/ 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?


Radio Homebase on ‘loudest’ in a tin shed, punctuated intermittently by a croaky-voiced “STAFF ANNOUNCEMENT” at max shout, gives me the pip.

Jenny W says:
11 July 2014

I agree wholeheartedly with John Ward about Homebase and leave the store as soon as I’ve located what I want or see that it’s not in stock

I am gratified to report that, within three weeks of my last visit, our local Homebase has got rid of the “Staff Announcement” noise nuisance. All staff have been equipped with ‘walkie-talkie’ headsets which makes for a much more civilised environment. The muzak persists, however – but now with no interruptions. Is this relief just a coincidence, or have they been reading our complaints?

I once went to the customer services desk in an Asda branch and was effusive in my congratulations for them having stopped inflicting ‘Asda FM’ on our ears. I was told that it was ‘broken’ but should be fixed by the following week.

At that time I made the decision to lift my boycott of the local Tesco store for having offended me in one of their many ways. Being forced to use self-service checkouts is bad but it is not in the same league as auditory insult.

Does anyone else agree with me that all music played in shops is annoying? The background noise in most public places is loud enough without being assailed with music. I understand that really loud noise can damage one’s hearing and it definitely makes hearing voices much more difficult, especially if someone has any kind of hearing problem.

Simon says:
5 July 2014

I think I agree. I am not aware that I have any hearing difficultly (but perhaps I do). But I have often found, in a wide range of shops that an assistant is trying to assist me but I cannot hear them properly above the din. This just puts me off and I would rather buy elsewhere or on-line where there is no distracting racket!

David Dixon says:
7 July 2014

Yes. All wrong. Always. I walk out. It’s an abuse.

Not all music is bad but when it is loud I just walk out & tell the staff why they have lost my custom.
If managed properly it can be pleasant.

I don’t think that any of us are suggesting that all music is bad, it is more a case of we don’t want to be force-fed music at inappropriate times – such as when we are shopping and need to concentrate on our purchases.

It’s one of the BIG advantages of home shopping: you can listen to music of your choice – or not.

Allison says:
11 July 2014

Yes – awful. The other day I was in Reiss which is a clothing store and the music was so thumping and loud it made me feel sick. The clothes are quite expensive in this shop and you need time to consider and talk about them (was with my daughter) but actually, after 20 minutes I couldn’t have cared less and just wanted out. We didn’t buy anything. Why do retailers think that the electronic beat is right for shoppers? It’s just like torture.

jean says:
11 July 2014

I do agree about loud music in shops; I am deaf, and the music is painful, and sends me out of the shop at once!
Are you covering background music on TV programmes, which often renders the dialogues quite inaudible to many of us, and seems pointless anyway, contributing nothing

YES I agree. I love music (mostly classical) but it’s far too important in my life to accompany my shopping eating & drinking etc.The following institutions have a no music policy & go from strength to strength economically (which totally disproves the lie that muzak improves trade): Sainsburys,Wetherspoons & John Lewis (except in their TV & Audio Dept. where understandably customers want to hear the sound quality of the goods).
Long may they last!!

I never understood why music is played in shops. Is it supposed to boost sales? Peoples choice of music can differ anyway so it can please some and annoy others.. Maybe it helps the staffs moral and it would be interesting to hear the opinion of someone who works in such a store.

On the other hand, on one occasion when I found myself in New Orleans with my sister searching for a music store to purchase a CD of some local Cajun music to bring back home we chanced upon a small shop with an extremely helpful single middle aged lady behind the counter who insisted on playing her recommendation of choice. Before very long the three of us were singing and dancing to a very lively rendition of Jambalaya! Needless to say the sale was secured and a good time was had by all.

I suppose the poinnt is that in your experience in New Orleans sounds like good customer service whereas with the music played willy nilly in shops we are not given any choice or say in the matter. ( Your experience makes me want to go to New Orleans!)

One of the department stores in London’s Oxford Street, probably D. H. Evans before it was rebranded House of Fraser, sometimes had a pianist at a grand piano on the ground floor in the escalator atrium. That was rather pleasant.

I don’t understand the obsession with continuous background music – whether in shops, restaurants, via headphones, on films and tv drama. I suspect no-one actually listens to it. But it seems we cannot exist without noise. My solution would be to make it optional – as on aircraft; shops and restaurants would provide headphones on request for if you want the world blocked out; films and tv would have a mute option to turn off music. Decent music deserves being listened to; musical noise should be classed as pollution.

“– whether in shops, restaurants, via headphones, on films and tv drama.”

