/ 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?


TKMaxx sends me running within a few minutes of entering the store. Loud, brain-deadening music that makes it impossible to browse. At least in Newbury. They lose a lot of potential business from me.

John says:
11 July 2014

The wife packed in her Asda job due to the looped in store “age innappropriate” music.

Not just shops. Huddersfield bus station playing classical music through poor quality public address speakers can be painful to my ears. My GP surgery used to play pop music in the waiting room. Michael Jackson and then a beat like someone building a shed didn’t really seem appropriate for ill people. The surgery told me it was to drown out the personal conversations at reception.

Music in shops has the effect of driving me out.
I now avoid Marks and Spencer first because of the ‘noise’ and secondly because of their pices.

Mike says:
11 July 2014

Two years ago at Maplins of all places where, if you are looking for particular electronic components or reading the small print on prospective purchases, you need your brain in gear. The constant very loud racket interspersed with distorted advertising announcements results a quick exit and a search on the internet – not always satisfactory. The shop staff, who are also driven mad by the noise, told me that the “music” content and volume is controlled by their head-office! Other customers commented that they either gave up looking and left or grabbed something that might do the job then left as soon as possible. I haven’t been back since. It may be different now, Hope so, nothing like a browse along the shelves.

A few years ago I complained to the local manager in Tesco Bishops Stortford about the tinny Christmas music played very loudly through the cheap and nasty tannoy system. He refused to turn it down even though it was competing with the hum of air conditioning units, the freezer noises, and people chatting. So I never shopped there again. That was about 5 or 6 years ago. As far as I know they still play it but I’m never likely to find out because waitrose is a fast better store where I’ve shopped ever since.

Julian says:
11 July 2014

I was in B&Q, Cardiff yesterday to buy paint. The range available for the purpose was impressive, but the music playing was so painfully loud that it drove me out of the store before I could decide which brand to buy. The paint has now been purchased from an alternative supplier.

IanC says:
11 July 2014

The worst music undoubtedly is that played in Dobbies Garden Centres. They are fake copycat versions of well-known records, presumably a cheaper way for them than playing the originals. They are dire – something akin to the cheap singles Woolworths used to sell in the Sixties on the Embassy label.

One of the most irritating for me is the B&Q which seems to be cheap cover versions of 30 year old hits. But even more irritating is the voice of the B&Q self serve tills. Of all the self serve till horrors this voice is attrocious and I find myself telling her to shut up. The best, Waitrose, no voice at all! marvellous.

Val says:
11 July 2014

I intensely dislike almost all music in shops. It seems to me that the chance of a significant percentage of shoppers actually enjoying the choice of music seems very small, given how subjective out tastes are. I would love classical music or opera. Something tuneful & soothing. What I loathe is a pounding cacophany of loud sound. I walk out. I’ve given up asking the shop assistants to turn it down or change the song. I would also add pubs & restaurants to the list. I want to be able to hear what people are saying to me.

Derek says:
11 July 2014

The worst is our local B&Q. If I must buy from there I reserve on line and collect. They can’t understand why I’ll do that for just a bag of nails.
Unfortunately its not only shops that have this problem. There are hotels we don’t use any more because of their restaurant music.

Jenny W says:
11 July 2014

I agree with most of the comments about music in shops – but what about music in restaurants and pubs, places where people go not just to eat but to talk to each other? Too many otherwise pleasant restaurants and pubs, with good food, play music which is too loud for easy conversation with companion(s) – and too many staff seem surprised if asked for a table as far away from a loudspeaker as possible

Derek says:
11 July 2014

My wife and I visited The Marry Hill complex , Dudley near Birmingham and entered a shop named Tiger. The music was so loud and intrusive we could not hear each other enough to discuss purchases so we left empty handed.. Pity the goods looked interesting.

Sheila Clark says:
11 July 2014

The worst (and most surprising) place that I’ve come across for music that is far too loud and generally incompatible to the environment is in the Early Learning Centre shops. Especially at the Team Valley in Gateshead. The constant din of the background music is far too loud for babies and children’s sensitive hearing and there is a lot of competition from musical and/or noisy toys. You just need to add in one or two crying babies or children to the mix and it’s enough to put you off ever going back into the shop.

