/ 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?

sue_marie says:
17 November 2014

There are now 500+ comments from Which? members, mostly strongly opposing music and promotional recordings in any shop or store. Is Which? going to take any action?

Well said, Sue-Marie. I’ve just checked the Conversation home page, and in terms of numbers of contributors it’s 161. Compared to nearly all other conversations I’ve looked at this is a huge response, plainly indicating the strength of feeling on the subject.

Despite all the comments, nothing things to happen. I am astonished that John Lewis have been unable to reply to the comments posted from Edinburgh and Solihull. And as for your question, Sue, I doubt if Which? will do anything. I wrote to them as long ago as July 2010, asking for some help and again since this site took off. The replies have been just like the ones you expect from big business, blanding noting they they like to have comments from customers and that mine have been passed to another team for their information. That gets me off their back and leaves them free to do nothing at all.

Christine says:
18 November 2014

I so agree Sue -Marie and asked a similar question earlier on, would like to think some Stores would be horrified to read some of the comments, but there again they think they know best, the music will continue and we will all have to buy earplugs.

Shirley Jones says:
18 November 2014

Lee has made many comments but I find his assertion that he left Tesco to go and work in Sainsbury’s because Tesco ceased music strange. Sainsbury’s don’t have music.
If people go to shops to enjoy music, I find that markedly sad. True music fans want to listen intently to music, not have it as background whilst they are supposed to be concentrating on other things.

Piped music is just abysmal.

“Lee has made many comments but I find his assertion that he left Tesco to go and work in Sainsbury’s because Tesco ceased music strange. Sainsbury’s don’t have music.”

Sainsbury’s Local Leeds city centre. At the Merrion Centre next to the Oceana night club. Warren was our store manager at the time. I think now the night shift is finished due to the too many problems with the Oceana. But we did have music.

Shirley Jones: I doubt that many people go shopping to “to enjoy music”.

I guess the reality is a bit more complex than that.

Perhaps it’s a bit pompous of me to quote myself but …. I’ve just posted ‘Do the majority of customers actually enjoy ….’.

If we stop calling it ‘music’ and refer to it a s ‘muzak’, maybe it starts to make more sense.

Do the majority of customers actually enjoy and even seek out, muzak?

Forgive me for re-igniting the issue – it’s been mentioned before in this Conversation, but seems to have slipped off the radar.

You have to wonder why a business, reliant on foot-fall, would damage it’s profits by driving away customers in this way.
Could it simply be that market research tells them that muzak increases profits?

So many people seem unable to live without ear-buds, boom-boxes, headphones, TV in another room … the list goes on.
Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that they unconsciously crave background music.

I don’t think it is impartial market research telling them that muzac increases profits, bib 1. I think it is sites such as musicworksforyou, the “research initiative” from the two main licence collectors, PRS and PPL. They clearly have a vested interest in persuading businesses to play music and produce their own research to back up their claims. In order to do this they only ask people who like background music in the first place and then they only ask about music that is “liked”. As a result they produce the most extraordinary statistics. This is a typical example. On their website they claim that 86% of people say that waiting room music makes them more relaxed. When that statistic was first put on their site, it said something like this: 86% of people who like listening to background music say that, if a waiting room is playing music that they like, then they will feel more relaxed. Most of their statistics appeared in this format but then they revamped their site and removed all references to “like”. I don’t know how they get away with it. The worrying thing is that businesses often quote this site when you ask them what research there is to show that customers want background music.

This is undermining my naive faith in retailers. I have previously assumed that they know what they’re doing.

I have maintained this simplistic and child-like believe even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

They move things around to encourage impulse buying despite constant complaints from regular shoppers who cannot find their regular products.

They provide easy parking for parents with kids when a simple glance around the store shows the vast majority of their customers without kids.
(And while this rant is still warm …. why does it have to near the store? Parents are, almost by definition, younger and fitter than the average customer. Wide bays for loading kids … ok, but close to the store? Often at the expense of the Disabled Bays).

They (and I’m talking about Sainsburys here), refuse to empower their local managers with control over their stock levels. This despite their customers continually asking local managers why they have stopped stocking a product that sold out as soon as it was shelved.

So it seems that I am wrong. Retailers haven’t a clue about maximising their profits.

Back in the 1980s research showed that shoppers spent 38.2% less in shops playing fast-paced music (Milliman, 1982). In the 1990s research was carried out showing that shoppers spent more when no music was played (Yalch and Spangenburg, 1993). In 2011 Immedia did research showing that 50% of us will leave a shop if we don’t like the music. None of this is reported on the musicworksforyou site. They are committed to demonstrating the “positive effects of music and the benefits it can bring to businesses”. The only way they can do this is by commissioning their own research. Businesses don’t seem to always be aware that this site is run by the two main music licence collectors in the UK. For more details look at the research section on the QuietEdinburgh website

Thank you for the interesting comment, Dave. I think what is shown by my own experience and that of the people who have posted on this site is that retailers (1) are so arrogant that they feel they can ignore their customers; (2) that they deny access to information, always referring to their ‘feedback’, without permitting access to it; (3) that they either mislead with statistics, or simiply lie; (4) that they rely on PR departments to issue bland statments without actually meeting the problem head-on.