I’m sorry Malcolm, but I can’t agree with you there. Some TV shows (like ITV’s Heartbeat or BBC’s Waterloo Road) need music as it gives so much to the show.

With Heartbeat ITV started to put out DVDs with the music removed (due to some copyright stuff), it’s safe to say it failed. Then another company called Network started to put out the DVDs with the music and they have sold really well, in-fact all 18 series (372 episodes) are now out on DVD and music is a big part of it.

Yes but surely what is important is that we choose to watch dvd’s, films tc etc (thouugh I agree that sometimes music does not add anythig to a drama or documentary) but when shopping we are assailed with the noise. What choice do we have apart from refusing to shop there and by lettinng the management know our opinion. If enough people do register their feelinngs and thoughts notice is taken. I wrote to report what I saw as an offending advert to the TV advertising standards office. They wrote to say that 200 + people had also written and the advert was changed. Let’s do something about it – shop with our feet and let the offenders know !!

I enjoy music is shops, but i only do 1% of my shopping in shops as 99% is done online. Everything from buying a £2 DVD on Play/Amazon to my weekly food shop with Tesco online.

I did not feel like my 1% could offer anything in this matter. This is why I commented on music in TV shows.

David Dixon says:
7 July 2014

Pollution. Agreed. Walk out like me!

I believe he use of music as background dates back to the silent film days. A flickering black and white picture was never going to meet the popular demand for entertainment and so a pianist was used to play ‘mood music’ This concentrated the filmgoers’ minds and enhanced the experience. Film music has now evolved to the point where many of the pieces can stand comparison with the ‘incidental music’ of the 19th century. The Ron Goodwin music for Battle of Britain is a case in point.

As far as shopping is concerned, I agree with the comments that too much is Too Much, and I have often walked out of shops with loud Pop music preventing one from thinking. Quiet ‘easy listening’ type music is OK in most shops and serves to deaden the clatter and shouting of the people around you.

Oddly enough, it’s HMV. Yes, I know it’s a music store, but hear me out – IF YOU CAN ABOVE THE NOISE!

I quite often wander into HMV when I’m out shopping, thinking I might choose a classical music CD or DVD to watch in the evening. And, more often than not, I leave empty-handed because I can’t concentrate long enough to make a purchasing decision.

How am I supposed to read the track list or sleeve notes? How do I envisage the enjoyment I will get from the product, a very important part of closing any discretional sale (as HMV marketing types should well know!), when some wanna-be DJ behind the sales counter is blasting out the latest tracks at full volume to the exclusion of mine.

It’s difficult to imagine what Lady Grantham would make of it all, so Downton Abbey goes back on the shelf, I go home and order it from Amazon in considered peace and quiet; HMV loses yet another sale.

Nigel Browne says:
5 July 2014

Every time I go into jd sports the music they play in there is very annoying. It is always thump thump thump music. Is that all the type they can play. It is awful.

Kess says:
5 July 2014

My local Asda. I don’t mind music, any music just not so YOU can ‘t be heard. There self service tills are also very loud. Marry that with a busy Saturday and screaming kids it’s hell. I refuse to shop there.
It’s NOT the screaming kids that bother me either just the music and tills with everything else.
I shop in Sainsburys instead and they don’t have music at all. Their self service tills are normally a nice level too.
I cannot understand why Asda needs to have everything quite so loud. By the looks of other shoppers they would rather not be subjected to it either, but need to shop with budget and family buying in mind.
Plenty of other people have said the same while in the queue.
I have never complained because to be honest I can’t be bothered chasing up something very basic.

Kess says:
5 July 2014

That should read *their* Self service.

I try to avoid shops that play background music, which I loathe. If a shop assistant approaches me and asks if they can help I politely ask for the music to be turned off.

Thankfully my local Tesco does not play background music during normal hours, though it is sometimes put on for the staff working on overnight.

If there are demonstration music systems playing in supermarkets I turn them off when passing. Sometimes they are placed on a high shelf to discourage customers from interfering but there is usually something long enough on the shelves to stab the ‘off’ button.

Morrisons cafe. The choice isn’t bad but the volume can be so loud that I will go to a different cafe to eat.

robert in stamford says:
11 July 2014

Spot on!
I am old enough to be familiar with most of Morrisons piped music, but all too often, here at Stamford (Lincolnshire) it really is too loud. That applies to both their store and cafeteria.

I hate the musak played in most stores but many store managers are now more discerning in their choice of music. I had a lovely half hour in a Next store recently, listening to Amy Winehouse and ‘testing’ a quite comfortable armchair. Unfortunately, the manager was unable to provide a coffee or a footstool – I did ask. I complimented him on his choice of music and he was happy to let me carry on resting.

