/ 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

It was suggested by someone that I should write to Lisburn City Council and ask them under freedom of information how much they spend on licenses for “Background Music” for their LesiurePlex. .

I got a reply within the statutory window of respond, which gave me 3 or 4 different confusing answers and alternatives, which whilst, possibly complaining with the legalistic requirements under they statutory obligations in every conceivable way, obfuscates their response. They are seen to respond with a plethora of inconsistent data which may not be pertinent to the subject, but presents itself as well reasoned educated logic and sounds good to whomsoever is forced to listen. A bit like Russell Brand.

“Full of Sound and Fury signifying nothing” with apologies to William Shakespeare.

How clever is that?

I think this particular civil servant should get a pay rise and a bigger pension immediatly.

Ahh well! Back to the drawing board.

Dave says:
3 December 2014

Back on 28 July Patrick Steen thanked us for all our comments and said that the next stop would be Which? magazine. Any idea when something will be appearing, Patrick? Or have I missed it?

Hi Dave, apologies. A short piece appeared in the September issue of Which? magazine, with a linkback to this debate to get more Which? members involved.

Dave says:
6 December 2014

Thanks, Patrick. Now that more Which? members have become involved, how do you see Which? progressing with this topic?

Tony Osborne says:
6 December 2014

Shops, catering outlets, etc, with musak rely on maintaining the illusion that ‘nobody else complains’ – ‘customers demand it’, etc – we witness that all the time.

The only way we are going to get any change is if enough of us can break those illusions – and that is strength and numbers of representation.

I think it needs groups of us to go into places and convince them, politely, that we know there are more of us than they want us to believe, and we’ve seen through the rhetoric.

We could also present large petitions to their HQ Management.

If this spreads as wide as it can, it could have a snowball effect.

I live in Slough, and would be happy to join with, or assemble others locally to try this.

I have been watching the comments for a few weeks now and it has struck me. Perhaps we are missing a huge topic here?

If the broadcasters of this MUZAC are so insistent on broadcasting this stuff and charging us to listen to it, through taxation etc. They must be receiving some benefit from doing so. Human nature is by design extremely selfish and we must be missing something here? Has anybody any idea what the real benefit is to these organisations. Surely they do not do it just to cause irritation?

I feel I should sign this off.

Confused “Tunbridge Wells”.

I think businesses play muzac because they honestly believe it is good for sales, makes their workers more productive, etc. This is because the music industry, in particular the licence collectors (PRS and PPL), commission their own research and publish it through their musicworksforyou website. Impartial research shows that playing muzac, especially fast-tempo music in an ordinary shop situation, can actually be bad for sales. What is extraordinary is that businesses believe this research from the music industry, even though the licence collectors have a vested interest. They are very clever at marketing and propaganda. Try asking PRS and PPL for further details of their research. Just ask the age range of the sample they use, whether the participants liked listening to background music in the first place, etc They never respond. I can only assume that this is because they know that the research won’t hold up to scrutiny. This is why we have to show businesses that they are being misled by the music industry. One way of doing this would be if an organisation like Which? could expose what is going on.

“Has anybody any idea what the real benefit is to these organisations. Surely they do not do it just to cause irritation?”

The organisations like PRS collect money on behalf of artists, and it appears, take on the rights to the music:- see
” What happens to your rights when you become a PRS member?”

When joining PRS your rights are transferred to us. These are:

to perform the music in the public (concerts, pubs, shops etc)
to communicate the music to the public (including broadcasting, broadcasting on demand and use of music on the Internet interactive services, including satellite and cable transmissions) http://www.prsformusic.com/aboutus/ourorganisation/aboutcopyright/Pages/default.aspx

So it appears, that once artists have joined PRS it is within the interest of PRS to get businesses to play music as they then collect the licence fee. I have not figured out what artists get from this
regards
kate

Dodie Gale says:
7 December 2014

Kate, it is true that PRS and PPL collect licence fees for performers, composers, etc. However, I do not believe that the motive for businesses playing instore music is to help musicians; it is purely because they think it increases sales. And, if PRS and PPL are doing so much to help musicians, why do so many professional musicians support Pipedown? Apparently, many musicians think that playing non-stop background music in this way is actually damaging to music.

David Andrew says:
9 December 2014

I agree with you Dorothy.

They really believe that piped musak gives an ‘enhanced shopping experience’. They really do, and they quote their own surveys. The percentages are not large, but still in the majority. (However, there are places where you won’t find it, such as W H Smith, Waitrose, Wetherspoons, Waterstones – not all Waterstones). Apart from that people will not have or appreciate quietness anymore, it’s a bit like the diminishing of attention span in numerous ways. Yet has anybody ever gone into a shop and complained that there is NO musak?

