/ 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?

Comments
Guest
Jan Daines says:
21 April 2015

I worked in a Sainsbury supermarket. When American style Christmas musak was played (repeatedly and rather loudly) from November to Christmas, customers complained as did several staff. It was annoying, irritating, affected concentration and I discovered several customers shopped elsewhere during those weeks. Many of us could not get out of the place fast enough and it caused raised blood pressure in a few cases. Complaints, verbally or written were dismissed on the grounds that ‘customers like it’. So I pushed ear plugs in my ears and became a good lip-reader, finally quitting as soon as I could. I try to avoid shopping in Sainsbury’s pre-Christmas.

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Guest

Very Interesting point raised by a member recently.

“When does background music become noise”. If it became defined as a noise at some stage it is presumed that it would come under the Health and Safety legislation or the Common Law of creating a nuisance which could be reported to the local authority.

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Guest

80dB is the danger level above which hearing damage can occur and at which H&SE require employers to take precautions. This is about 8 times the noise level in a city street. This is for people with normal hearing. The question remains open of what noise level has a bad effect on people who are already hearing impaired, and whether music, as opposed to normal background noise such as speech, traffic, has a particular effect.

Guest
Dax says:
21 April 2015

This links to a chart of decibel levels.

http://www.dangerousdecibels.org/education/information-center/decibel-exposure-time-guidelines/

I found it interesting that “For every 3 dBAs over 85dBA, the permissible exposure time before possible damage can occur is cut in half.”

I read somewhere that some people’s hearing is a lot more easily damaged than than that of other people and there is no way to predict who is most vulnerable until after they have already lost hearing due to loud noise.

Many sources of noise are unavoidable, but there surely is a case for not imposing extra noise, like piped music, where it isn’t necessary.

Guest
Grace Wilson says:
21 April 2015

An update for anyone who is still interested: Yesterday, a friend and I visited a discount-shopping retail park called Cheshire Oaks, near Chester on the Wirral side of the River Mersey. We were hoping to escape the increasingly torturous experience of shopping in central Liverpool, which has worsened due to the fact that the fine weather has brought even more pop-buskers (plus microphones and amps) onto the streets. Well, what a wasted journey and truly depressing experience. We parked the car at Cheshire Oaks and were instantly met by the blaring noise of pop music being blasted through speakers placed throughout the entire outdoor area. In addition, every individual shop was playing the staff’s own choice of pop, with the volume turned up to nerve-jangling levels to try to drown out the sound of the external din. Talk about a hellish ‘competition’! Unbelievably, a speaker had also been placed in the public toilets, so there was absolutely no chance of escaping the hellish thumping and screeching wherever we went! As always, any critical comments to shop assistants were met by the blank looks which signify a worryingly robotic mindset. Twenty minutes later we were back in the car and on our way to Chester to find peace and an enjoyable lunch in the Cathedral Refectory. Sanctuary at last!!

Sadly, there are fewer and fewer places where one can escape this tormenting experience. The Manager of the Waterstones bookshop in the Liverpool 1 shopping centre has now capitulated and joined the one-brain-cell dumbos. It will be on-line to Amazon for some of my own book purchases from now on, and it infuriates me to be forced to make that decision.

Guest
lizbie says:
21 April 2015

Totally agree – such a shame that Waterstone’s insists upon forcing us to ‘listen’ to ‘music.’ There is nowhere less appropriate than a bookshop when it comes to piped “music.” Daunt Books is blissfully quiet, but you have to be rich enough to live in Marylebone or Chelsea to enjoy it!

Guest
Chris says:
26 April 2015

Somewhere on here I have read that the CEO of Waterstones is against piped music but leaves decision to managers. My nearest store is Telford, music, do not go in. On the other hand when visiting the no-music Cheltenham store the staff were surprised that any book store would have music. I went in for one thing and spent over £50 because I was relaxed and able to mooch.

Guest
Lesley Tan says:
22 April 2015

I have just complained to Tescoviews.com about loud music being played in one of its stores yesterday. I complete the surveys that are advertised on till receipts and make a point about the unpleasantness of the music being played in their stores. I am a strong believer in telling stores what I think and informing them that they are losing customers. Similarly I praise shops such as Lidl for their quiet atmosphere.

I would like to support the comments about Cheshire Oaks: it is a nightmare! You can’t’ escape from the music.

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Guest

It’s probably an unnecessary point to make, since most of those who have used the site are firmly on the side of silence. I just want to say that I was in University Hospital on Monday, in advance of heart surgery. The television in the waiting room simply shattered my nerves, and it was hard not to fly off the handle when I went out to ask if it couldn’t be switched off. In fairness, the nurse asked all those still waiting if they were watching. Not one objected to the switch-off!

When I was called for personal interview, the music on the ward (where patients have just undergone surgery) was unpleasant, and I asked the nurse if she would please switch it off. She agreed to turn it down while I was there, and said she could turn it up again later.

There are two issues here, as far as I am concerned. First of all, it is hard to keep one’s temper when faced with shattering and unwanted muzac, and someday there may be a serious row in a hospital, shop, pub, or restaurant.

Secondly, why should patients (or customers) have to ask for a civilised environment??

Guest
Dax says:
22 April 2015

Poor you; you really don’t need that when you are not well to start with.

I have never heard music in wards, though there seems to be plenty of it in waiting areas. Don’t they know that noise raises blood pressure and anxiety levels? If you don’t like the music, then it’s just noise.

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Guest

I asked Action on Hearing Loss for any research and other information they have that background music causes significant impairment, and to what proportion, of those with hearing problems. Their initial response was to refer me to their leaflet on the effect of loud noise (>80dB) on causing permanent hearing damage.