There must be a way to deal with this, and the references you provide are useful. The one most often given is the Gatwick survey, which like the ones you mention is rather old and made before piped muzak became unavoidable, from gyms, to medical waiting rooms, hospitals, libraries, restaurants, buses and trains, and so on infinitum. What we need is new and completely independent research. Offenders are obviously not going to show compassion for customers who are offended or physically harmed by their muzak, but evidence of their sales being damaged would be a big wake-up call. Pipedown cannot afford to undertake such a project, but Which? can, and they could provide no greater service to consumers.

Helen says:
23 November 2014

Music in public areas including commercial premises is a very British thing. It’s very noticeable coming back to the UK after living abroad. I am surprised it’s so widespread, given how many people dislike it. I have repeatedly tried to get my gym, David Lloyd, to stop piping music into every corner of the building, and particularly to stop having incredibly loud music during cycle classes. They always say that the music motivates people. It only motivates me to be annoyed! And given how many older people there are who need to stay fit and have the money to join a gym, you’d think they would get rid of the music to entice them in. Piped music is a problem for people with hearing aids, with mental health problems, for people with hypersensitivity, and for parents trying to control their children. It needs to change.

Earlier this month I reported here that I had written recently to M&S to remind them that they had trialled piped music in 2004/5, and had found that their customers had an aversion to it. I asked in my latest letter why in view of those results were they now playing music.

I now have a reply in which they acknowledge that this is the case but they offer no explanation at all. They say that they receive very little feedback about piped music.

I also pointed out the huge response on this subject in the Which? Conversation pages, and the considerable number of complaints specifically about M&S. Incredibly, their reply to my letter contains no comment whatever about this!!

I get the strong impression that I have been written off as a lone crank, and that makes me very cross. I will be pursuing the matter further.

Sally says:
23 November 2014

No way are you a lone crank, Richard!! I do know that M&S take no notice whatever of comments on forum sites, such as these. They say that the only comments they take notice of are ones made to them direct at their head office. They don’t even bother with complaints to their branches. I know, it’s unbelievable, but they have admitted this. If anyone hasn’t written to M&S HQ, you can get the e-mail addresses to the Chairman or CEO of M&S via the CEO e-mail address website (just google it). They will answer. Try to ask them a question that they can’t fob off. Ask them what research they have done to show that their customers want music as they shop. Ask them if they have looked at the research which shows that people wearing hearing aids are especially affected. If you have a hearing disability, tell them! If they dismiss your initial complaint without answering it, persevere! There are enough of us complaining on this site to make their lives uncomfortable. I can’t believe that they are still saying they receive very little feedback about piped music. I know so many people who have complained!

Ha ha! Thank you, Sally. I’m fairly sure I’m not a crank, and I’m certainly not alone! The arrogance of these people is almost more annoying than their dreadful noise pollution. I will certainly not let them get away with fobbing me off like this.

I’d be interested to know how many folk you know who have complained to M&S.

Sally says:
24 November 2014

I can think of at least 12 by name, Richard. I know that might not seem many to M&S but I am sure that, if I know of 12, there must be an awful lot more who have complained (and I haven’t counted any of the people on this forum who say they have done so!). M&S should realise that people are really annoyed by it if they take the trouble to sit down and write. For all those people, there are thousands more who also dislike the music. They don’t complain but they do leave the shop, often before they want to. Most people I know have walked out of shops because the music has annoyed them and M&S is often at the top of their list.

Adrian Rudge says:
23 November 2014

Regarding M and S, it’s worth complaining but generally you just get the standard PR reply. When I asked about their research, they said it was ” commercially sensitive” not available outside the company. What absolute twaddle. They are just so arrogant. They should look at W H Smith who stopped playing piped music some years ago and their sales and profits went up. It is little wonder M and S clothing sales keep on falling. Who wants to browse and be subjected to their awful music.
They apparently don’t recognise that their market is generally middle class and middle aged who appear to be the group who hate piped music the most.

To the regulars who I have known since last year…..

I am, this week, doing another radio interview, this time all about music in our day-2-day life’s. I will be saying how much I enjoined music when I worked in retail and how we had no complaints at all. But I will, if i can, mentioned this topic. As it’s a pre-record they will edit the interview so they may put the name “Which” like they have done in the past (It’s classed as advertising), but I’ll try and be fair to both sides of the topic.

I will also post an update when it’s due to-go out.

I think it rather sad that we feel we cannot live without being surrounded by noise. I find nothing nicer than sitting quietly in the country with maybe just the sound of birds or a river in the background. Although I occasionally use the radio (quietly) when gardening it is also nice to have silence – broken only by planes towing gliders overhead, motorbikes racing up the road and next door’s dog.