Regarding what can be done, well, there is already Pipedown, but how many members they have I don’t know – and again, one has to be prepared to spend time at the problem – time which many haven’t in their busy lives. They doesn’t mean one should not keep plugging away, of course.

Raymond, do you have examples of these surveys? I have only seen surveys which are repeating statistics from companies with a vested interest in persuading businesses to play muzac so I would be curious to have details of businesses’ own surveys (usually they say the are “business sensitive”!)

Is there perhaps a jamming device that I could buy to temporarily knock out the loudspeakers in stores for the duration of my visit? It would have to be immune from any counter-measures, of course, for blessed are the peacemakers.

Dorothy –
Sorry I don’t have specific examples. I have taken the information from Pipedown.

We know that many people are disgusted and resentful and are helping to bring the matter to a larger public. The problem is how to carry it further. Petitions and local groups have been suggested, but what is needed is a national campaign. Pipedown just doesn’t have the resources. Which?, I think, could make all the difference in the world, simply by conducting an independent poll, if nothing else. However, I have urged action from them for several years, as noted in another post, and there has been no positive reaction. Perhaps we should concentrate our efforts on the Consumers’ Association, rather than the retailers.

Sally says:
7 December 2014

I agree. We need an organisation with clout, such as Which?, to take this case forward. However, I can’t help wondering if even Which? recognises when research is impartial. At the beginning of this conversation, Which? gives a link to research which has been published. This turns out to be a link to Store Radio. On its website Store Radio advocates playing music throughout your store. This is not impartial research. Earlier in the conversation someone described the way in which the music industry has persuaded businesses that music is good for sales as “corporate brainwashing”. It seems that even Which? has been taken in by the music industry. Please prove us wrong, Patrick!

Christine says:
7 December 2014

I have made a start on protesting! Every shop I go into usually has a Facebook page so in future I will leave a comment about the music. Just been on the Facebook page of Elys Wimbledon and asked if there is anyone else out there who dislikes the music as much as I do. So will wait and see if there is any follow up to my question.

Chris says:
7 December 2014

Just made a short comment on Co-op FB page.

Christine says:
7 December 2014

I have added another comment on the Co Op Facebook, perhaps if a few more of us did this we MAY get a reaction from them.

Christine – I am surprised at Ely’s of Wimbledon having both piped music and a Facebook page. I thought they were the archetypal Grace Bros department store [as shown in the long-running TV documentary series “Are You Being Served?”.

Christine says:
9 December 2014

No not as bad as Grace Brothers in fact I rather like the store, mind you there is not a lot of competition in Wimbledon, Debenhams play even louder music.

I do agree with you about Ely’s actually. I went there recently after years of abstinence and was quite impressed. Spent some time in their coffee shop as well . All rather stylish really . . . except for the music.

Chris says:
10 December 2014

As someone has commented (sorry can’t find it here, not easy to find latest posts) the comments I started on FB have completely disappeared. Don’t know why, we were very polite and there was a partly helpful response from one of their store managers. There are actually some rude things on there, about the car being raffled for example. Went to Waitrose at the local service station instead of Co-op today, I was driving past anyway. Peace, perfect peace!

Chris says:
10 December 2014

Huh, I looked again and found the FB thread I started, confusing.

Colin says:
8 December 2014

My local Council [Fife] insists on playing Commercial Radio at it’s swimming pools. So not only do the swimmers have to listen to the random music but also the plethora of adverts. There is a campaign afoot to have designated “Quiet times, but there is definitely a culture amongst many in our society that would appear to be show an unease with silence!!

Try writing to your council to ask how much are they paying for the rights to broadcast music in public places. The answer might be surprising!

Yes – there is an unease with silence with many people. That is probably a reason why there is no great movement against piped musak nationally.

I was in a cafe recently which I know consistently has a radio playing. On this day it was not on, but one of the staff immediately came and asked me and another person if we would like them to switch it on. They were actually quite concerned that we were sitting there in silence.

Today I found that my local Tesco store has sunk to using piped music. I have just filled in their questionnaire and have put in a quite strongly worded objection to this policy; I have also told them that I have signed up with ASDA’s online service and that Tesco will not be seeing me again until the nuisance is removed. I have also pointed them in the direction of these ‘Conversation’ pages.

I will report back in due course.

Sally says:
8 December 2014

I think Tesco’s and Sainsbury’s just play Christmas music. Hopefully they will revert to silence once the Christmas season is over

Tony Osborne says:
8 December 2014

As we’ve recognized, they rely on making us feel isolated, but there’s strength in numbers. We need to be politely persistent and show them that we’ve seen through the plastic rhetoric

Peaceful group visits and petitions to their HQs are in my view the most practical way forward.

I started a post on this today, on my local Streetlife forum. One reply so far!