Pursuing the original question got this response: “We are planning to explore the accessibility of cafes, bars and restaurants in particular in the near future with our research panel, to analyse the key issues we might campaign on in this area. The impact of background music in these spaces, as well as the need for deaf awareness training and hearing loop systems will be explored.”

So, presumably, no research work known to them linking background music and hearing impairment. To help them with their proposed reseach those who do experience hearing difficulties should contact them direct relating their experiences.

Guest
Dax says:
23 April 2015

The disability charities are not as active as they used to be in terms of campaigning

I found an old RNID survey on an American site which has a lot of links and news items, some of which are from Britain.

Noise Pollution Clearing House:

http://www.nonoise.org/news/noisenew.htm

1998 RNID survey regarding how piped music affects those with a hearing loss.

http://www.nonoise.org/library/muzak/muzak.htm

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Guest

Thanks Dax, I’ve passed the link to the survey back to Action on Hearing Loss. I’ve asked them what follow up there was to the poll, and to check whether they really have no other information on this topic.

Guest
Grace Wilson says:
23 April 2015

If music is being played on individual hospital wards and in the waiting rooms of your dentist/GP surgeries, it might be advantageous to print off a copy of the licensing regulations in order to send it to an appropriate senior member of staff. I’m convinced that smaller organisations aren’t aware that their staff (particularly receptionists) could be breaking the regs by even switching on a radio tuned to a music station in the waiting areas.

Guest
Margaret W says:
23 April 2015

I have complained in Marks & Spencer and Boots about the incessant very loud music and staff frequently say it drives them mad as well. Managers in both stores respond by saying that it is company policy and is what customers want! It is now common to have to endure loud music in the changing rooms of many women’s clothes shops where again I am told it is company policy. It just makes me want to leave as soon as possible. In many cafes, restaurants and hotel dining rooms it is just as bad.

Guest
Grace Wilson says:
23 April 2015

*A REMINDER TO ALL*. Please don’t forget to access the PIPEDOWN website and cast your vote in the current poll. It seeks to establish how many people ARE in favour or piped music and how many AREN’T.

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Guest

Hi Grace, as far as I can tell, the Pipedown website is promoting the poll we have hosted here on Which? Conversation right here: https://conversation.which.co.uk/energy-home/music-shops-store-bq-coop-marks-spencer/

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I have a neutral view on background music and would be interested to see what a large poll, independently prepared and objective, reveals. I would doubt that Pipedown – an organisation whose aim is to ban background music – will produce an impartial result. Its website says “This poll has just appeared today. Please vote – and circulate to all who also hate piped music urging them to vote” which will hardly produce a balanced outcome. If we have a proper poll, let’s make it one that does not seek to influence a view, or capture only one group of voters, otherwise the result will not be one we accept.

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Guest

Malcolm, we don’t always agree on certain issues but on this occasion I am happy to support your latest comment above. If I managed a retail business (which I don’t) I would deem it my prerogative to play background music in my own establishment if I choose to and engage staff who did not mind working with it. I would also assess the number of footfall in and out of my establishment and accept responsibility for the economic consequences. Shoppers in a free society also have that same choice. If you are unable to bear it for whatever reason, choose to frequent the stores, restaurants etc that don’t play it. There are plenty around that I am sure would make you most welcome.

Sorry but I am at a loss to understand why people make so much fuss of such triviality when there are so many more important issues to deal with in society today. I remain forever impartial on this enduring topic.

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Guest

Choosing which stores to use is fine if you have a choice, Beryl. It would take me an hour round trip to Waitrose if I Tesco started to play music. I would probably put up with the music as I have done when visiting pubs.

I agree that there are far more important issues, but what about those employees who have to put up with it all day, every day of the week. I once had to put up with that. I was doing an interesting and demanding job at the time and could not focus on my work because of the music. It was quite stressful.

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Guest

Wavechange. I also make an hour round trip to Waitrose but on a two weekly basis to save on petrol and if I run out of anything during that time (mostly milk and bread) I buy it from the local convenience store which again never plays background music.

With regard to your second paragraph, again all employees have CHOICE to remain and get used to the music as many can, or do (and as has been established during this long and somewhat tedious saga, some actually enjoy it) or find alternative employment. The CHOICE is always ultimately theirs.

As you quite rightly frequently make the point in other conversations, management also have their rights too. To play or not to play – that is their entitlement within their own premises.

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Guest

Beryl – I have made the point repeatedly that the shops are not obliged to pay any attention to our wishes.

However, I’m not sure it would be a good idea to ignore the needs of those with hearing difficulties.

Depending on your job and ties, it might be a challenge to find another job if you could not cope with the music. On the other hand it would not make sense to apply for a job if you were aware that you would have to listen to music and then to complain.

Guest
lizbie says:
24 April 2015

They do listen in the U.S. – there, the customer is right. Especially if s/he has money to spend.

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Guest

lizbie, the question is which customer should they listen to – one that hates background music or one that likes it. The point I would make is that no one has the prerogative to try to impose their wish unless there is clear support or a health issue. The point, if there is one, about having an independent poll is to get an idea of the size of feeling either way. Even then it will be necessary to make store groups aware of the results for them to decide whether to take any action.

On the disabling effects background music may have on the hard of hearing I have so far had no further response from Action on hearing Loss. Maybe next week?

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Guest

Wavechange, I have reached the stage in my life where a hearing aid is now needed and background noise is exacerbated whenever I use it. But I still have the choice to use it or not.

Regarding your last paragraph, take a peek @people1st.co.uk – Labour Market Review – Retail Section – Chapter – Future Employment Projections, which may allay some of your concerns in connection with retail job availability.

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Guest

Thanks Beryl. I tend to think of specialist jobs that would probably require relocation, but that probably would not apply in retail sales, where many people move around anyway.

