/ Shopping

Your view: background music in shops

Man with fingers in ears

With 260 comments, our debate about music in shops has been making a lot of noise. Here’s a round-up of your comments, including one commenter who actually enjoys listening to tunes while she shops.

Alison finds background music in shops torturous:

‘I regard piped music in shops, public places, restaurants, etc. an invasion into my personal audio space and respond by turning round and leaving. Vote with your wallet is my advice.

‘However, there are areas where it can’t be avoided, such as surgeries, hospitals, and so on which I find intrusive, stressful and unnecessary.

‘It is no surprise to learn that the Americans use loud pop music as a form of torture – personally, I’d spill all the state secrets of which I might be in possession.’

Clare votes with her feet:

‘I don’t go into shops if I can hear music playing from outside and agree with those who regard this as noise pollution. If I’ve entered a shop and there is music I get out again as quickly as possible (sometimes close to panic stricken) and almost always without buying anything at all.’

What’s worse than music in shops? When you can’t escape it. Here’s Malbec:

‘I have decided that the worst culprit of all is Ikea at Croydon. Not only do they play the most annoying trash, you can’t escape quickly because of their maze of aisles stopping one from finding the exit. First and last time I visit.’

Background music in B&Q

B&Q is a popular example in the comments. Alan is one of many to mention them:

‘I have just written to B&Q complaining about the music being played in its stores – I have advised them that I now only visit its stores to view a specific product before immediately returning home and ordering it on-line (not from B&Q) and the product is also invariably cheaper.’

Bob’s fed up with the bad covers in B&Q:

‘B&Q – they cannot be bothered to play original versions of great songs so they use appalling copies. To me it just conveys a message that the company is in such desperate straits that it cannot afford a royalty fee and its days are numbered.’

It’s not just shops, restaurants are invaded by background music too, as Dudley shares:

‘I am tired of music in restaurants. It makes everybody speak louder to their fellow diners and in the end the ambient noise of music and diners shouting at each other is so loud that I can’t hear what others are saying on my table. In the end I switch off.’

Customers and staff singing along

It’s not just the music that annoys Diane; it’s also the customers who sign along:

‘Now I know this sounds curmudgeonly but one thing that I don’t think anyone’s mentioned is that when businesses play music, what’s even worse is that customers and staff alike feel compelled to sing along to the song often in a loud voice. I recently had to endure a customer singing to the song being played and he was totally out of tune, thereby adding to my misery!’

I’d like to end on a counterpoint. Here’s Janet who does like background music:

‘Am I the only one? I quite like background music. Was in B&Q the other day and found myself humming cheerfully along to something from the 70s as I flitted around the aisles. Then I popped into Sainsbury’s, don’t often go there, and noticed how quiet it was; the whole place felt like a ghost town, really depressing, I didn’t stay long. Bring on the Pharrell Williams I say.’

Does background music make you Happy? Or do you long for silence?

Hilary says:
24 August 2014

Christmas pop music, including jazzed-up carols, give me the pip. Christmas shopping is hassle enough without this slushy stuff! What is it about silence that makes some people so uneasy?

Ozgirlhants says:
24 August 2014

I hate the bast of noise in public places. The Range has piped music and often 2 different promotional videos on loop within earshot of each other. I had to leave. Are people in general scared if it’s quiet they might have to think, instead of mindlessly meandering?

Has there been some sort of study that piped music makes people buy more or visit more??

According to a recent test carried out by The American Psychological Society, music motivates impulse buyers not thoughtful shoppers. While non-impulsive shoppers spend more when a pleasant citrus smell pervades a store, impulsive shoppers spend less. All types of shoppers however purchase less when in the presence of both scent and music. However if you are selling high risk items like cars, you may want to use scent rather than music. You can read more about the test they carried out at http://www.apa.org/musicmotivatesimpulsivebuyers.

john says:
24 August 2014

Could Which? do a survey of firms as to why they insist on sending prospective customers to go elsewhere? It seems daft to me!