I live in a small village and the local general store was taken over by the CO-OP chain of shops. It closed for a week to be ‘done up’ and vigorous young ladies took over the management with a huge increase in the volume of their MUZAC. I complained to the staff, some of whom had been there for 15 years and they simply shrugged and said that there was nothing they could do.

After a week I found the new manageress at the till and told her that I had shopped there for over 20 years but regretfully this would be my last visit because the MUZAC was so noisy.

She asked me to call the next day. Lo and behold it was lovely. The background music was just audible and the atmosphere in the entire store was totally different with people socialising, talking and taking their time. Shops like this are part of the community. The community are not “Just customers” with another along in a minute.

Well done the CO-OP.

I notice both Marks & Spencer and the Co-op have been named as worst offenders in the Quiet Corners awards. Think you must be lucky with your branch of the Co-op, Stephen M Reid.

Christine says:
26 November 2014

‘The Quiet Corners’ awards? Any chance of more information please? Not sure I have heard of these.

Anthony says:
26 November 2014

The Quiet Corners Awards were handed out by Julian Lloyd Webber on 13 November. Waitrose won the best quiet supermarket chain – the Co-op was named as the worst – and Wetherspoons won the best quiet pub chain prize.

The awards are reported on the home page of Pipedown, Christine

Christine says:
26 November 2014

Thanks for that Dealer, and the others who replied. Had a look at the Pipedown website and just hope the good and quilty know how strongly some of us feel about music in their stores/restaurants.

Re. the Quiet Corner awards. It’s interesting that Barclays Bank have come out well, because Lloyds Bank certainly have piped music – at least in any of the branches I have been into. I wrote to the local area director and he said that nobody else had complained. In any case musak in the bank was an ‘edict’ from above. I asked if anybody had previously complained that there was NO musak! (Of course they hadn’t.) I also said that the bank was the last place one would expect to find it. Perhaps they really think it helps to attract business – but that can’t use the excuse that it offers an ‘enhanced shopping experience’.

Raymond, perhaps they could play appropriate music, if they have to have it?
For example an old favourite:

Andrews Sisters –

Money is the root of all evil
Money is the root of all evil
Won’t contaminate myself with it
Take it away, take it away, take it away

Well, you bring a smile, Malcolm. But, seriously, those whose job it is to put over all the piped musak everywhere I doubt have any musical acumen as it’s almost always the same type of music – often some singer wailing. (Except for the seasonal Christmas music, which shows that they could indeed have variety throughout the year if they really thought it through.) As long as it’s there that’s where they leave it, as a continuous background. There is no discernment. I’m convinced that those who switch it on are not musical people. There is also the point that there is these days a fear of quietness.

Raymond, another way to avoid muzak in banks is to use a cash machine. I wonder, though, when they will start issuing jingles as they go through there operations?
Seriously though also, silence should be a default. There is enough noise around that we cannot escape from without adding to it. It is like unecessary background music in films and on tv that drowns out the words. Why oh why are we so obsessed with broadcasting noise that bears little resemblance to music? Perhaps it is a deal with the musician’s union?

Thanks, Malcolm.
Actually my local Lloyds Bank has its cash machines inside the building in an entrance lobby which is enclosed off from the banking area and so can be used at all times. There’s even musak there – it never ceases, day or night, and is always the same, never changing – fortunately not that loud. It’s a constant sch…sch..sch…sch…something like a steam engine, with some rhythm but at least with no vocals.

Raymond Cox wrote: “….a constant sch…sch..sch…sch…something like a steam engine …”.

You sure it’s not the little steam engine behind the ATM that keeps it’s battery topped-up?

Next time you’re there, sneak a look … here’s what Lloyds’ version looks like:

Other banks are still using older technology.

Sally says:
26 November 2014

What is particularly annoying about a bank playing background music is that it is their customers’ money that is paying for the licence/s and installation. Did they ask their customers if they wanted their money used for this purpose?

Had to go to B&Q the other day. Let joy be unconfined! – there was no music on!! I stayed there much longer than I might have done otherwise and ended up choosing some wallpaper which, in my experience, requires quiet contemplation. [Some of the papers were a bit on the loud side, however . . .]

Did you find out why there was no music, John? Had it just broken down or could they possibly have started listening to their customers?

No. I’m afraid not. It didn’t dawn on me until I had left the store. For the time being I shall give B&Q the befit of the doubt and assume that they are listening to their customers [instead of listening to the awful music]. If the music is back on when I next go there – in a couple of days’ time possibly – I shall realise it was just a temporary relief.

I am afraid to have to report that when I went back to B&Q on 28 November music was playing again. This time I had to get three things only which I did very quickly and shot out PDQ. As well as noisy, the store was also very cold; they obviously don’t want any pointless browsing.

I see Ann Widdecombe is complaining about annoying shop music in today’s Guardian, page 43

John Peel says:
3 December 2014

I hate piped music already! I have to endure it all day at work – Kuehne & Nagel. When I asked the boss to turn it off (or at least down in volume) he and my colleagues looked at me like I was completely crazy. I had a deep and sincere confidence that I may be the only sane person that works there!