/ 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?


what about good memorable comebacks to the continual excuses staff and businesses make for having it?

My favorite is when they ask if I have found everything I was looking for. My reply is ” Yes, there is something I was looking for. I couldn’t find the off switch for the music in your store.”

It’s interesting that often the cashier feels the same way.

Colin Steeples says:
23 May 2016

Shopping at ASDA when you have to hear the absolutely dire present day pop music drives me out. It is terrible. At least Morrisons seem to play the older better stuff. Why cant they play a bit of light classical music

Delighted to say that, according to the Pipedown website, one of the top three “offenders” in this conversation, M&S, has “listened to customer feedback, and the licence to play music in all our stores has now been cancelled with effect from 1st June 2016”. Many thanks to M&S but also to Which? for highlighting this problem. Let’s hope that the other two top offenders, B&Q and the Co-op, might follow suit.

That’s great Dorothy! Here’s a link to this announcement on the Pipeddown website: http://pipedown.org.uk/marks-and-spencer-stops-its-piped-music/ Well done!

Well this is a turn up for the book. Barely a week ago I was again criticising M&S in the Which? Conversation on a good shopping exprience for not listening to their customers and now . . . Hey Presto! . . . they have come to their senses. Perhaps they couldn’t hear us over the din. Do you think they have been reading this column?

As Dorothy says, now we have to keep the pressure up on B&Q and the Coop. I know for a fact that the staff in neither chain like the music – they tend to be of a more mature demographic, and even Bill the Bodger and his mates who use B&Q for their supplies prefer what they listen to on their tinny radios while messing up your house.

Neither of the M&S stores that I visit has played music except at Christmas. Having encountered ones that do play music, I have been lucky.

We’ve double confirmed this with M&S, they told us:

“We’re focused on putting the customer at the heart of everything we do, this decision is the result of extensive research and feedback from our customers and colleagues”.


Brilliant news! Hooray! Joy! At last I can go back to shopping in my favourite clothing store. As I reported here last year, I pointed out the huge Which? Conversation response to M&S (in a real paper letter!), and their reply didn’t even mention Which?! What a difference in attitude; this new CEO seems to be a listener, thank goodness. I will certainly write to congratulate him.

Thank you so much for your interest, Patrick. I have been thinking that Which? has gone very quiet on this issue which affects so many consumers, so it’s good to know that you are still there.

Was that a two for one offer? 🙁

Morrisons is the nearest supermarket to my new home. I’m not planning to use it much because it plays music throughout the store. Tesco is a bit further but in addition to the lack of music, it provides plenty of convenient parking for the town centre.

Alexa says:
8 October 2017

The same situation with Morrisons in Ipswich: loud bass-bombing songs. I stopped going there. For me now Sainsbury’s! Even three times further.

Hi Alexa – I am pleased to report that Morrisons has turned down the music and in most of the store it is inaudible. I cannot remember hearing any music since the recent refurbishment of the store. You might be lucky soon.

If more people voted with their feet companies wold have to change things they now do Lazy ,cannot be bothered or what stops them from doing it ?

This is excellent news for everyone affected by music in stores.

A much bigger problem for me is the bugs that are floating around in the air in large stores and supermarkets which can lay me low for at least 2 weeks feeling very ill after visiting them. I have never experienced any repercussions from music played in these places but am delighted to hear that the efforts of the people who have has paid off.

Marks and Spencers have just announced that they are turning off music in their shops. They say that the decision is based on “extensive research and feedback from our customers and colleagues.” Why then were staff instructed to tell everyone who complained that no one else complained and everyone else liked it?

This is great news; I hope other stores and shopping centres follow suit.

Why then were staff instructed to tell everyone who complained that no one else complained and everyone else liked it?” Because there is a corporate bullying culture on the high street brought about by the recession and fierce competition. It’s not until the City gets the willies about sales figures and profits that the management changes tack, and then grudgingly.

