopper going peacefully in search of something, how absolutely wonderful some product or other is.

carley says:
22 August 2014

Homebase play the most annoying music, the songs get under my skin.
Most women’s fashion shops are out of control with the music, I give up shopping as I get so annoyed, its way too loud, I either take headphones, or shop online.

The worse shops for irritating, loud music are Marks and Spencers, Wickes, Dunelm, Homebase, Next, the list goes on and on. It is easier to say which stores don’t play this vile noise. Lidl doesn’t and my local Sainsburys doesn’t after I and many others complained about it, John Lewis is another quiet store although I was in there today and they had radio on in the carpet dept! I always curtail my time in noisy stores and either spend little or nothing at all as I find the noise so stressful.

Dave says:
22 August 2014

Please complain if your local John Lewis has started playing music in their carpet department, Liz. It might just be one individual Saturday employee who doesn’t realise that you need a licence to play music in shops. John Lewis has always stated that they don’t play background music and have no intention of changing this policy. Definitely need to stay vigilant!

Thanks, will do!

Alan says:
23 August 2014

Staff in supermarkets and shops where piped music is played almost certainly get so used to it that they neither listen to it nor even hear it! On the other hand many people (like myself, my wife, Joanna Lumley and Stephen Fry) find it really distressing, so this is not a 50/50 argument. It’s a popular culture thing many of us could do without. On the other hand what we could really do with is a healthy public debate about it where people from all sides of the debate really LISTEN to what is being said and consider what can be done about it. I recently had to wait seven hours in a hospital room where piped pop music was being played before being taken down to surgery. It was agony – and I was forced to find another place to wait when my request for it to be turned off was turned down. As there was only one other person waiting – who didn’t mind – I felt badly about this. Listening is not what goes on to piped music!

Sally says:
23 August 2014

Alan, did you know that there is an online petition against forced music in hospitals? Lots of people feel exactly the same way you do. Just Google, against forced music in hospitals gopetition, and it should come up

Tammy Adams says:
23 August 2014

ASDA. . . . enough said.

Margaret Barnes says:
24 August 2014

Clinton’s Card shops! How they think over-loud, jangly, boomp boomp boomp music aids the concentration needed in selecting cards thoughtfully I can’t imagine. I can’t wait to get out of the store, and invariably regret having entered it. Customers shopping alongside me have muttered about the dreadful music on several excursions. The girls at the till said they hated it, too. Clintons are losing custom – with a quieter WHS opposite the store an easy alternative.

I thought Clinton’s Cards had gone bust.

Re my post of 22nd Aug I wrote to John Lewis complaining about the loud music in their carpet dept. They wrote back very promptly saying it was a radio in a bathroom mirror in the adjoining dept which was playing! They were very apologetic saying it had probably been turned up by a customer and it was not their policy to have background music. Result!

Presumably the offending radio was a display model. I make a point of turning off annoying music if I can.

lizbie says:
26 August 2014

I turn it off, too, or ask that it be turned down. Reactions I have had: “What is the matter with you? Are you not normal?” and, my personal faviourite: “Just because YOU don’t like music, don;t mean that others don’t like it!” I am a musician.

You can probably guess what my response is to salespersons who ask ‘Can I help you?’ 🙂

Wherever possible I also turn off those irritating TV screens in some stores that play a continuous loop about the marvels of the miracle mat or what you can do with the wonder brush.

I thought I was the only one who stopped shopping at the Coop because of the tacky “Coop Radio”.
I really can’t understand why they persist with the current set up. Its tacky, downmarket and patronising. What do they gain from it?

lizbie says:
26 August 2014

They gain nothing, in fact they lose custom. However, I have found that if you say it is “downmarket” you are accused of being a “snob” (ooh, Heaven forfend!).

You are not alone Phil, I have not been into a Co-op store for some years now because of the awful noise. As I mentioned earlier, Co-op is one of the worst offenders; I know they’ve had many complaints about piped music but they think they know best so they treat us all like idiots and ignore us.

It’s bad enough in shops but the latest indignity is in banks! Both Lloyds and Halifax (and probably the rest!) have started doing it.
I have complained repeatedly in my branch and have even emailed the head office – all to no effect.

In shops and pubs it’s usually the muzak with a hysterical screaming woman that gets my blood pressure rising!