Captive Music says playing calming music makes people spend and browse more.
Personally I think the best music is a low level classical type you can just hear. I hate it when they turn it up those dated Christmas songs or any for that matter… Bah Humbug:-)

I wish they would have a better sound than the tills etc. in supermarkets.

Piano says:
25 August 2014

The liking of music in shops is similar to being asked

“Do you like being force-fed?”

For some people smoked salmon would make them gag.
Others may enjoy Belgian chocolate.
Dieters would be very annoyed.

As a motorcyclist I carry ear plugs (for my ears – not to eat).

Several years ago I was in Debenham’s waiting whilst my mother purchased, er, women’s things, so I tried to tuck myself away inconspicuously in a corner and waited. Now, I have a super-power that apparently no one else has. I can tune out sounds I don’t want to hear. However, whilst standing there I became aware that the sound system was playing a rather pleasant little groove which made me want to tap my foot a bit, and then sway from side to side…

Suddenly the sound cut off. No announcements, just silence. Then another, far less pleasant, piece started and I went back to just standing. At which point I noticed one of the spy-cameras looking at me.

It seems that whatever the reason for subjecting us to canned music, it isn’t that they want us to enjoy it.

Chris says:
31 August 2014

All this is not ‘music’, it is noise, do not dignify it. A simple equation helps: NOISE = UNWANTED SOUND. I once complained in writing to Novotel in Bruges about the unwanted sound in their lifts. I have their reply which actually states: ‘We need the lift music for safety because when the music stops that tells us that the lift is faulty’.

I’ve not liked having music inflicted on me for as long as I can remember. I suppose the main problem is that I have never been keen on the kind of music that most people enjoy.

I find it encouraging but rather surprising that so many people have expressed dislike for background music. Can we be sure that this is representative? I don’t trust most surveys because it’s very easy to get the answers you want.

I am not too bothered one way or another by background music in stores as fortunately I am able to tune out to it to some degree.

I agree surveys may not always be wholly representative of everyone but in a competitive marketplace are necessary if stores want to attract more business. If there is any authenticity to the survey carried out by the APS [see my above post] then it would be interesting to establish whether you believe youself to be an impulse or thoughtful shopper. Personally I consider myself most of the time to be the latter, partly due to my advancing years and partly to my innate need for careful budgeting but have been known to impulse buy on very rare occasions and would attribute this more to the frustration of not being able to find exactly what I went shopping for at a price I can afford. I would hazard a guess that the younger generation would be more responsive to background music and therefore more inclined to impulse buy, although I do accept there are always exceptions. I do however have a strong sense of smell and would be more likely to linger [and spend more] in a store that has a pleasant aroma [and maybe some soft music playing in the background!]

The aim of the store of course is to arouse and appeal to the senses of the targeted clientele, albeit not to everyone’s liking judging by some of the strong opinions in this Convo.

I have found these threads on background music quite disturbing. The seemingly mass hatred of music did not seem natural. A lot of posters with names not usually seen suddenly had a lot to say.

I was hesitant to post this until I looked at the Pipedown website. Their forum has had 37 posts in over 5 years. Says it all really.

I rarely have a problem with background music except in a few fashion stores.

The message to all stores is keep music to a reasonable volume and get good speakers. If you have to shout to make yourself heard then it the music is too loud.

[This comment has been edited due to breaking our guidelines. Thanks, mods.]

Sally says:
9 September 2014

I don’t think these postings are indicative of a mass hatred of music, but of the way music is being used. If you are in a shop and music is being played that isn’t your choice and that you don’t wish to hear, it becomes noise, not music. From my understanding, most people who dislike piped music in shops are actually music lovers. In fact many professional musicians belong to Pipedown. They are unable to “switch off” and hate the fact that music is being used in this way.
Unfortunately there is no forum on the Pipedown website. Are you perhaps confusing it with the Quiet Corners website, which I believe is run independently?

I don’t think you need to be too disturbed, Alfa! This isn’t about any mass hatred of music at all, it’s about being forced to listen to someone else’s choice of music; this is a very different thing. Choice of music is a highly personal thing, and music should never be forced on people; it should be freely chosen.