I reserve judgement on the hearing difficulties and look forward to reading what Malcolm finds out. Look at the number of older people who struggle to hear what is said on TV programmes thanks to the music.

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Guest

Wavechange, I am one of those older people to whom you refer who have to rely on sub-titles when not choosing to use a hearing aid but am not too troubled by TV background music either. Incidentally I am so used to sub-titles that I occasionally use them to accompany a hearing aid as I find them a great help when strong accents are prevalent, especially in documentaries when I then don’t miss a thing! But as is often the case we have veered away from the main topic once again.

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Guest

After 13 pages, there would be even more recycling if we stuck closely to the topic. 🙂

I find some of the off-topic discussion interesting because it can put other comments in context. Until I read your recent post I had not considered that switching jobs in retail sales might be relatively straightforward.

Guest
lizbie says:
25 April 2015

“No one has the prerogative to impose their wish” – but that is exactly what stores which play muzak, are doing! They are imposing their wish upon me, in the face of no evidence at all that anyone wants it – and ignoring complaints from staff and customers.

Guest
chris says:
30 April 2015

A lot of workers want it and enjoy it a lot doing 6 to 10 hours a day in silance for a lot of people is boring and can be very very stressfull, its good to have it to get your mind off the stress of rude customers horrible managers and very stressful jobs this day of age. if music got took away you will notice a lot very unhappy workers services to the customers will go downhill,people don’t have a clue how bad retail can be to work in some times.

Guest
Claire says:
24 April 2015

I hope that publishing the results of this conversation might lead some stores to think again about their aggravating music. I cannot think straight in such shops and so leave almost immediately. What might also be effective is to produce a list of shops one can visit peacefully & comfortably and make this known in the media; hopefully the increased footfall will be the envy of other stores and they might follow suit. Wishful thinking?

Guest
hilary says:
24 April 2015

I have recently had to make speedy exits from several retail outlets as I could not concentrate on what I was looking for due to the volume and type of music being forced upon me. The worst offenders ? My local Co-op convenience store, Morrisons supermarket , Dunelm Mill, and The Range. I cannot understand why they feel it necessary to subject shoppers to incessant wailing, screeching and thudding – it certainly has a very negative effect on me and raises my blood pressure considerably. I don’t go into shops to be entertained, just to shop.

Have seriously considered buying some noise-cancelling earphones to use in the offending shops
Can anyone recommend ?

Congratulations to Lidl for resisting this trend ; my increasing custom is assured as long as you keep it up !

Guest
lizbie says:
24 April 2015

I have noise-cancelling earphones, the best ones you can buy – Sennheiser, but they cost £90. I had them originally because we fly to the U.S. quite a lot & they are great for cancelling out ‘plane noise. However, I resent wearing them in shops, because my reasoning is – why the hell should I have to do this, when the very few morons who can’t live without this noise pollution could just as easily use headphones, and blast away all they want?

Guest
Dave says:
24 April 2015

Let Lidl know this is why you enjoy shopping with them, Hilary. Unfortunately they are starting to roll out music in their stores.

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Guest

lizbe, I would not consider that an individual should be labeled a “moron” if they are fortunate enough not to be over-sensitised to background noise pollution.

Why do people continue to frequent places that cause them irritation, annoyance and vexation?
Why not just boycott them and relieve all the angst that ensues? This is surely the most effective method of exhibiting ones displeasure by taking your custom elsewhere. Again it’s ultimately all down to people choice. Let’s be thankful this is still available to us.

Guest
lizbie says:
24 April 2015

Mostly, they have no choice – if you are elderly & the Co-Op is your only shop, for example. And ‘choice’ does not enter into it: the little lady who waits for her X Ray & has to listen to loud rubbish, is not ‘choosing’ to do so. Not am I choosing to listen to it when I shop in M&S. I want to shop there, but without listening to it.

Guest
Suze says:
24 April 2015

Beryl, to those of us are seriously bothered by excessive noise, and, in particular, loud music, it isn’t trivial. Perhaps your unfortunate loss of hearing is the reason that you don’t think it’s all that important? You may not be aware of how loud it often is these days, and also you have said you sometimes switch off your hearing aids.

There are a lot of medical conditions that result in people being overwhelmed by noise, lights and crowds. Some things cannot be helped, but piped music isn’t necessary.

I do wonder where you live if you think that it’s easy to avoid loud music.

“Why do people continue to frequent places that cause them irritation”

I can find supermarkets that don’t play music but I can’t recall the last time I went into a baker’s, clothes or shoe shop, DIY store, hairdressers, bookshop, chemist charity shop or cafe that didn’t have the stuff booming out.

Today I had to spend time in a shopping mall that had the stuff playing and every shop and cafe was playing different music from what the centre played. In the pedestrianised road outside there was a busker playing a trumpet with a loud amplified backing track. By the time I had walked far enough away for that to fade, there was a second busker, again with an amplified backing track.

My GP has a radio on in the waiting room, so does my dentist. I had to accompany someone to hospital recently and there was a television in the waiting area. Recently I had to make a train journey from Charing Cross station and the level of music playing on the concourse was so painful to me that I had to go outside to wait on the pavement for my train to come in. I complained to staff and they said they have complained to management but no one listens to them.

Where is my choice?

I don’t think people here would complain so bitterly if there was any real choice. If half of establishments played muzak and half didn’t, but you can’t escape it any more. It’s everywhere. At least it is where I live.

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Guest

Suze – Since Christmas I have been under sedation twice. Nothing major but I think it’s wholly inappropriate to play music in a situation when a mistake could have serious consequences. If I have got to sign to say that I consent to a procedure I would like those carrying it out not to have music playing.