Why do they do it?

lizbie says:
26 August 2014

They do it because they are conned into believing that it “increases footfall” – it is a million-dollar industry for those who promote it. M&S alone pays hundreds of thousands for it.

The worst offenders in my opinion are Co-op and Boots.All my local mini supermarkets are Co-ops & it’s quite a way to Sainsburys who happliy do not play music.Boots music is annoying particularly as they are always moving their stuff around & you have to hunt for what you want to the unwelcome accompanying din.My local Day-Lewis pharmacy does not play music but does not stock everything I want.

The comment about music in hospitals reminded me of my attempts to get music switched off in the health sector.

For several years I put up with a radio playing in my dentist’s surgery (i.e. in the surgery itself, not in the waiting room). Then I complained – the dentist thought it relaxed his patients! But I persisted, and eventually he gave in; the radio is always off when I go there now; but I’m not sure if that’s just for me, or for every patient.

In the waiting room in my G.P.’s surgery, there is always a radio on. I complained, but was told that the walls are so thin that, without the radio, the doctor/patient conversations can be heard in the waiting room!

One of the dentist’s I use has Spotify in the surgery & lets you asks what music you want on. It’s perfect 🙂

lizbie says:
26 August 2014

That’s the excuse they use in hospitals – ‘it masks confidential information.’ It’s nonsense, of course.

They could play a soothing tape of breaking waves rippling up the beach if that was a genuine explanation.

John says:
26 August 2014

Visited the new Debenhams store at Cheshire Oaks with my wife on the 3rd day of opening.
Looking to purchase a watch. Jewellry counter located in cosmetics hall. Music was not just intrusive but was unbearable to such an extent that it was difficult to hold conversation with shop assistant. We complained to assistant who was very pleasant but did not heed our complaint and dId not suggest who we should complain to. The music certainly deterred us from buying a watch. THIS IS A NEW STORE SO THEY MUST HAVE BEEN ADVISED THAT IT WAS BENEFICIAL FOR THIER SALES TO PLAY SUCH MUSIC. THIS REALLY DISMAYS ME.

lizbie says:
26 August 2014

They will have been advised to have it, by the ‘consultants’ to whom they pay a small fortune, to tell them these lies. Every single piece of unbiased evidence shows that the majority hate muzak, yet they persist.

Barry Cooper says:
26 August 2014

Christmas music in Tesco drives me mad. At least they don’t play any music for the rest of the year.

Barry, I complained to Tesco about that in 2013 and they told me that there would be no more piped Christmas music in any store in the UK. Sure enough, December 2013 was blissfully quiet and I look forward to a similar Dec 2014.

lizbie says:
26 August 2014

Really? The Tesco ‘Extra’ in Sutton, Greater London, had Christmas music last year.

Our Tesco’s in Leeds did too!

I guess either the staff here were mistaken or ‘head office’ has changed its mind; we shall see.

Tony Osborne says:
31 August 2014

Tesco Wellington Extra Superstore in Slough is probably the worst offender – and the managers are so aggressive if I complain – i’ve been threatened with being removed and barred – that’s after my late wife and I have been two of their most loyal customers for best part of 28 years!

They have:

Harris & Hoole Coffee shop, right by the lifts, toilets and Customer Services – with an extra seating area even closer to Customer Services – and speakers hissing and squealing away from 7 am – so you can barely make conversation.

Their new Decks restaurant has booming, banging muzak also from 7.30, so I cannot go in there.

Their new ‘Euphorium’ bakery has squealing muzak in their whole area, which spills out into the adjacent aisles.

Their new ‘Beauty World’ section, which looks to me more like a prison camp, has a horrible little hi-fi unit under the first display unit, off the central walkway, booming and screeching. This offends the nearby Pharmacy – where they have to focus on what they are doing!

Various TV monitors positioned either in the TV area, or anywhere they feel like placing one, scream out their adverts and muzak.

If I go in around 5-7 am, as I often have to, the night workers often place hi-fi units on top of the frozen food cabinets, spewing out thumping, screeching muzak.

Between 9 and 10 pm, they have a hideous, deafening and robotic announcement that never shuts up: ‘thehrr izz a cawllerr att that bakk gaytt – pleeze at-tennd’

I complain repeatedly and they take absolutely no notice, because, of course, I’m the only one who ever says anything and customers demand it……