/ 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?

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.


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.


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.

Dax says:
21 April 2015

This links to a chart of decibel levels.


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.

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.

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!

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.

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.