As a member of Pipedown I can assure you that while the existence of these Which? conversations have been pointed out in their newsletter, there certainly hasn’t been any incitement to riot! What is really significant is that the original conversation dating from 5 July now has 142 contributors, which is a huge response compared with the numbers raised by other topics; this plainly indicates the strength of feeling on the subject.

lizbie says:
10 September 2014

‘…mass hatred of music’ is precisely the complete opposite of what it is! What you are saying is exactly what has been said to me & many others by the drilled stooges at M&S and elsewhere ‘ ‘Oh well, just because YOU don’t like music!’ In fact, I love music – that is why I dislike it when we are forced to listen to store-enforced, loud trashy piped music!

In fact – some might say, what is played in stores is not music at all – and the point is, why should we be forced to listen to it, if we do not want it?

By the way, it is not posting on ‘Pipedown’ which ‘say it all’ – but the majority of views on comment areas such as this one. What actually ‘says it all’ about your post, is the bit about not being natural. That gives you away.

Tony Osborne says:
10 September 2014

Alfa, what I find disturbing is the mindless imposition of intrusive noise, wherever we shop or eat, as if we can’t do that without it.

I am a musician who played extensively for receptions and functions for over 40 years, and have many times been on the receiving end of ‘turn the music down!’ I also taught people to play Bass Guitar in schools, colleges and universities – so I know a little about the subject.

I always kept volumes a low as possible, so as not to disturb other classes, or exams, nearby – but a neighbouring lesson would often intrude into mine, and obliterate our low frequencies.

My late wife played soothing and relaxing music in her holistic healing sessions – but that is not the goal of retail and catering outlets, who just want to be competitive – which is understandable, but the results are, to many, unbearable.

If I walked into any shop or restaurant, with exactly the same system as they use, playing exactly the same content, at exactly the same volume – I’d be thrown out!

Nobody has incited me to make these comments, and I thank Pipedown for supporting what many more of us want to express.

You are, of course, free to enjoy muzak, and express your views.

This comment is rather disturbing. Then there is the false premiss that people opposing piped music ‘hate’ music. Following that is the non-sequitor that the writer has no problem with piped music, with the implied conclusion that therefore no one else should . And I don’t know what is meant by pointing out that there are posters whose names are not seen elsewhere. Perhaps that only proves that the issue is important enough to rouse those who prefer normally to keep themselves to themselves rather than spread their views all over the media.

The important thing is pointed out by many of the contributors: shops that use piped music inflict the noise on customers whether ot not they want it. People who can’t bear silence are not disturbed in any way by not having noise everywhere they go, whereas those affected by noise are physically and emotionally ‘attacked’. And as some have pointed out, this is particularly disturbing to shoe with hearing difficulties and those with hearing aids. To that extent it is a problem of doing harm to others.

Then ask yourself the question: why do shops insist on this noise? In this day and age, surely we know that the proprietors and owners are not doing it out of the goodness of their hearts. Either they believe it will bring in customers or will lead them to spend more. This is manipulation at its worst, and I simply am not going to be led to act in a way that is determined by cynical business ‘consultants’.

Nigel Rodgers says:
3 October 2014

As secretary of Pipedown, can I explain to Sally (9 September) why Pipedown’s website at present has no forum for others to comment. Genuine comments on the website became literally drowned in spam/ junk which had nothing at all to do with piped music – probably generated by a robot set up to wreck the conversation. As the webmaster could not filter them out, we decided with regret to drop the facility for the present. We hope to restore it soon.

lizbie says:
10 September 2014

Obviously, the vast majority absolutely hate it! And the vast majority say that M&S and the Co-Op are the worst offenders. Both doing badly, not at all coincidentally…

And the ones that do not play musak seem to do well, like Lidl, Aldi, John Lewis and Primark (not all of them doing well just because they are cheap!). Unfortunately Lidl are now trialling music (definitely in some Edinburgh stores, don’t know where else). I have already complained!

Your Co-op still plays music?

A couple of years ago at least two of our Co-ops trialled ‘Radio Co-op’ whilst others didn’t. Either the managers could choose or they were doing an A/B test. Whatever, they soon stopped so I guess the results weren’t positive, from which I can only assume that your Co-op must have had a positive reaction.