If they’ve got to play music then low volume and calm music may encourage me back. The first (& last) time I was there I complained about the high volume level but the assistant said it was all set at head office and there was nothing that they could do about it.

A while ago, I also complained about the high volume level and type of music to the manager in my local HMV, where I’d found it very difficult to concentrate whilst trying to choose 30 CD’s of various genre’s as a gift for my son who was on a music degree course at the time. I asked the Manager to turn the volume down a bit or better still, choose a different style of music more in keeping with browsing. The manager’s answer was that the music was fine as it was and head office were happy with it.

Having already observed that there were very few people in the shop and that they were not staying very long nor purchasing much, I pointed out to him that the spending power in the shop at that time seemed to lean heavily towards me (49 years old at the time) standing there with 24 CD’s already in hand. The only other person in the shop looking to purchase something was a guy in his late teens standing in the queue with one CD.

I told him that since his answer was not helpful, and if management were going to continue to ignore customers requests, then I would not continue to search out the rest of the CD’s on my list nor would I be purchasing the stack of CD’s I held in my hand. I handed them over to him and walked out. I went home and purchased all the CD’s I wanted via the internet and listened to my own choice of music as I did so – bliss!

Wonderful! Well done!

Sheila, I’m sure you got a much better deal, no cheek, and you could enjoy your own music in the background (or not). Perhaps these comments go some way towards explaining the demise of such high street shops 🙂 .

Like most here I hate the overloud music in shops and restaurants, yet a few years ago I was with the family traipsing round the Lanes in Brighton, got hauled in to some small dress shop – some of the clearest punchiest sweetest jazz I’ve ever heard playing. Linn speakers, NAIM electronics, ie. about the best money can buy. I complimented the owner on the sound, she said her boyfriend was a bit of a hifi buff so she asked him if he would put something in the shop. That was about the only time I’ve ever asked if we didn’t mind spending a bit longer in a dress shop!

Alan says:
12 July 2014

Somewhere back in the mists of time it was decided that silence in shops was a bad idea and music would improve the shopping experience. Luckily it’s generally the case that shoe shops do not play music. But the intrusion of music or just unnecessary announcements in any public place is far more annoying. Railway stations where we are continually reminded about things we know already – safety, luggage, etc – and, of course, supermarkets that insist on telling you about their latest offers of things you don’t want to buy. It’s all a turn off.

There should be no music in shops. Many shops have unsuitable music playing.I go into some shops and see that the prominent hair colour is grey yet the music is loud pop music. We even get “music” in our local surgery waiting room, where one least expects it. A few years ago a young dentist looked surprised when I asked him to turn off his music whist I was having treatment. He said that his choice of pop music was supposed to relax his patients. In my case I felt like choking him !!

I detest all shop music. Why do they do it? If they must have it why is it never something pleasant and easy to listen to?

Ivor Annetts says:
12 July 2014

Unsolicited music in shops is particularly difficult for people, such as myself, suffering from hearing loss and wearing hearing aids. My local co-op insists on playing Radio co-op inspite of my pleas to the manager and individual letters to all of the local trustees.
It is well known that background noise makes it difficult for people with hearing loss to engage socially. Hearing aids increase the volume of certain frequencies, usually the higher ones. In my local co- op the resulting ‘background noise’ from Radio co-op is sometimes unbearable.
In any case, how can it be right for people to be forced to shop in an environment filled with music which they have not requested. For people like me it is nothing short of noise pollution!

Co-Op is one of the worst offenders. They have ignored quite large numbers of complaints for years; I will never go into any of their shops until they cease their awful racket and stop treating their customers like idiots.

My local surgery plays music too loud, and the choice of music is diabolical! I’m just old enough to remember the solemn music played on the radio for a couple of weeks when King George VI died, and that is the type of music being played to us captive patients. I only hope that anyone suffering from depression doesn’t have to wait too long for their appointment.