Guest
Suze says:
24 April 2015

Wavechange – I’m glad it was nothing major and do hope you are well now.

Yes, if someone is doing a test or operating on you, you would like to trust that you have their full attention and that medical staff can communicate easily with each other.

We talk about music here all the time, but what we are mostly talking about is songs. I could well be wrong, but I think lyrics command attention more than instrumental music. Presumably a surgeon chooses tracks that s/he likes; when people like a song they often sing along to it…

I would like them to be concentrating on me and not Lady Gaga.

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Guest

Suze, When I have visited shopping malls I have definitely not experienced loud music emanating from every single shop, only in New Orleans where you will find live jazz musicians sitting in groups in shop windows inviting you to come in and join in the merriment!

People who are unable to hear clearly usually have to resort to hearing aids in order to function and lead a normal active social life and avoid life threatening danger when crossing the road. They still have a choice to remove them if the necessity arises. There are plenty of shops that don’t play background music and I am sorry you don’t seem to have any where you live. I had a brother who was very sensitive to noise of any kind and so he chose to avoid noisy places as much as possible and music was rarely played within his own dwelling.

This topic is about music in shops and stores however and although I sympathise with your hearing sensitivity in public places which seemingly cannot be avoided, the question remains, why do people choose to suffer when they choose to enter shops and stores that cause them so much displeasure, is prolonging their agony and detrimental to their cause.

Guest
Suze says:
24 April 2015

” the question remains, why do people choose to suffer when they choose to enter shops and stores that cause them so much displeasure”

Beryl – I believe I already answered that question.

May I ask what area of the country you live in? If it’s easy for you to avoid music everywhere I may consider moving there.

My nearest large indoor shopping centre has about 80 shops or eating places in it; the centre itself plays music on all floors and only two shops play no music.

One of them is Thornton’s and it’s such a tiny outlet and open to the centre, so you can hear the mall music anyway.

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Guest

I, too, am curious to know where you live, Beryl, so that you are lucky enough to be able to choose shops that don’t play music. I live in a city (Edinburgh) where we do have more choice than some. We have John Lewis, Primark, Aldi and Waitrose here that don’t play music. We also have a couple of branches of Waterstones that stopped playing music. But the majority of shops, restaurants and pubs do play piped music. I know this to my cost because we have set up a “Quiet Edinburgh” website and it is quite a challenge finding businesses that don’t play it. Other people have contacted me to say they have no choice. They live in a rural area where their only supermarket is the Co-op churning out loud pop music.
You say you are “at a loss to understand why people make so much fuss of such triviality when there are so many more important issues to deal with in society today.” I think most of us would agree with you that there are more important issues out there. However, sadly there is very little we can do about many of these issues other than donate money and, important as they are, they do not impinge directly on our lives on a day-to-day basis. This issue does, which is perhaps why it has engendered so much interest. Virtually every day of the week I am driven out of shops and/or restaurants purely by the background music. Or I am with a friend who is suffering. Just today I met a friend for lunch. I could tolerate the music but she wears a hearing aid and said all she could hear was the thudding of the music. People who can “switch off” have no idea how much this noise affects us.

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Guest

Suze – In both cases it was quiet instrumental music. Nothing offensive but I know that it would affect my concentration.

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Guest

A number of comments here presume that people with hearing loss could just switch off their hearing aids and shop in silence. I don’t feel very comfortable about that attitude. Apart from anything else, people are often shopping with their partner or a friend or with their children and need to be in communication with them. And if people like to shop in M&S and prefer their products to those in other stores why should they transfer their custom elsewhere, or else put up with it? Over the centuries we have banished many unsavoury retail practices in the interests of consumers’ health and safety. The making of unwanted and inescapable noise and its adverse effects on a significant proportion of the population now require attention.

Store-wide music broadcasting is a more recent phenomonon brought about by (a) digital, wi-fi and loudspeaker technology that makes it cheap, controllable from a central location, and pervasive, and (b) by the existence of specialist companies that manage the operation and licensing on behalf of the retailers. Music in stores is nothing new: boutiques and shops aimed at niche markets and youth fashions mimicked discos decades ago. There were few complaints about such places but its uptake by the most popular shops on the high street has raised the nuisance factor to a new level and impaired the lives of people whose hearing abilities and characteristics, both with and without amplification, make the discrimination of conflicting sound sources diffcult and uncomfortable; indeed, amplification by hearing aid obviously compounds the problem and can cause acute discomfort and stress. Whether the music is likeable or not, or whether it pleases or displeases the staff, or whether it is commecrcially sensible, are not the issue.

Guest
Chris says:
27 April 2015

Joining this thread belatedly. Why do I shop where there is music? I can walk to my local Coop in a couple of minutes, so often shop there in spite of the loud music, screechy female vocals often feature; but all music affects my concentration, the way my brain is wired. Both the music free alternatives are a car drive away, even so I do sometimes go to them simply to be able to think as I shop.

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Guest

Dorothy and Suze, I live in central southern England with reasonable road and rail access to London, Reading and Oxford City, all of which have their share of vibrant and busy shopping areas and malls. The nearest Co-op store is 4 miles away where I sometimes stop and buy petrol. There is usually background music playing that is very quiet and soothing so much so you can hardly hear it and I don’t find it at all offensive. There is but one shop only in my village which I can walk to in order to buy the odd thing I run out of but there is never any music playing there.

May I ask the question, is it the music you object so strongly to or the volume of it? I would never enter a shop or store that plays the loud thumping noise you have referred to because I choose not to. Its a simple as that. I am truly thankful I have that choice. My nearest supermarket is Waitrose in both directions and are 7 and 8 miles away which I think we all agree don’t play background music which I drive to when I am able to. I shop online and have my food delivered when I am too unwell to shop for it.