Oddly enough, their choice of music did appeal to me.

Maybe I shouldn’t have sung along with it…

I think it may depend on which part of the country you live in. Up here (in Scotland), they all seem to have loud music; on a visit “down south”, I found at least two branches that were wonderfully quiet. The particular problem with the Co-op is that they are often the only shop (in small towns), so there is no alternative, especially if you don’t have a car. I drive 13 miles to the nearest quiet shop, although there is a Co-op 5 minutes walk away.

I am not too fussed about music in stores unless it is really loud in which case I just leave the premises. However, I do tell the staff why before I do. I find that I can not concentrate or focus on what I am doing and I am having to shout at the staff when asking questions… this has happened on a few occasions.

Interesting that you mentioned the Co-Op though. I have been a regular shopper at my local for the past 30 years and they have been playing some rather good music lately but not too loud thank goodness.

So good that I have been singing along and putting in a little body move in too. The most recent incident was when I was waiting to pay for just one onion (which I had forgotten to buy from my main Tesco superstore – no music) when one of my all time favourites was being played. “Boys, Boys, Boys” sung by Sabrina. I know … I am sad. Life is tough.

However, when it was my time to be served … I was already singing to it …

“Boys, boys, boys
I’m looking for a good time
Boys, boys, boys
Get ready for my love

Boys, boys, boys
I’m looking for the good time
Boys, boys, boys
I’m ready for your love

Be my lover be my baby”

I know all the words. When it was my turn to be served, I was enjoying the song so much that I even dropped my change at the counter that I was giving over.

I didn’t know what the young female shop assistant thought of me (a male in his 60’s) and quite frankly I was beyond caring. Perhaps it is the Italian in me. I got my onion and I was enjoying myself. Then minced out of the shop still singing and then ran home to play the video to the song “Boys (Summertime Love)”.

After seeing the video … you know what … you don’t have to go to Italy to see the beach huts, It reminded me of my visits this summer to Southwold and Wells-Next-The Sea … lots of beach huts, sand and sun.

Thank you Co-Op for brightening up what might have been a very boring evening by just cooking a spag-bog. So there are knock-on benefits to store music. Yesterday there was no music in the store – so I went to the Tesco express instead where things are cheaper.

Bye Bye NatWest, you’ve lost me as a customer.

The NatWest bank in my local High St has had a refit, and part of that now includes music being played ALL the time. I went in there the other day at 10:00am and there was a loud “rock” track being played. I was the only customer in the bank and I did not want to hear ANY music at that point. I complained to a member of staff but they said they could do nothing about it.

I have been in there a few times since to use the bank, and each time I complained about the music, but it is still being played.

So after 30 years of being a NatWest customer I have now decided to move banks. I am now in the process of moving my current account, my credit card, and my ISAs to another bank.

I don’t think shops realise how much “piped” music upsets people.

Tony Osborne says:
10 September 2014

I changed my main account from Lloyds for the same reason, and now bank with Santander. Barclays is also a pleasant environment.

I won’t deal with HSBC either – in fact one assistant told me that if I didn’t like the muzak, I should take my money somewhere else!

Bank of Scotland is another offender – I’ve hardly been in there since they started inflicting music on us, to the extent that I had to ask the staff to repeat themselves because I couldn’t hear them – not exactly good for confidentiality if you have to shout out your details for everybody to listen to! Still looking for a decent local bank to switch to, though…

Peter says:
17 October 2014

I could have written your comment myself.

Not only is the music INTOLERABLE in NatWest, but the new layout is horrendous.

You’re now met at the door with a ‘Hiya!’…and you have to tell them what you’ve come in the bank for. They’ve reduced the tills to two and there’s a wall of machines…I don’t go into the bank for machines nor to hear someone else’s choice of wretched music. A bank should be a silent place of decorum, not a Hard Rock Café.

The staff I’ve spoken to hate it as well.

I’d like to know where I can move my account to with the promise they won’t introduce music as well.