There are times when I have gone home in tears because of staff/management responses in shops. The CoOp has been the nastiest, with Morrison’s second.

Sorry, I came late to the party and didn’t realise that people had already commented on M&S. I forgot that new posts appear at the bottom instead of the top as with most comments sections, so I thought no one had posted yet.

I was so excited that I can now return to my local M&S to browse again that I posted without looking properly. This is really great news for those of us driven mad by loud music or those with a hearing impairment.

Your comment prompts me to observe that M&S did not cite the impact on people with a hearing impairment as a reason for their action – it was all down to their “extensive research” [??] and their diligent attention to feedback from their customers and colleagues.

Hi all, we’ve published the good news about M&S in this new conversation: https://conversation.which.co.uk/shopping/music-marks-and-spencer-pipedown-muzak/

Ann Gordon says:
20 June 2016

Some years ago, when everybody’s favourite chemist (Boots!)starting palying noise (I refuse to associate the sound with music), I asked a young male assistant why on earth Boots had started this. His reply: “Well, the customers have asked for it”. Says it all!

Some moron has decided to reintroduce piped muzak at Tescos, Drayton, Norwich. I complained to customer services who said they would pass my comments on to the manager.

Vic Newey says:
19 July 2016

Walked out of Morrisons in Redditch today, music was overloud & much worse when you were under one of the ceiling speakers, why should I be forced to listen to someone elses choice of music !, if Morrisons continue I will shop elsewhere

I wasn’t quite sure what to do with this comment as it’s rather a mixed media moan (an alliterative complaint!).

As well as playing music or having televisions blaring in a corner, it looks as if we are to be “treated” to artificial scenting now. The BBC reports that Lloyd’s bank is going to pump artificial scents around their branches; it must be pretty strong as a spokeswoman has said, that in the London branch they are trialling it in, you can smell it on the High St.

I have developed a problem with artificial perfumes as they make my sinus problems much worse and I avoid them as much as I can. I buy unscented toiletries and cleaning products. I don’t want companies to attempt to manipulate my mood with rubbish music and artificial scents; the smell of good coffee, sweet peas or laundry fresh off the line will lift my mood, artificial perfumes just make me sneeze and feel ill.

I would be tempted to leave particularly pungent mothballs all round the branch to counteract the scent. Alternatively go to the counter wearing a gas mask and make them listen carefully to what you are saying.

It’s good to have an alliterative complaint – it makes a change from all the illiterate ones.

Georgie says:
19 May 2017

Just out of interest has anyone noticed the Muzak at Homebase?

CafeDweller says:
21 July 2017

I’m reviving this thread because for the second time in a week ive drunk up my drink quicker than I intended because of being assailed by the so called music in Morrisons.

I travel a lot in my job and will often kill time between appointments by having a hot drink in a cafe. Today I was in Rochdale Morrisons where we were being subjected to not just the usual uncalled for piped music but a peculiarly unsuitable selection of music at that.
Excuse me if I’m wrong but I thought there was some sort of ‘science’ behind the selections they play involving at least some degree of relaxation
Well not going by what ive heard in be Morrison’s recently because today the selections were heavily weighted to the most awful whining indie – and I don’t mean a bit of feel good Oasis no this was dire 8os student union stuff with at least 3 Cure tunes in the period I was there.

This is just bizarre as do the management really believe that anyone other than the narrowest band of shoppers have their shopping experience improved by being subjected to this. And it becomes completely surreal when you imagine Morrisons think the average pensioner want to hear it. For anyone else such such specialised choices are a complete turn off if not a downright annoyance. . And it’s not even got the excuse of at least being current.

What has made me bother writing this though is that on my travels a couple of weeks ago I was in Morrisons in Todmorden, Yorkshire and heard exactly the same teeth grindingly annoying sounds.so it’s obviously not some rogue shop worker sticking his compilation on the shop sound system.

