/ 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?

chris says:
17 June 2016

hopefully no more shops will stop it and with amount of people i have seen not happy with m and s stopping it they will bring it back in time, shops need music to give it a atmosphere to make shopping more enjoyable and a better place for workers going in to quiet shop is like going in to a morgue why should it be turned off for people who go probably once or twice a week for not very long.


I have never spoken to a member of staff in any large shop who liked the music; they either preferred no music or didn’t like the kind of music that the shop played.

I’ve not been in a branch of M&S that was not pretty lively. People talking, laughing, children being children, the infernal self service machines nagging everyone, staff moving boxes and filling shelves. Even the fridges these days seem more powerful and emit a constant low noise. Hardly a morgue.

It’s just the sound of people and life. Life doesn’t need a constant musical soundtrack.

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I see, or rather hear, there is no good reason to pump load “music” around any shopping places. Soft or discrete music can be welcome in some environments , but not the cacophony of noise that we are all beginning to get.
I would also be happy if the background music on TV programes could be considered in the same light. People who are hard of hearing and those who use hearing aids find that the noise level is so high that it interferes with the conversation of the actors to the extent that much of the spoken word in inaudible so spoiling the programe.

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When you are out and about , in shops or restaurants, do you find that piped music makes it harder to hear your companions or the staff?

The people that I know who have hearing aids say that it makes life a lot harder for them.

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Yes, music, especially with lyrics, is meant to be listened to so it demands our attention. It’s hard to concentrate on anything unless you have the knack of blocking it out.

I think most people who post here like music but we want to choose what we listen to and when, and not have it forced on us. Constant piped noise just cheapens music so that it becomes what many have called “aural wallpaper”.

It’s unfair to make life harder for hearing impaired people by playing totally unnecessary music nearly everywhere. I think there is beginning to be quite a backlash against it. I have read articles that refer to background music ( and other types of noise pollution) as “second hand noise”, like second hand smoke. Something you are having a problem with but did not ask for, create or consent to.

I have today just been driven out of both Cath Kidston and the local Clarks shop because of the volume of the background music. I have mentioned this issue quite frequently to the shop assistants, but usually get the response ” I don’t hear it anymore…” I am tempted to say this isn’t about you, but normally give up and go.

Sally says:
18 June 2016

Tricia, it is worth mentioning your discomfort to the shop assistants but they very rarely pass on comments from customers. They don’t want to be seen as “difficult” employees. And even M&S admit that the only complaints they listen to are those made to their HQ, not to individual stores. Far better to send an email or letter to the Chief Executives of Cath Kidston and Clarks. Now is a good time, with M&S switching off their music and both ASDA and selected intu shopping centres offering “quiet hours” to help customers who suffer from autism. We want to keep the momentum going!

Chris says:
19 June 2016

Stopping it fully would be very harsh and worng for workers and people who like it but having some days a week of silence for the people who hate it is fair and will pleases everyone, to please only the people that want silence and have it off for good is worng and very unfair and will have more customers starting to shop on line destroying the High street.the future should be days with and with out music.

Sally says:
19 June 2016

Many of us have been driven to shop online simply because the non-stop music drives us out of the High Street, Chris. As soon as my local branch of Waterstones switched off the music, I was able to browse again and make purchases. Would far rather do this than buy books online, even if it means paying slightly more.

Chris, how can the High St be destroyed by not piping music into shops when Primark is doing brilliantly well, expanding all the time it seems and is always busy despite having no music?

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Sally says:
1 July 2016

Duncan, I am never sure which way round this is. It is generally accepted that unwanted music is noise. “What is music in the ears of one person is just noise to other people”. Do people want music/noise in the background all the time because it relieves stress, or is it the continuous music/noise that causes the stress in the first place? I just came across this quote from Hear the World Foundation:
“It is not only our hearing that suffers from noise. Even low noise levels can trigger the release of stress hormones, leading to increased blood pressure. This in turn can lead to aggressive behavior and tensions in interactions with other people, as well as an increased risk of stroke, heart attack and tinnitus. Unwanted sources of noise also prevent relaxation, recovery and sleep and impair concentration and performance, particularly in children”.

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Regarding Chris’s thoughts on having music some days and not others. I suggested a few years ago to the local shopping centre that they have no music in the mornings but turn it on later in the day, and have music Saturdays but quiet Sundays. They didn’t go for the idea.