I would not object to soft music playing in health establishments and, contrary to some opinions expressed, it can be very relaxing to both patient and practitioner and can actually aid concentration levels, but I would certainly object to any kind of loud and raucous type of music played during treatment which I would certainly object to.

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Guest

Beryl, sometimes even quiet music can be annoying. I once read it described as “just loud enough to be a constant irritant”. Often a large shop is quite noisy anyway with the sound of customers talking and laughing but you still hear this extra layer of sound. You cannot even pick it out as music – just an occasional thudding. In busy restaurants it can be even worse. Unrecognizable as music with everyone talking over it.

Impartial research has shown that music CAN be relaxing in a health environment. But only if it is music that you like and want to listen to at that particular time. Otherwise it can have the opposite effect. The music industry would have us believe that ANY music is relaxing. This is totally untrue.

Guest
Suze says:
25 April 2015

Beryl – I will try to answer your question in a separate reply but I wanted to comment on something else someone has said. John Ward commented that he was uncomfortable with people saying that those with a hearing loss can switch off their hearing aids if music is loud.

I don’t know if he was referring to my comment to you.

I only mentioned hearing aids as you said you turn yours off sometimes and, as this is a conversation about piped music, I assumed you meant that you do that to lower the volume when you are shopping on your own. A well fitted ear mould can block some sound when the aid is turned off.

To be honest, I am a little puzzled by you because everyone I know who uses hearing aids finds piped music to be, at best, an irritant and, at worst, a serious obstacle to communication.

If I offended you in any way I apologise for misunderstanding what you meant.

Guest
Suze says:
25 April 2015

Beryl – hi again. I will try to answer your question now.

I find piped music very difficult for a number of reasons. I actually have very good hearing which does not seem to have diminished as I have aged, but I do have that problem that some older people get where noises seem louder than they do to younger people. I find loud music very uncomfortable.

I do also dislike the choice of music that is played in most places. It seems to be mostly hip hop, Coldplay type dirges, anodyne pop or shrieking female vocals.

Even if I might have liked some of the music, when it’s being played through what is actually a PA system not designed for music and bounced around big echoing places like B&Q or shopping malls that are already noisy places, the sound quality is just appalling. It’s harsh and distorted.

I find it impossible to think in those circumstances and I object to my choice being taken away from me. Anyone can bring music with them these days on their phones but I cannot shut this noise out.

I also shop regularly with a relative who is hearing impaired but also has other disabilities and cannot shop alone. She likes to browse and doesn’t want me to shop on line for her.

We both like our coffee and enjoy the atmosphere of coffee shops. There is, as far as I know, no coffee chain that does not play loud music. It creates an ongoing problem for her.

Sorry this was rather long but I am trying to answer your question fully.

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Guest

One of the reasons I dislike background music is that it makes it difficult for me to concentrate, and the same is true to a lesser extent with speech (such as typical Radio 4 programmes). In a supermarket I sometimes add up the cost of items as I go round the store, sometimes having to work out the cost of multi-buy offers. That enables me to spend the minimum £30 or £60 needed to use a voucher. I can do this in Tesco but I simply cannot do simple mental arithmetic in other supermarkets music is playing.

I think we should all accept that individuals can respond differently to music.

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It’s also rather nice to be able to talk comfortably to anybody accompanying you and to the assistants; this is especially true when doing what retail analysts call ‘comparison shopping’, things like clothes, homewares, furnishings, and appliances. As a practical householder I like to DIY as much as possible and I find the overhead soundtrack intensely annoying when in a B&Q or similar store trying to work out how to do something and get the correct product or material, or to calculate how much stuff I need for a project, or weighing up the pro’s and con’s of alternative means of achieving something. It’s because I want to compare options that I go to such places in the first place [and usually end up spending more than I planned] – if I new exactly what I wanted I could order it on-line for home delivery.

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My local B&Q store is quiet, apart from the occasional announcement asking staff to come and speak to customers. Having used other stores with music, I fully understand what you are saying, John.

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M&S obviously have more important things on their minds than worrying about whether they should stop playing music because it adversely affects people with hearing loss. The other day i received an on-line survey from M&S on this most essential question : “Thinking about the carrier bags retailers provide you with after making a purchase, please select how much you agree with . . . [this] statement – The carrier bags retailers give me are an important part of my shopping experience”. I was then invited to give my opinion on numerous aspects of carrier bag design and appearance and what they say about the store. I was subsequently ‘consulted’ on aspects of shopfront design. No questions about in-store music, of course.

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John, “because it adversely affects people with hearing loss.” I have contacted Action on Hearing Loss and MRC Hearing Research to see what work, if any, has been done on the effects of background music on people with hearing impairment. It seems to me that to approach those who choose to use “piped music” to cease on health grounds requires supporting evidence. Maybe this route will provide it?

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There are other potential health implications we could pursue, Malcolm. Quite a lot has been written on the relaxing effect of music but there is no doubt that some of us find it stressful or just annoying. It is clear that we also have people who dislike background music but cope well with it.

Even if 99% of people liked background music or were not concerned about it, we need to consider those that don’t. If we just play a numbers game we could say that there is no need to consider allergens in ready meals or take into account that some are colour blind in the context of safety.

I would be interested to know how many people with autism and ADHD use supermarkets because sensitivity to noise, including music, is well documented.

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There is a significant difference between an annoyance (say music to some) and a proven health hazard ( e.g. allergens). The approach to noise or music if you want to demonstrate a health effect is to seek evidence. Unsupported opinion is not going to persuade people. I am trying to find supporting evidence.

