/ Shopping

It’s oh so quiet in M&S, is this music to your ears?

Sound system

In a resounding victory for all of you who didn’t pipe down about your distaste for piped music, M&S is scrapping piped music in its stores. Question is – will other retailers follow suit?

Music in shops is a well known pet peeve for many Which? Convo commenters. In fact, over the past few years thousands of you have told us how piped music has ruined your shopping experience, and driven you out of shops.

Well, with thanks to Dorothy who shared this with us, it would seem that the powers that be at M&S have agreed with this sentiment and have scrapped piped music.

A spokesman from M&S 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’

Hooray – I hear you say – and a victory for those Convo commenters and of course the Pipedown campaign.

Peace and quiet

High streets across the country are currently (unless you’re reading this in the dead of the night) piping out a cacophony of muzak into their stores.

According to an investigation recently carried out by the Daily Mail there are some high street shops out there that are piping out music at 83.8dB – the sort of sound levels you’d find in a crowded bar where you can just about hear the person next to you talking. It hardly makes for a pleasurable shopping experience.

The experience can be far from pleasurable for some. Like Hilary, for example, who told us:

I have recently had to make speedy exits from several retail outlets as I could not concentrate on what I was looking for due to the volume and type of music being forced upon me.

And I can more than sympathise with those of you who told us how piped music drove you straight out of some shops. Harking back to the days of my Saturday job, if it wasn’t torturous enough to be in an airless spotlit shop, the added ‘easy listening’ tunes piped out on loop made it all the more unbearable.

Shush the shops

But at least the shop I worked in played ‘easy listening’ music. There are some shops that may as well be nightclubs.

Now if M&S has been so bold as to scrap piped music from their stores, which other retailers would you like to see follow suit?


Well here is another website this time a UK one , no I couldnt find survey results on UK supermarket muzak yet but I did find results on University students (University of Wales ) while studying on –mindthesciencegap.org/2012/10/08/does-music-help-you-study/ and, sorry to say for “lovers ” of muzak the results were that even liked music was just as distracting as hearing someone talk while doing exams -scores were significantly higher for tests taken in a quiet environment . Another implication for the observant is that most students are around 20 years old give or take a few years so this seems to shoot down in flames the general held belief that most young people prefer background muzak .


Ah, taking a specific task such as studying and extending the results to cover all situations is not a supportable argument. I would not have expected our design and office staff to have listened to background music, nor did they suggest it, but those on more routine jobs on the factory floor did ask for and enjoyed it. To be fair, the music was not “controversial” in its genre – not too loud, neutral enough for most tastes.


malcolm isnt that bringing genetics into play ie- grading the innate intelligence of a human being on the level of intelligence required to do a job ? Watch out or the PC mob will be after you – 11+ exams — stopped etc . Shades of a certain ww2 point of view -muzak for the “masses ” serene silence for those thinking on “higher things ” . ergo –those that like muzak in supermarkets have “downgraded” IQ,s ???


Duncan, my take on Malcolm’s point is that the desire to “whistle-while-you-work” is task specific – not IQ specific.

I enjoying having background music if I’m driving but I don’t want it when I’m doing desk work. I don’t actually find it distracting then – but if I’m concentrating properly on design and analysis work, I end up just blanking it out – so then there is no point in putting it on in the first place.


But he was using that as an example to say my comment on young people not liking muzak more when doing or studying exams belies the general/universal opinion that young people need/enjoy constant background muzak . Most adverts come with background music its built into the younger generation (generally held conclusion maybe wrong but held anyway ) -music= buy this or that -supermarkets are just an extension of the TV screen . Cameron,as we speak, is using the same ploy aimed at young people saying -its their generation who are opposed to a Brexit while (obsolete thinking ) old people are for a Brexit this is even being taken up in the US as they dont want a Brexit for selfish financial reasons. Isnt this “ageist ” in both directions and forming a conclusion in both directions ? What my point made was that young people are not really different from the older generation when it comes down to built in natural thinking noise including music changes their concentration . Okay so some people can blank it out but its seems that the general public hold some strong views on it so it obviously effects them .


duncan, not at all. I was drawing no distinction between the “intelligence”, as you put it, of the different groups of staff. Simply the type of job they had chosen to do. One requires, for example, concentration on problems, interaction directly or by phone with outsiders such as suppliers or customers, where obtrusive background music would have been inappropriate. The other involved more routine and repetitive work where, as when I am in my workshop or the garden for example, music in the background is “company”.