Tony

I apologise if I appear too often on this site, but I am always thinking about how one might fight this scourge. I can and do avoid Coop for shopping, but unfortunately the main post office in my town is located in the store. I was forced to go there today, and to wait in a very long and slow-moving queue while being forced to listen to something that Coop might call music, but that bears no resemblance to it in my opinion. It was all I could do to stay until I reached the counter.

The problem is that no one will take the matter seriously. As has been pointed out by many, we are told by retailers and traders that ‘ no one else has complained’, that ‘ feedback supports the use of music’, that it ‘enhances the shopping experience’ (a yuk phrase that has become part of the public relations repertoire used even by John Lewis. We are all used to that.

In addition, no one will accept responsibility. I have been told by one shop after another, including Waterstones, Coop and other chains, that ‘headquarters’ require them to play muzak, and there is nothing to be done about it. Others, such as John Lewis, wrote that it was a ‘business decision’ that was theirs to make and not for me to question. I have written to Health and Safety, who are equally vague and unhelpful and to the post office who wrote an utterly inane defence; i.e., it is up to Coop, and the post office are unable to interfere. That seems to imply that the ‘franchise’ was let on a free-wheeling basis and that there were no conditions placed on the shop in which the counter is based. I don’t believe that for a moment.

The trouble is that when you complain, you are treated like a “grumpy old woman” and perhaps I am, but their music is causing this state. However, in shops where I have to interact with staff I reduce the volume of my speech rather than increasing it, to be heard over the music. If I have to repeat anything I say it even more quietly. Rather than complaining and having no one take any notice, I pass the problem to the shop. In smaller shops they end up turning the music down to hear me:success!
I am a lecturer and can do a 200 seat lecture theatre without a mic, but I don’t see why I should have to shop in broadcast mode.
under the equality act, anyone with a voice impediment (disability) has the right to be able to shop like everyone else
Kate

Christine says:
9 December 2014

A few of us have put comments on the Co Op Facebook page and I was wondering perhaps if we all concentrated on one shop and flooded them with complaints, and the Co op is one of the worst offenders, someone MAY take note.

Chris says:
9 December 2014

It could work, and I will volunteer my local branch as the target. BUT, the manager will not reply, not even to acknowledge receipt. Eventually (after writing twice) I got a useless reply from customer services. I had a later response from a different person, then a long talk to her on the phone, then I sent copies of correspondence. Awaiting reply, without bated breath. I asked, amongst other things about cost of the music and how it would compare with installing hearing loop system.

Chris says:
9 December 2014

Not sure if I am allowed to put an address on this page, so a separate comment box. I wrote to Amanda Bailey, Freepost, Manchester, M4 8BA. I don’t know how we can get people to realise that this, for some of us, and not that small a number, is more than a minor inconvenience.

The Co-Op is a mutual organisation and asserts that it listens to its members and the communities it serves [if it canhear them over the racket]. so, as Christine says above, it might be best to have a go at them first. I get the impression they are countering any challenges to their music policy through the Facebook channel, probably because the number of critical comments is too few at the moment.

This is an excellent idea, Chris. However, sadly there is one problem. A lot of people who dislike piped music are older and don’t use Facebook or Twitter. I’m assuming that only people who are on Facebook are able to put a comment on the Co-op Facebook page? M&S once said that they read newspaper articles about the store but not the hundreds of comments which often follow these articles. They said they expect such comments to come to them via Facebook and Twitter. When it was pointed out to them that their core customers were less likely to use these methods to comment, they just ignored it and said again they hoped they would use Facebook or Twitter.

I think this is a big problem. The music industry is able to circulate details of all sorts of “research” on Twitter and Facebook, and there is virtually no one giving the opposite view on social media.

Christine says:
9 December 2014

Yes Dorothy your Facebook remark did go through my mind. A pity really as there is quite a little discussion going on the Co-op site, instigated by Chris above. With obvious Managers of Co-op saying how lovely the music is! I do think you have to be on Facebook but think non ‘Facebookers’ could probably just read the comment, if not actually comment itself.

Chris says:
10 December 2014

All of us here use internet so at least have the potential to use FB. And we can represent those who would agree with us but don’t use computers at all.

I am on FB, but do not put personal information or news on it. The comments on Co-op page are an exception to my usual usage. I am so fed up of the stress induced by a simple shopping trip and the poor response when I complain.

lizbie says:
10 December 2014

I give our view all the time on Facebook & Twitter. M&S always respond politely, and it’s always variants on ‘Other people like it’ / ‘It adds to the atmosphere’ / ‘Surveys show that most people want it.’ All untrue.

You should find now that Waterstones, at least, have stopped piped musak in general. There are 5 branches within a reasonable travelling distance from where I live and only one has musak. I believe it is up to each individual store manager. However, I don’t think they have stopped it because a lot of customers have complained. Maybe (horrors) it is just a few months’ trial.