A few people have said that it’s unfair to turn music off without asking staff or customers for their opinion. Marks has said that the decision was based on extensive research. I would also like to point out that inescapable pop music in all public places is a relatively recent phenomenon, and no one asked us what we thought when they first forced it on us.

Why is it unfair to not ask when they turn it off when no one ever asked if they could turn it on?

chris says:
19 June 2016

i think the future to please every one and be fair they should have quiet mornings 5 days a week off Sundays and on Saturday when the younger people tend to shop and have it on afternoons during the week,people will have 1 full day and 5 half days of silence to shop and for the people who dont mind it can shop when ever with same with people who like it it will also be good way company’s to see when they make more money.this what i would like to see all company trailing and not just switching it off for good.

I have seen no evidence to suggest that the “younger people” are enthralled by the loudspeaker output in shops and public places. They don’t seem to hang around in B&Q or the Co-op either.

I am keen that we should see evidence to support proposals for change – it makes it so much easier to convince people than just expressing a personal view. Action on Hearing Loss have been conducting research into the effects of noise in cafes, restaurants and pubs on hearing impaired people. I emailed them to see just where this research had got to and they replied as follows. So we should see a report in early July that could provide facts on which to approach noise in public premises.

They also point to research published in the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America which as far as I can see looked at tailoring the characteristics of hearing aids to improve speech intelligibility “Effect of spectral change enhancement for the hearing impaired using parameter values selected with a genetic algorithm.” I can only see an abstract – link below.

AHL replied
“With regards to the hearing aid project:

The report concludes – The intelligibility and quality of speech in noise and in babble were measured using ten listeners with mild to moderate hearing loss. The results showed the spectral change enhancement processing (a method of enhancing spectral changes over time) led to small but significant improvements in the intelligibility of speech both types of background noise.

The spectrum of sound is a representation of the amount of energy that sound as a function of frequency. Information in speech sounds is carried in the way that the spectrum changes over time. Such changes may be less audible to a person with hearing loss than to a person with normal hearing, because hearing loss usually results in a reduction in the ability to determine the spectrum of sound. The researchers developed a method for enhancing spectral changes over time called the “spectral change enhancement”. The aim was to improve the intelligibility of speech in background sounds for people with hearing loss. The publication is here. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23654396

Action on Hearing Loss will be launching the ‘Speak Easy’ campaign on 7 July with the publication of a flagship report targeting restaurants, cafés and pubs. The report will present clear evidence that high levels of background noise – caused primarily by interior design which harms the acoustic environment, and the playing of background music – are preventing many people with hearing loss from dining and socialising in these venues. Alongside this report, Action on Hearing Loss will be publishing clear guidance for the industry demonstrating the different adaptations which can be made, both to the physical environment and to the venue’s practices, to reduce noise levels.

This will be the first wave of campaign activity, in what will be a long-term campaign aiming to raise awareness within restaurants, cafés and pubs of the access issues faced by people with hearing loss and convince as many venues as possible to work with Action on Hearing Loss to become more accessible. ”

@patrick Their reply includes links to receive updates on their campaigns, to support Speak Easy and to join online forums. I can forward the full reply to Patrick if it would be useful.

Malcolm, Action on Hearing Loss’s “Speak Easy” campaign was launched today. Full details on their website. And a big thank you to Which? for highlighting this problem, which affects so many people.

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Thanks Dorothy.

Hi Duncan – I can hazard a guess. Whenever someone posts a persuasive comment in support of the control of background music in shops and restaurants there are always some negative responses sometimes by way of a comment, otherwise by a ‘thumbs down’. There are a lot of people who are very displeased at the growing campaign to limit extraneous music and some of them express themselves in this way. From their earliest beginnings the ‘background music’ Conversations have attracted shop staff who feel the music made their day bearable and resent the switch-off in certain stores. Many people also like the loud music in pubs and restaurants and are upset that there are moves to tone it down. I can only assume that they have not given a moment’s thought to the difficulties and pain suffered by people with hearing impairment. Malcolm’s post was basically factual – not something you can agree or disagree with – but the thumbs down is a proxy for resentment I suppose.