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Yes Malcolm – I think this is the only way to tackle the issue in a less-opinionated manner and, as you say, there is a need for sound evidence. I hope your approaches to the support organisations bear fruit; I have to say I was a little disappointed by AHL’s seeming lack of recognition of these problems when I first started looking at their position. I can apreciate their objectives and priorities and clearly, with all the issues they are having to represent and deal with on behalf of hearing loss sufferers, music in shops is not going to be high up their agenda. But maybe this will start to change now as we focus more on the effects of extraneous sound sources rather than the likeability of the content.

Wavechange usefully extends the profile. Having once been a voluntary adult literacy tutor I know how people with particular cognitive impairments can adapt and develop tactics for overcoming or side-stepping the implications of their disability. The same might be true of some people with other conditions, and society has a sort of expectation that such people will somehow tolerate or work-around adversities. Along with dismissing things that apparently only affect a small minority of the population, collective disability awareness has suffered from these assumptions for generations, and they persist more where the conditions are virtually invisible.

Guest
Dax says:
25 April 2015

Although it was a lovely thing to do, when Toys ‘R Us held an “autism friendly” day with “no loud music”, more or less proof that they know that their normal loud music is not autism friendly at all?

Guest
Dax says:
25 April 2015

Sorry, that was a terrible sentence, written in a rush as I am going out. I meant wasn’t that more or less proof that the usual loud music is autistic unfriendly.

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I have been encouraging contributors to move away from opinions, such as polls, and look at the effects of music on those with hearing problems and other disabilities, and on employees who have to listen to music all day.

The reason I have mentioned autism and ADHD is that there is evidence that even modest sound levels have health effects.

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wavechange, are you also looking for evidence of this?

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I’m keen to help with this, Malcolm. I will have lunch with a former colleague who has worked for years as a disabilities officer and she may be able to help.

I’ll wait until you get a response from Action on Hearing Loss. I will have a look at autism, ADHD, Aspergers syndrome, but obviously it would be useful to know how many sufferers use supermarkets.

There is a great deal of published work on the effect of music on stress and other aspects of health, but this seems to focus on the beneficial effects. I am not confident of finding worthwhile evidence but that might simply be down to lack of published research.

Like other retired academics, I still have access to the the full text of some scientific articles that are not freely available, so I’m happy to look at papers if the abstract/summary looks useful.

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This will be my last comment on this subject since I CHOOSE not to be sucked into a passive negative conversation which will no doubt continue ad infinitum. What I do find so puzzling Dorothy is the ambiguity that is so prevalent in this conversation…… and still persists!

For example, some people have expressed their abhorrence of any type of music played in certain public arenas whatsoever, some people have expressed their abhorrence of only certain types of music played in public arenas, some people have expressed their abhorrence of loud music played in public arenas, some people have expressed their abhorrence of quiet music played in public arenas, some people have expressed their abhorrence of music played wearing hearing aids, and some people have expressed their abhorrence of music played without hearing aids. CHOICES and compromise for some people it seems are non existent and so the passive negativity continues……………………………………..

I have just come back from a 2 day promotional event with a well known cruise company and experienced a gathering of some 400 people at an event where there was a live harpist playing the most beautiful background music but which was unfortunately overshadowed and almost drowned out by the deafening noise of people chatter and which became ever louder as people had to shout even louder to make themselves heard above the ever increasing and incessant noise. The food and service was first class however but another week subjected to a daily dose of that was definitely not an option for me and so I have CHOSEN not to follow through and reserve a cruise holiday.

John, I sincerely hope that your local B&Q is not included in the 60 stores due for closure at the loss of 3,000 jobs, although there is always the option or CHOICE of shopping at Wickes or Screwfix. If you care to, log onto: telegraph.co.uk – B&Q to close 60 stores – Graham Ruddick – 31st March 2015, and in particular the many public comments that follow where you will note there is not a single comment that mentions background music which could possibly be a reason for their decline in footfall.

Meantime, I am still left with a CHOICE whether to continue to participate in this somewhat atypical topic or not. I hope that Malcolm will succeed in his endeavours to persuade Action on Hearing Aid to bring a satisfactory conclusion to this enduring problem for so many people, after all, if hearing aids can be produced to improve hearing, surely it is not beyond the realms of possibility they can also produce a similar product to reduce hearing also and then perhaps everyone, including those that enjoy music played in the public arena will be satisfied…………but I very much doubt it!!!

I remain impartial and CHOOSE not to comment any further.

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I understand your point of view, Beryl, but as pointed out frequently in this Conversation, people have the choice to listen to music via their phone or music player. At present I feel lucky because most of the shops I spend any length of time in have no regular music. I am trying to think of others.

I’m not expecting a response. 🙂

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Hi Beryl – I’m fairly indifferent to whether my nearest B&Q survives the company’s commercial retraction. I’m fairly sure the music played in the stores has absolutely nothing to do with the decision: that is a result of growing on-line DIY trade [in which B&Q itself participates] and the decline in DIY as a popular activity for a variety of reasons including the rise of home renting. B&Q has not gone down the homewares and lifestyle path favoured by Homebase that is more appealing to today’s home-owners so a drop in footfall is inevitable. I have to accept that the noisome racket in my local store [made worse by its awful acoustic properties] is probably quite acceptable to the vast majority of customers who seem to be in a catatonic state upon arrival having trawled round CurrysPCWorld next door. So I don’t think the music policy has led to a sales drop nor do I think it will save any branch that is struggling.