I have had an account with Natwest since 1969. Time to move on now that they are intent on infantilising their customers by forcing muzak down their ears.

I’ve just caught up with the discussions about piped music. Actually I don’t mind it in Supermarkets. I find I can shut it out, but I don’t like it being played in the Halifax bank or my doctors’ surgery. On top of that it always seems to be loud, modern pop stuff or, worse, tuneless musak. I once complained to my doctor and was told some sort of music is necessary to make the consultation more private. It seems the doors are so thin that people waiting in reception would be able to hear the conversation between doctor and patient in the doctor’s office! I would have thought there’s an easy answer to that problem! Perhaps the Halifax would put forward the privacy argument if I complained to them or maybe it’s a ploy to make us bank on-line so that they can save money by closing branches.

Oddly enough, Anne, I was told exactly the opposite when I complained about the music in the financial section of our local M&S. I was informed that the music was coming from the adjoining womenswear section, not from financial services. Apparently, the financial section had asked specifically not to have background music, as they felt it was not right that customers might have to shout out sensitive financial information over the music. Just shows how flimsy this “privacy” argument is!

The privacy argument in many cases is false. For example where I donated blood the reason for the bad music (ghettoblaster radio pop) was for the privacy of donors answering questions. But if you speak quietly you can’t be heard above the music so you have to raise your voice which defeats the object. I haven’t donated blood since. I’m trying to find a muzak free place to donate blood as I know they are short of my blood group but they don’t make it easy.. Pity

I was in a Nationwide branch recently and noticed how, without music, customers could speak to the tellers at normal voice levels and it was impossible for customers waiting in line to hear what was being said. There was a general background noise as customers conversed, the everyday sounds of the street when the door was opened, activity at the customer service desk, and staff going about their routine business in the branch. So this excuse from other banks and businesses that “we have installed music in the interests of customer privacy” is nonsense. It’s just a fob off.

BCrichton says:
15 September 2014

Loud music in a shop, I just walk out. Old men whistling, I do the same. I rarely go to pubs or restaurants now due to the fact I have to shout to be heard above the music. But worst of all, M&S canteen, sorry, meant cafe, on Princess Street in Edinburgh at lunch time. No music, just everyone talking in a horribly echoey environment is worse than being at a football match.

Kate says:
2 October 2014

There are times when low volume music can be useful. At the doctors reception, at breakfast in some hotels. Both to avoid people whispering or overhearing conversations they would prefer were private.
Intrusive music played really loudly so that you really notice it might be okay if you like it but if not will have you running for the hills. I have left shops where it was too loud or gruesome to my taste!
Xmas music can be tiresome. I feel for staff in some stores when the loop is not very long. It seriously cannot be good for someones mental health to have music repeated endlessly day in day out? What does it do to them?

Sylvia Walter says:
7 October 2014

What happened to the “noise pollution ” some decades ago? It’s absolute torture. I buy what I need quickly and leave. The choice of music,is usually abhorrent for a pleasant shopping experience. IThere’s no way I could work under those conditions….it would drive me crazy.
Also, it’s incredible that at the GP’s, feeling ill or worried, you have to endure this sadism

lizbie says:
9 December 2014

I agree. The notion of muzack at a GP surgery is appalling, especially given that they are pleading lack of money, and it costs! It’s incredible that companies choose to ignore the fact that they are losing customers because of piped muzack & it must say something about how very little they care.

The last thing you need in a doctor’s surgey is annoying music to raise your blood pressure- at a time when you have no alternative but to sit it out.

Peter says:
17 October 2014

Ryman is another culprit.

I heard heavy rap in there today. In fact, it was almost funny.

But one time I went on there with a mental list of things I needed to buy and I had to go out onto the street so I could escape the horrific music and hear myself think so as to remember what I’d come for. I kid you not.

& a quick mention for the M&S café near where I live. The shrill radio pop of 2014 playing and the place is full of retired folk wanting a cuppa and a slice of cake. I’m sure they all LOVE it as much as I do,


If so many of you feel strongly about music in stores, why not start a petition to target the worst offenders. Individual complaints may be ignored but a petition signed by a great many people may have a better result.