Adding to John’s assessment I’d say that it’s also possible someone read Malcolm’s first sentence only and thought he was ‘having a go’. However, everyone should be aware that the administrators will be able to see exactly who voted which way. Perhaps that facility ought to be introduced for everyone.

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Went into Morrisons in Totnes – awful – cut short my shopping trip because of the piped pop. Surely New Age harp would have been more appropriate?

I’m definitely for turning it ALL off, and definitely affects my decision about where I shop/eat/do business.

Chris says:
27 June 2016

All off would be wrong it should be in some places so people have choice of places with music and with out music to please all types of customers

Dave says:
29 June 2016

Can I add Dobbies Garden Centres to the list of retailers I’d like to follow M&S’s example? They even play loud music in their outdoor areas. Cannot believe this increases their sales. I would like to spend time browsing but instead am driven out, often without purchasing anything. I’ve now given up shopping there altogether.

I came across this story in the Daily Mail online. ( It’s not a paper I actually read, I was just attracted to the link because of the music angle).

A woman complained to a busker that his amplified music was too loud. The DM spun the story so that the busker was a victime “rescued” from a frail, elderly disabled woman.

Apart from few being able to see that loud music is forced on us in every location these days, I was perturbed at the hate in the faces of the people “defending” the busker, who was himself aggressive to her, and at how nearly all the comments showered hate on this woman because of her age.

Few seem to understand how loud noises can hurt and cause distress to people with hyperacusis. Even fewer seem to question the right of just a few to pollute the environment that we all must share with loud music.

I will put the link in a separate post in case Which? does not want to allow it.

I have just moved to beautiful Cockermouth and needed to find the main post office. Was told it was in the Co-op – found the Co-op and had to walk out again, the “music ” was tbe loudest and ugliest I had ever been assaulted with, but you had to go through the shop to get to the bard a d gloomy PO – bad marks all round!

And I wonder why the flagship store of wonderful Lakeland Ltd in Windermere often has dreary muzak playing? Does NOT encourage you to browse, l have had a bit of a moan at tbe till several times.

So do I at the right time and place, but not when we are trying to speak or think about things. I also like the idea that people with hearing impairments or other sensory conditions can go about their daily lives without the unnecessary infliction of pain or discomfort. One person’s loud music is another person’s living nightmare.

The comment to which my post above [timed at 08:19] related seems to have been removed. It was something like “I love loud music”.

My comments today are not related to Janet’s post which I agreed with.

I saw the comment too. It seemed a bit fishy but might have been a genuinely held opinion, not trawling.

My own feeling on this is that I have been distracted by muzak and, if I don’t like the type of music being played – i.e. I’m not a fan of rap, hip hop or drum ‘n’ bass – I have walked out of shops before now.
In private, when I have had a need to concentrate for any length of time on a piece of work, I have found classical or instrumental music, or none at all, as best. Jazz is also not a distraction.
However, where the music is loud, particularly with a pronounced drum or guitar sound – then it’s distracting!
I’d like to see the research on the effects of muzak in stores as, rather than encouraging shoppers to linger longer & spend more, I suspect that it tends to have the opposite effect. If a shop does decide to play music, I think that it should take into consideration its likely customer base, their age range (and background, where this seems appropriate) and select the music in keeping with the known musical tastes of their target customers.

Bill says:
7 August 2016

I would be interested in seeing how sales are now for m and s since thr music has stopped the 2 big ones in my area are dead now and some one I know who works in one has said sales have gone down a bit.

It would be difficult to disentangle the reasons for any drop in sales. The company has reported poor performance in general merchandise and there are also seasonal and competitive factors at work. The BHS clear-out will have some temporary impact. M&S are missing their clothing sales targets, both in terms of volume and in terms of product acceptance, to such an extent that they are setting up a customer panel to advise the company on what customers really want and the right price points. That used to be M&S’s strong retail advantage. As for music, I suspect that once they have got the right style and value offer in their stores customers will return and will disregard the absence of music; if they don’t get it right, music is the least of their worries and will not revive a flagging brand.

One of the things that has put me off M&S is the introduction of logos or other on their clothing. So far I have not encountered music except at Christmas.

Marks and Spencer home and clothing sales have been in decline for years and it will take time to see if the new CEO can turn around their performance. Their clothes are, to my taste, awful. Even their standards of customer service have dropped. Small details like an incredibly noisy escalator in my local M&S that was squeaking and clunking for months makes a difference to how long one wants to remain in the shop.