And then there’s Starbucks and even the usually more sensible Costa with their eternal dreary singer songwriters once again if you don’t Like this kind of music you probably actively dislike it.

I just find the whole idea of this completely surreal – the massed ranks of English pensioners or 20 something hairdressers or shop assistants and most of the rest of us too not just being forced to listen to music of any kind but something so bizarrely average consumer unfriendly.

I haven’t bothered reading all 1000 plus responses above but does anyone know why we have to put up with ANY music in shops when all surveys show most find it a complete turn off.

And if the shops in their wisdom insist we need at least some music why not at least playbmuted light instrumental music. Most music with vocals is only going to put the back up of at least a large part of it’s customers at any one time, if not cause some of us to leave before we intended.

Music in shops has always vaguely irritated me but having my eating and drinking experience ruined by almost fingers-down-a-blackboard-like music twice in a short period of time I’d be pleased to find out what the shops think they’re doing.

Do you know if they have this sort of culture in other countries?

There has been a lot of progress since this Which? conversation was started in 2014 but we still need to do more!
Biggest success was M&S turning off the music in all their stores in June 2016. (M&S was one of the three top ‘offenders’, together with the Co-op and B&Q). All the major supermarkets, including the Co-op, have also recently been experimenting with ‘quiet times’ in response to pleas from people with sensory problems, such as those on the autistic spectrum and sufferers from ME, etc. ASDA says they are doing this with a view to withdrawing their music altogether. Lidl tried out background music in their stores but have now withdrawn it after finding out how unpopular/discriminatory it is.
As for restaurants and cafes, Action on Hearing Loss launched their Speak Easy campaign in July 2016.
Although progress is being made, some major companies who should know better, including House of Fraser and B&Q, admit they have done no research of their own into whether or not their customers want non-stop background music but cite the ‘research’ done by the music licence collectors, who have a vested interest in getting companies to play music so that they can continue to collect millions of pounds in music licence fees.
Please keep complaining/praising and putting your views across. You are not alone in hating this assault on our senses!

Chris says:
25 August 2017

Shops need to keep music it’s shocking going in to shops that are silance shops like that sound like a morgue and are depressing bad to shop in also all the other countries have more places that play music there high streets are doing far better then this country beacuse prices are fair and the atmosphere in the shops are lively and not dull like people would like this county to end up being like

You have the option to play music through earphones, Chris. Some of us hate the music and cannot do much about it.

Not having any personal experience of the atmosphere inside a morgue, Chris, I thought your comment must be a wind-up but as I read on I realised you were being deadly serious about music in shops. I have to agree with Wavechange’s reply. There is plenty of evidence in this and related Conversations that music in shops and other places is deeply distressing to many people with hearing difficulties as it interferes with their auditory reception, affects their concentration, strains their mental faculties, and can cause pain. Set alongside that, your desire for some broadcast musical entertainment while you shop seems rather unsympathetic. Does any music do for you from classical to rap and beyond, or does it have to be your personal taste?

What’s needed in a morgue is some ‘death metal’ music. Enough to wake the dead.

I wouldn’t mind Classical music being played in shops. Mozart and Haydn could well be conducive to shopping, and Baroque would probably be okay, too. Nothing after Beethoven, though; The Ring being played during a sale could prove a little too stimulating.

I enjoy classical music though I’m accustomed to sitting down and listening to it rather than using it as background music. If you must, but don’t overdo the dissonance.

Sally says:
25 August 2017

Shops that don’t play music aren’t silent, Chris. They are full of the sounds of people going about their shopping. Is Primark silent? John Lewis? Aldi? Lidl? Waitrose? M&S?

Chris says:
26 August 2017

Shops should play music for all taste old new classical country chart have something for staff and customers to listen to and to please all customer but to have it not full blast so it won’t affect people but you can just about hear it,I love all types music and it should be shops that older people shop in the Waitrose m and s John Lewis should be playing classical music 60s 70s 80s music shops that younger people shop in should be chart music.play for the audicance

This comment was removed at the request of the user

Thanks for your review, Duncan. I won’t be looking for that channel in view of your report.