Most folk will not bother to complain, but that’s not to say there’s not a good percentage who don’t want it. Problem is how to round them up! As someone said Pipedown does its best but doesn’t have immense resources. if everybody writing here joined Pipedown though it could make a difference.

We set up a local Pipedown group in Edinburgh a couple of years ago, Raymond, and Waterstones was one of the first shops we complained to. We are certainly not taking the credit for Waterstones stopping playing music because the new Managing Director at the time, James Daunt, dislikes piped music himself. However, it does help if more than one person is complaining. James Daunt said that the reason he turned his attention to the piped music in Waterstones was because he received two letters about it on the same day!
We have found it useful having a local group and working together. It’s very easy to feel isolated which is a shame because there are so many people who feel the same way that we do.

lizbie says:
10 December 2014

In my local Waterstones, there is still pop music playing all the time. I have complained, both in the shop & in writing – in the shop, they said ‘Sorry, but everyone else likes it’ – in writing, they ignored me. As I went out of the shop, a man came up to me & said ‘That’s not true, you know. I hate it, I only go in if I have to.’ I asked him why he did not complain – although what I really wanted to say was, why did you not back me up? – & he said ‘There’s no point in complaining, they never take any notice.’ Sigh.

I suppose it is highly likely that the shops that irritate us with their music have signed up to lengthy
contracts for the service so getting them to do a quick U-turn istoo much to expect. It occurred to me that if a group of objectors turned up at a particular store on Boxing Day, each with a boom-box playing music of their choice, it might make a point, except it would probably offend other customers, discredit the objectives of the campaign, and possibly lead to arrest for a breach of the peace. So how can we tackle this menace in a quiet but effective way.

Tony Osborne says:
9 December 2014

John, I’d never advocate the boombox approach, though I frequently remind them that if I came in with a device that played exactly what they do, I’d be thrown out.

I’d certainly love to see polite groups making their feelings known, though.

Contracts with Media companies are their problems – if they had a food product that was causing any problems, it would have to be withdrawn – why not musak?

After seven pages of discussion it would be useful to know whether or not Which? plans to take any action about background music. I feel very sorry for those who have to endure it when at work or have hearing difficulties.

Colin says:
9 December 2014

Good idea Christine regarding focussing on one shop … the Co op.
I am a member and have just Emailed their Scottish HQ , telling them that I spend as little time as possible in their shops due to the intrusive audio broadcasts!

When I posted a comment on this page weeks ago I have watched the responses from an awful lot of people.

What puzzles me is that if my firm, and I have managed a few in my life time, was being attacked by “Liberal Lefties” and socialist weirdo’s and grumpy old people etc. I would be in there arguing my case to justify my existence and entrepreneurial decisions.

Instead the silence is deafening. Where are all these progressive managers who have done exhaustive research and can now kick our arguments into touch because we are all mad and completely out of touch with modern business methods?

Hello? I would love to read your arguments. If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck and swims like a duck. Sorry. It is a duck no matter what you tell us..

I notice the equally deafening silence from Which?

It may be the case that those who dislike something are likely to complain, whereas those who do like it, or simply don’t mind, will not be moved to comment to a store. So complainants taking direct action might not represent an overall view. I don’t like music in stores generally but recognise that I can avoid it by not shopping there and that there may be a silent majority. So my approach would be to challenge stores to have a survey of customers to ask whether or not they like background music and to publicise the results.

I’ve made the same point, Malcolm. Having studied behaviour and asked people about background music, it’s very evident that it does not concern many people and some enjoy it. 🙁 Obviously the choice of music is a factor.

To be useful, surveys need to be independent.

David Andrew says:
9 December 2014

When I complain to a staff member, he or she often reply, I agree with you and I have to listen to it all day.

Chris says:
10 December 2014

We are not a nation of complainers, I am only learning the skill with age. As recently as Monday this week I failed to say that the meal I paid so much for did not come up to expectations. I think the level of complaints is the tip of the iceberg and, in fact, shows the serious distress caused to those who cannot screen out imposed music.

I agree, Chris. I am always amazed at the number of people I meet who say they dislike piped music. However, when I ask them if they ever complain, the answer is nearly always, “No – but I walk out of the shop.” I don’t think shops have any idea how many sales they are losing.

David Andrew says:
9 December 2014

I find music often a pleasure, depending on the mood im in, however I hate music I don’t like being forced on me. Offenders include Matalan, Mobile phone shops auto shops, Co ops, Tesco, Pubs, Restuarants, Merchants, Garages.

Only a minority complain – such as many of us here – and this is often reflected in the response from establishments. They say that no-one else has complained. They don’t take into consideration that there must logically be a considerable number of customers who don’t want piped musak and that it is inflicted upon them.
Pipedown supplies small cards about piped musak, just about the size of a credit card, which they will supply in any quantity (if you I member, I guess).These can easily be left with an assistant or the manager of a place, or just leave somewhere suitable. It all helps.