It’s hard to assess, in isolation, what difference turning off the music makes until more time has passed.

However, it’s worth noting that, in their 2016 annual report, it states that food amounts to 58% of turnover. The “Simply Food” stores have never played music.

tasha says:
11 November 2016

I agree with all the comments relating to the loud and sometimes overbearing music in shopping outlets but can I bring another ‘music in background ‘ annoyance.
Has anyone noticed the intrusive and annoying music background on TV? Especially when people are being interviewed…. and the majority of TV programs have it… and sometimes it is impossible to hear what anyone is saying…as the music drowns out the speakers. I end up switching off! Why do the producers deem it necessary to overpower the speakers voice with these loud irritating noises and why do they think we like it? WE do not! It is extremely annoying and especially irritating to people who are hard of hearing in the first place and have to contend with banging background music and actors who appear to whisper best part of the time. If they think it adds to the ‘effects’ It does but in an adverse way! PLEASE STOP and concentrate on the dialogue

I agree about intrusive and unnecessary background music. It seems that some programmes cannot be made unless music fills any potentially silent gaps and “backs” (sometimes swamps) comments being made. When will the News be accompanied by “appropriate” music? It was OK in silent films but now, surely, we can live without constant noise (although judging by the numbers who walk round with earphones I may be wrong).

I suppose if desperate you could press the mute button and switch on subtitles. I used to dislike those but having watched foreign series on Saturday nights – Montelbano, dark Scandinavian crime dramas and so on – I’ve grown quite attached to them.

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It’s that time of year again when my local Tesco who normally never have music playing thinks that we cannot get through December without hearing Mariah Carey screech her way through All I want for Christmas is you – yooooh ooooh ooohing endlessly. The scourge of piped music mixed with the modern curse of “oversinging”.

The staff dread it as they have to listen to the same playlist over and over again, and most of the customers loathe it. Many of us go to that branch because they normally don’t have music.

The local shopping centre has doubled the volume on its piped music and also believes that Mariah is necessary to our wellbeing in December.

In many areas these indoor centres contain most of the more popular shops and have, in a real sense, privatised the High St. As they have privatised what would have once been public space – the streets, squares and pavements between the shops – isn’t there a case for them to at least not force music on us in the mall areas between the shops, whatever the individual businesses decide to do? Give us just a little breathing space between onslaughts of noise.

As it is, I can often hear the loud music from several different shops spilling out onto a space that booms or screeches with a totally different playlist.

Chris says:
23 December 2016

Very pleased my 3 marks and Spencers have started playing music again in one of them the manger was saying it’s back for Christmas maybey longer due to a lot customers and workers asking for it back.

I had an awful feeling M&S would play music again. At least it’s quieter now than it used to be but their choice of music and cover artistes is absolutely dreadful. Like their advertising, it is also completely out of step with their customer demographic.

I went into M&S to buy a wooly jumper and they had a small CD radio on a high shelf pumping out distorted music. ‘I wish it could be Christmas every day’ was playing, followed by ‘I wish it could be Christmas every day’ and then ‘I wish it could be Christmas every day’. I made a rapid departure and found that I had a couple of wooly jumpers that I had been given last Christmas.

Tesco has been quiet apart from the disembodied voice ‘Ho ho ho. Merry Christmas’ emanating from the self-service checkouts with monotonous regularity. Today there was Christmas music as well.

We found the same thing: a tiny, scratchy, low-cost cassette / CD player on a shelf. I took the opportunity to modify it, by re-tuning the radio section to Radio 3 and left it on 🙂

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I had to endure over an hour of ghastly piped music at M and S in Westfield Stratford today. The staff disliked it . I fled after the fitting and did not peruse the hosiery and underwear that I would otherwise have done , so they lost their custom ! I hope they go back to a silent and serene atmosphere again. This was torture and the staff said at times they could not converse with customers due to the volume.

Graham says:
10 October 2021

They’ve started it again! WHY???
I’ve complained and the response is that some customers enjoy it and the playlist is carefully chosen by colleagues!
Where’s past experience?
The evidence?
Market research?
Brand awareness?
Customer feedback?

It’s a retrograde step and despite linking me to their 18 month old inclusion policy, is one of the most non-inclusive things you can imagine!