What about the folk who don’t like Amy Winehouse. I personally would like traditional jazz, classical music, Bing Crosby. Ella Fitzgerald and Django Reinhart, but many, maybe a majority would not. The solution is NO MUSIC IN SHOPS.

Hear, hear!

Quite simple. If I hear loud “music” coming from any shop, I just don’t go in. If they sell something I want, I go elsewhere. I don’t mind if its quiet and really is background music. I have a hearing aid and any music played too loud is uncomfortable.
Similar vain. Why does the volume on different television channels vary so much?

All of them. If you want constant music, get a personal music player (or phone) with ear buds.

I agree Terfar. Music is a bit like salt in food. You can easily add it if you want it, but why does everyone have to have it?

Thank goodness that Which? has at last raised this subject. I sincerely hope that they will now throw their weight behind ridding shops and public spaces of this insidious menace; shoppers countrywide will be hugely grateful.

I can’t remember how many shops I’ve walked out of without buying anything, just because their management people treat their customers like witless cattle who can’t function without constant din. It really is quite insulting, apart from anything else. So many others agree with me on this, and yet still we are all forced to put up with it almost every time we go shopping.

Pipedown International has been fighting against forced music for years.

[Link removed. Thanks, mods.]

Perhaps some public spirited folk could stand outside some of the force fed background music shops with a clip board with a yes or no column to tick to persuade these shops to pipe down, not me sad to say, I’m too old. If only we could force feed the advertising gurus with the stuff we have to endure whilst they have their corporate slap up dinners. Let’s have a website http://www.stun.co.uk (Stop that unwanted noise) or even http://www.stan.co.uk (Stop that awful noise) One can dream.

SD says:
7 July 2014

Personally I love music, it always puts me in a good mood! 🙂 Mind you, where I live background is always just that, background music and not loud or overbearing and certainly no where near a level where you can’t hear others talking to you, even in a quiet voice. If it was so loud I struggled to hear people speak then it would annoy me if I needed to speak to someone, but otherwise I love it. Actually where I live it’s definitely not loud enough as I found myself in the supermarket the other day singing along to a song quite loudly as I was alone in the aisle…or at least I thought, until I turned around and someone else was behind me and my voice was decidely louder than the music playing, just a tad embarrassing! lol Mind you I wasnt the only one as I did the exact same thing to someone else singing away really loudly, though they carried on singing just as loud even after seeing me – good for them!! 😀

Does it not occur to you that one person’s choice of music may be irritating to many others, more so if it is loud and sometimes distorted.

We have a rather pleasant Superdrug store in our town centre and yesterday they were playing some nice-sounding [and appropriately soporific] music. I couldn’t tell you what it was though, or even who was singing, but it was better than the usual squawking one has to put up with in popular shops. Stayed a bit longer . . . bought a bit more. Retail psychology >> retail therapy.

French retailers seem to have discovered an alternative to in-store music.

The local “syndicat d’initiative” (tourist office) arranges to broadcast music in the streets of the town centre. This tends to have the effect of driving me INTO shops to get away from the din – but usually out of the town altogether. And I pity the poor residents who have no choice but to listen to this racket all day long. I think I prefer the British system!

Bob says:
11 July 2014

They cannot be bothered to play original versions of great songs so they use appalling copies.
To me it just conveys a message that the company is in such desperate straits that it cannot afford a royalty fee and its days are numbered.

JF says:
11 July 2014

I’m always put off going into shops that have music of any kind, especially if I’m trying to compare products where I need to read the information on each in order to make my decision as it makes it difficult to concentrate. (eg when buying electrical goods.) Despite being a long-term, loyal customer of Boots (at Liverpool Street Station) I now rarely shop there because of the music. I complained twice but they took no notice. I don’t see why I should be forced to listen to someone else’s choice of music! If I do go in a shop where there is playing music I can’t get out quick enough! I now shop at Superdrug instead.

robert in stamford says:
11 July 2014

Poundstretcher in Stamford used to be one of my favourite stores for budget/value based domestic shopping, but since just before Christmas (2013) they really have gone berserk with their loud music.

Their “system” distorts like mad so that spoken announcements are garbled.

If the store ambience (in this case, the level of noise from their “lets assault the eardrums campaign” has improved, and is now either music-less ,,, or reduced to a level that person-to-person shouting is no longer necessary, I hope a note will be posted to that effect. And then I will be happy to return to them as a regular shopper.