I think suggesting that unintelligent people are put in certain jobs and intelligent in others is a perception that is well out of date. Ability is different, as we see from people for example who do degrees, apprenticeships, trades.


“Music While You Work” on the BBC radio Light Programme was introduced during the Second World War because the government thought it would improve morale and, as a side effect, boost productivity. It was intended primarily for factories but anyone with a wireless receiver could listen and it was popular in the home. With most of the working population engaged in essential war work this was a matter for government intervention and most large manufacturers relayed the morning and afternoon broadcasts into their workplaces. In those days most production was very repetitive, either turning out identical units in huge volumes or, as in textile mills, making similar items from the same plain material for days on end, so it was helpful in relieving boredom and production fatigue. Remarkably it was still going strong into the 1960’s which roughly coincides with when the UK manufacturing sector started to decline due to a range of factors including industrial obsolescence, lack of innovation, outdated management culture, disputatious trade union behaviour, and a rising standard of living which brought foreign alternatives to the market. The Music While You Work programmes were generally regarded as helpful and it was accepted that they contributed to improved performance, although they were denied to probably half the workforce who worked outdoors, in mines, public transport, schools, hospitals, shops and offices, or were in the armed services. The conditions for which MWYW were most suited hardly apply today and I don’t think shop workers should be suffering monotony for which music is the appropriate relief.


“Music while you work” was only played for half hour in the morning and half hour in the afternoon. I expect it seemed like a welcome diversion from worries about the war and loved ones, and did seem to improve productivity. The type of music was carefully chosen though and the volume kept in check.

We live in such a different world now, one in which noise is everywhere and inescapable.


“We live in such a different world now, one in which noise is everywhere and inescapable.” I lived in an industrial city when Music While You Work was broadcast and I’d say it was as noisy then as now – certainly I don’t see today being significantly worse. Throngs of people were just as noisy, there were noisy trams, buses, steam trains, rattling goods trains. Every Sunday morning a Boys Brigade bugle and drum band slowly made its way up our road, ensuring a lie-in was an awake one. But we managed to live through that as part of life. We also I suggest have just as many worries now as then, just replacing some types with other types.


Everyone’s life experience is different. I was not alive during WW2 and I didn’t live in an area surrounded by factories as I was growing up but I now live near a road where the traffic does not stop, day or night, whereas you now live in a rural area.

I think that many people’s hearing was probably damaged by the noise in factories during and after WW2. Now there is more protection for such workers.

To be sure there were industrial areas that were very noisy in your youth, but I think that more people are generally affected by noise now than then.

At the beginning of the twentieth century there were about 8,000 cars in Britain, now there are about 35 million. The WHO considers noise pollution from cars to be a serious problem.

However, when I made the comment about noise I was thinking more of the topic of this convo, which is almost inescapable “music” in public places.

My point about “music while you work” was that half hour in the morning and half hour in the afternoon might have seemed like a pleasant change ( or maybe not if they didn’t like it). It certainly would not have been Mariah Carey screaming her lungs out!


While not strictly on M&S I was wondering why people are getting more peeved. As I never go the places mentioned I can only guess excessive volume may be a component. I did complain at a pub a few moths ago and it was changed and subsided somewhat. Rock music and fine dining!!

This latest research is interesting as it addresses sound irritation and a concern of mine regarding continual loud music and the effect on the Walkman and later generations where ear-pods can produce loud sounds and they are warn for considerable periods.

The article does not really spend anytime on cause but the effects so early in life must be worrying.

The nature of the early tinnitus and irritability with noise ,,,,
Tinnitus is associated with reduced sound level tolerance in adolescents with normal audiograms and otoacoustic emissions



I have a friend in her forties who got a Walkman as soon as they appeared and has been wearing ear buds in public places ever since then. She already has quite a bit of hearing loss and frequently has to ask people to repeat what they said.

Of course, this may have happened to her anyway but there seems to be no genetic hearing loss in her family and she works in a quiet environment.