As you say, there are alternatives and in most cases we have choices – although these are progressively diminishing as more and more retailers are withdrawing from a bricks-&-mortar presence. I was interested in your comments on the cruise promotion you attended and the way the chatter drowned out the music. That was a competing sound situation and one or the other was going to dominate – for you it went the wrong way but other people might have wished the harpist would give it a break! I think that a lot of hearing loss sufferers experience the same problem – there are two parallel sound pictures reaching their ears, one from a single point which they wish to listen to and the other from a multitude of places which interfere with their reception of the single source. Whenever ambient sound dominates and drowns out the single-point sound it becomes uncomfortable, and it’s not just about volume but the aural/spatial characteristics of the sounds and the balance between them. Hearing aids will not discriminate between the welcome and the unwelcome sounds: they will amplify both of them and that intensifies the discomfort and – I’m guessing here – unfortunately widens the gap between the level of the specific sound and that of the ambient sound. We need some medical expertise to clarify some of these issues and their affect on people’s capacity to handle the aural confusion that the brain is being subjected to. I doubt whether it will alter their hearing capability so much as their mental condition, temporarily at least inducing stress to a greater or lesser extent.

Shopping in large open-plan stores can be quite a strain for many people who nevertheless allow the enjoyment of the shopping experience overall to relegate the less appealing aspects; the recent infliction of wall-to-wall sound has tipped a lot of people over the point where the shopping trip remains a pleasure, and to a great extent this Conversation has been around that issue. The problem caused for people with hearing loss emerged slowly and, in my opinion, is the more important factor and probably the only reason why anything should be done about it; the rest of us can either put up with it or go elsewhere as we choose. Initial comments on behalf of shop employees were largely supportive of background music but it has also become apparent that a significant, and perforce silent, number of staff are maddened by the music, especially its repetitveness and banal characteristics. Like you, I sometimes get frustrated by the drift of these Conversations, and it is possible that this one has veered too far away from the quick-and-dirty “do you or don’t you like music in shops” controversy that Which? threw into the air at the outset. For me the lack of dialogue, or engagement even, with Which? staffers as the issues evolve is the most disappointing aspect of many of these discussions. Personally, I think the broadening-out of the topic has been both informative and more purposeful than the original construct.

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Guest

Hi all, sorry forgot to mention that we are too in touch with Action on Hearing Loss. I’ll let you know when I have more news 🙂

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Hi Patrick, just wondering if you ever had a response from Action on Hearing Loss? There have been lots of comments from people who have hearing problems on several of your conversations, so it would be good to know if the organisations concerned are taking an interest.

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Hello everyone, thanks again for making so many comments. I just want to remind everyone of our community guidelines: https://conversation.which.co.uk/commenting-guidelines

Sometimes you might disagree with what others think, but please share your disagreement in a polite way. Some people might like music in shops, if they do, please don’t make them feel unwelcome for sharing their views.

Guest
Popular Music Hater says:
28 April 2015

Popular music today tends to be a series of repeated phrases following the initial intro. Wickes play this type of music loudly all day. Why, when shopping for timber etc., would I want to listen to this type of chanting when I am trying to calculate how much timber I need to buy.

Guest
Suze says:
28 April 2015

Noise damage is accumulative, a decibel level that won’t cause damage after 8 hours, may after 10 hours. I know several youngsters who regularly work 10 and 11 hour shifts in coffee shop chains. These places are already noisy with people talking, the coffee bean grinder, the milk steamer and those blenders that make smoothy and frappuccino type drinks.

Even if it does not harm customers to add loud pounding music to all that noise – and it might harm us – I would have thought it is a potential risk for staff, most of whom are young and using headphones during a lot of their time off.

People who use headphones, especially the ear bud type favoured by most youngsters, are actually put at risk by environmental noise. Although they, in principle, don’t seem to mind piped music as much as older people do, it’s rarely to their taste so they put on their own music on their mobiles. The louder the outside music, the louder they play their own to cover it.

There is growing evidence of hearing loss among teenagers and young adults. Some might say they are doing it to themselves, but youngsters think they are immortal and bullet proof. It does not occur to them that any loss of hearing will be in addition to the normal loss that can come with ageing.

If you google – loud music hearing loss in teenagers – you get about half a million hits.

Ipods can produce noise levels of 100 decibels or louder and I believe there are plans to legally limit this to a safer level, but my point is that piped music in public places is partly responsible for their turning it up higher and higher.

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Guest

Suze, Action on Hearing Loss gives information on the effect of excessive noise on permanent hearing damage. However I have not found any information on cumulative effects of noise below the “damage level” of 80dB. Can you give a link to the evidence please?

Guest
Suze says:
28 April 2015

Malcolm – I read it some time back before I started posting here. I will look to see if I bookmarked it or if I can recall where I saw it. Will let you know, one or the other.

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Like Malcolm, I’m not aware of risks of hearing damage below 80dB but it is incredibly difficult to prove that something is not harmful. A lot of household and garden chemicals were thought to be safe but had to be banned years later.

If anyone is going to have their hearing damaged by music in shops it’s most likely to be the staff, who have to listen to it all day.

I have not experienced the loud music in shops, apart from HMV. With many people suffering from hearing loss as they grow older, how would you prove that problems were associated with exposure to music in the workplace? I think it would be easier to focus on other health issues.

Guest
Suze says:
28 April 2015

I have also read that. because a hearing aid amplifies all sounds and not just the desired ones, it raises noise by about 10 decibels for the user. So a busy coffee shop with loud music and people shouting over the music could be at a damaging level.

Guest
Suze says:
28 April 2015

Wavechain

I think the fact that deaf people are discriminated against is the major problem of piped music. But the best one could hope for in that case would be a legal ruling that, under the DDA, an establishment should turn off music when asked to do so by a deaf person.

This would not help all those who have less easily identifiable problems with piped music. I think it’s important to protect our young people from damaging their hearing – even if it’s currently difficult to persuade them of that.

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Thanks Suze, evidence seems hard to find so any would be welcome. I’ve had no response to my last email to Action for Hearing Loss, who you would expect to be on top of this. I have given them the link to this conversation.