I am still recovering from an hour in B&Q on Tuesday.

Stephen says:
14 September 2017

Just been in asda in Widnes , and the music was on very loud, and there choice of music is dire. Why do they have it. I feel sorry for the staff having to put up with it all shift.


Marks and Spencer’s started playing music again at the beginning of December. When I asked in the shop why they are doing this when they promised it would be turned off forever, I was told that they did research and that customers wanted it, but just in December.

I find this hard to believe; people who loathe piped music usually just hate it full stop. I wonder what form the “research” took, who they asked and how the questions were phrased. I shop in their food hall every week and no one asked me or any of my friends.

In the store cafe it’s even louder and we can hardly have a conversation any more. I won’t be going back untll January; M&S’s loss is Waitrose’s gain.

Today I noticed that Sainsbury’s were piping dreadfully dull ‘Christmas’ songs throughout the store. OK – It wasn’t loud but the sepulchral limpness of the sound took all the sparkle out of the Christmas season. If it was supposed to be musical wallpaper it completely lacked any colour or pattern, Sainsbury’s own-bland muzak truly is the bland leading the bland. The staff were dressed in elfin cardigan costumes – one size fits all [allegedly].

I didn’t hear any music in the M&S [Norwich] food hall today but it was playing in the other departments.

I though that Marks & Spencer had said that they would stop playing music: https://www.theguardian.com/business/2016/jun/01/ms-to-turn-off-music-in-stores-following-customer-feedback

Understand it’s only for Christmas. Being turned off again on Christmas Eve.

Thanks Dorothy. I hope that those who enjoy the music will have a jolly time without me.

I was in our local big Tesco store today [I have to go there to post a letter] and some much jollier music was being played than at Sainsbury’s. Tesco’s sound system was excellent throughout the store and not too loud. I actually enjoyed the music [from The Jungle Book – not original artistes and score but still very good]. Hence I lingered and did some shopping.

Some the arrangements of well-known songs can be an improvement on the originals. We have a few thousand Christmas songs that play overnight, and there simply aren’t that many different Christmas songs in existence. But we keep hearing little gems. One last night that I heard at around 0400 was an orchestral arrangement of one of the best – Winter Wonderland – and it was the first time I’ve ever heard that arrangement.

I was in the city centre today and decided to find out if Marks & Spencer was playing music. Instead of the small ghetto-blaster being tied up by the handle, out of reach, someone has installed a folding shelf for it. The tills have moved so that the staff working there are protected from the distorted music. Morrisons has turned on its music after a long break but Tesco is quiet at present.

Dodie Gale says:
5 December 2017

I was told it was recent research and yet M&S used exactly the same wording a year ago when I queried it. I did notice that the volume had been turned right down in my local branch a couple of days after they started playing the music so I don’t know if other customers have complained. One assistant told me she hated it and couldn’t wait for it to be turned off again. It’s far worse for the staff if they dislike it – at least customers can shop elsewhere

It is the staff who suffer the most. Wonder if there’s a human rights issue there?

Jenny C says:
20 July 2018

Any shop playing music is saying that they don’t want anyone in their store who is sensitive to noise. This includes most people who are on the autistic spectrum or have a child with them who is on the spectrum, which makes the practice a problem with disability law because businesses are required to give equal access. Also those who wear hearing aids (because it makes it harder to separate speech from other noises) and most older people if the music is just the boom boom of drum machines.
The Nationwide plays music now. For someone like me it is impossible to talk to the cashier against the noise of the music. So I will have to boycott Nationwide.

Dodie Gale says:
20 July 2018

Only yesterday Morrisons announced that they are introducing a “quiet hour” for the benefit of those people who suffer from noisy backgrounds, including music, Jenny C. You are not alone!