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Suze – If you look back through the pages of this Conversation you will see that I have been suggesting that we consider the needs of the disabled, as well as those who have to work in an environment with constant music.

In order to push for music to be turned off on health grounds, we need definite evidence that those with hearing problems are disadvantaged or that hearing is damaged. I think it would be easier to find evidence for the problems caused for those with hearing difficulties.

Since I once experienced stress caused by having to listen to music all day I have been looking for evidence that this is a problem. So far I have not found evidence, so I am not pursuing that approach, at least tor the time being.

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I contacted Action on Hearing Loss again pointing out the research carried out for them in the past as Dorothy mentioned. The reply was “Our research department and campaigns team are looking to explore these avenues in due course, any new research and campaigns will be loaded onto our website. If you require further information please do not hesitate to contact us again.

They don’t seem very interested. Hope Which? has more success.

I’m still waiting for a reply from MRC.

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Re Malcolm’s earlier response from Action on Hearing Loss…I now have contact details for a member of staff at Action on Hearing Loss who is in the process of “formulating a survey which we want to use to get café’s and bars to understand the problems background noise has to people with a hearing loss”

I know Which? commenting guidelines don’t let us post personal e-mail addresses but, if you contact me via our Quiet Edinburgh website, I am happy to pass on details to anyone who wants to help Action on Hearing Loss.

Apologies for wandering from shops again, Patrick!

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Oops, wrong conversation! Have added it to correct one now.

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I have heard once again from Hearing Link and will copy one paragraph that seems useful:

‘Hearing Link’s ethos is to support members to overcome problems they meet in everyday life and give them strategies to cope. Our current focus is ‘Let’s Loop the UK’ but this does not preclude us tackling this issue in the future, there are many areas for hearing support charities to address. However, our approach is ‘grass roots’ so- just as with the Let’s Loop work we would call on individuals to make the difference in their area. If every deaf person makes their needs known we make inroads into removing this nuisance from our lives, and, as I’ve found it is slow but can be effective. I appreciate your desire to get an organisation to collate the efforts of those who are against loud muzac, but we at Hearing Link cannot do this nor unfortunately signpost you to any specific research into the effect of this loud muzac on customers’ hearing. There is however plenty of data on the effect of noise over 80 – 85dB and damage to hearing to be found.’

On another point, I feel quite frustrated by people who contend that we always have the choice to shop elsewhere. In my town we do not, with the single exception of Aldi. Coop is the beast, but I haven’t found independent shops, including coffee shops or restaurants that do not have muzac. And for the persons who contend that there is a split between those of us who favour particular types of music, I think the evidence of this site clearly shows that that is not an issue. Most want no music at all.

And while I applaud the effort to make this an issue of health and safety, which indeed it is, I avoided muzac as much as I could even before I was forced to wear hearing aids, and I believe it is also a matter of appropriate social behaviour. I believe the reason most people do not complain is that the noise has crept up on us until it has become ubiquitous. Like a lobster being boiled alive, the sound just accumulated, and many people were able to dismiss it as a trivial inconvenience, whereas those who could not do that have to suffer incredible torment.

Guest
Dax says:
11 May 2015

L Johnston

“the noise has crept up on us until it has become ubiquitous”

I could not agree more. It’s infuriating, and rather depressing, that when I ask why a shop or restaurant has pop music playing they say “everyone has it”.

That or one of the other two stock replies, “customers like it” or ” head office says we have to have it”.

Recently I complained in a clothes shop and was told that customers like it. There were 5 people in there and I, politely, asked each one what they thought of the music. None of them liked it, all thought it was far too loud and would prefer no music at all.

So, on seeing that no one wanted it, I asked the assistant why it was playing and got the stock answer

“Everyone has it”

I asked why this particular shop played it when their customers didn’t like it.

“Everyone has it…”

“But why does everyone have it – what is the reason that every clothes shop plays pop music?”

She repeated, very slowly and clearly, as if talking to a slow witted person,

“Because everyone has it, innit?”

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Guest

I’ve now had a reply from MRC – they know of no research that is relevant. Their reply is on the later conversation “What do shops have to say about piped music?”.

Guest
Anne says:
22 May 2015

You ask what we think of music in restaurants.

Without doubt just as annoying as music in shops. Restaurants now pack in tables too closely, and the music adds to the volume of conversation. All my friends hate all this, and it’s odd that businesses do not seem to recognise the growing ‘grey’ market. Yes, I’m in my sixties, and find shopping and restaurant visits an ordeal. Can we have some kind of campaign to get rid of it? or some quiet corners in restaurants. Surely the younger customers will buy as much without the music?

Guest

Rubbish music in shops makes the trip worthwhile.

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Well I hate rubbish music in shops. 🙂

Guest
mr s perry says:
23 May 2015

Hi our local as a sounds like they are having a rave in the back cos the music isn’t just loud is herenduss and staff seem to be always in there and not on the shop floor where there should be.its not just asda its all of them.no wonder people are shopping on line.

Guest
Sue Fasquelle says:
23 May 2015

Whilst I do not object to quiet background music that enhances the atmosphere of a restaurant, I do object strongly to the ever increasing volume of unnecessary music in busy restaurants and pubs which makes it impossible to have a civilised conversation with your fellow diners.

Guest
Angela G says:
23 May 2015

Music in shops is irritating, making some shopping experiences like going to a Saturday night disco. My local Co-op plays electronic dance music quite loudly. Cosidering that the majority of the shoppers are fairly mature (I live inWorthing) this would seem to be inappropriate. Every time that I have complained to the manager he gives an indifferent shrug of the shoulders and blames head offices. I have voted with my feet and now shop in another well supermarket chain, in a quiet, relaxed atmosphere.