/ Shopping

What do shops have to say about piped music?


We’ve had more than 1,300 comments about background music in shops, making it our third most commented post of all time. So what do the most complained about shops have to say about it?

Three shops have been mentioned more than the others – the Co-operative, Marks & Spencer and B&Q. These stores were the ones you felt were the noisiest of all others (thanks to Dorothy for counting the complaints!). Ceanothus, who’s a member of The Co-op, told us:

‘I used to shop in my local Co-op regularly. No longer. Music is at a very high volume – so loud that transactions can’t be heard at the tills.’

Sue commented on her local M&S:

‘They have started secreting small hi-fi systems around the clothing department, usually at floor level somewhere, which drives me away from what I was going to look at – and eventually out of the store in frustration. I can’t think straight and I certainly can’t enjoy a pleasant, relaxing retail therapy session – quite the opposite!’

Shops on piped music

We took your comments to these three retailers to hear what they had to say in defense of piped music. A spokesperson for The Co-operative Food told us:

‘The music played within our stores is there to act as a pleasant background noise to contribute to the atmosphere, whilst not interfering with conversation within the store. We do take all feedback and observations seriously.’

M&S said its music was reviewed regularly:

‘Our in-store playlist is provided centrally and is designed to appeal to a broad customer base. We review and refresh this on a regular basis and take any customer feedback on board.’

B&Q encourages customers to speak to the store manager about volume levels:

‘The volume on our sound systems is set by our engineers upon installation, but we do allow levels to be changed locally by a member of the team if necessary. We also provide our stores with guidelines on industry best practice to ensure volume levels are acceptable.

‘We would encourage any customers concerned by volume levels to speak to store manager at the time, as they will be best placed to help.’

With all of the stores saying they’ll change noise levels if customers complain, I’d like to hear if such complaints make a difference. And why don’t we put the issue to the vote? Do you like or dislike piped music in shops? Vote in our poll below.

Do you like background music to be played in shops?

No - I don't like background music in shops (49%, 921 Votes)

Yes - I like background music in shops (38%, 705 Votes)

I don't really care to be honest (13%, 245 Votes)

Total Voters: 1,871

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Buddy says:
18 April 2015

As a hearing impaired person piped music in shops and stores discriminates against me and against the 10 million of people of all ages in the country. With music playing through speakers wherever you go in the store or shop there is no escape from it. Hearing aids pick up the loudest noise. so that in effect all you hear its distorted music and you are unable to hear what your friend is saying next to you. You cannot hear staff properly either because the music dominates so much and in effect wipes out their voices.

This discriminates against anyone with any kind of hearing loss who is not a sign language user.

other people on this site just hate the music but at least they can still hear and talk to those around them… for me and other hearing impaired people it in effect cuts us off from people around us in the store or shop..

Imagine what it would be like if you went into a store or shop after dark for late opening in the winter and someone suddenly turned all the lights off. Piped music turns off our ability to hear and talk to others. It discriminates and should be banned on a national basis.

lizbie says:
18 April 2015

That is very well said, Buddy, and I had not realized that the number was as high. If only a small percentage of those affected by unwanted “music” in shops would write direct to the management of these companies, the shopping experience would surely improve for everyone. After all, those who cannot live without thumping trash for 45 minutes or so,may choose to have it on a personal device, but those with partial hearing cannot choose to have the quiet they need.


Like Buddy I too have a hearing impairment and, after complaining to various stores and supermarkets about the unwanted music, have come to the view that they now no longer consider the customer is `always right`. Now I have taken my trade away from the High Street and simply shop on line. Sending things back if they are not to my liking. Let the managers of these shops `enjoy` their music in their empty shops!

chris says:
26 April 2015

Empty shops will never happen you will always have people going in to shops who hate or dont hate music or dont care and for people who truly hate music just shop on line all companies do it you will get the silance and the products you want.


Chris – If I know exactly what I want to buy, I’m happy to shop online. If I don’t, I find it very helpful to inspect goods. With household goods, many look at aesthetics but I focus more on build quality. Often I can spot plastic parts that might break easily, goods that would be difficult to use or keep clean, and numerous other things that might affect my choice. In clothes shops I can inspect the quality of the materials and the quality of the workmanship. I cannot do that online and often the information I want to know is not provided on a website.

Stephen Conrad says:
26 February 2018

I hate loud music in puplc places . If they only played classical or light music like they once did it would be a lot more pleasant, but sadly they hardly if ever do these days. It’s always loud. Gararge or pop without exception . It makes it very unpleasant


The shopping malls in Shrewsbury have music so loud that t he acoustics of the building blur it to an indeterminate screech. I never go in if I can avoid it. So that’s a lot of shops off my list.

I am also deeply depressed by the way sounds only just describable as music are creeping into more and more radio programmes. Every trail now has musak and a serious discussion on the meaning of justice was constantly interrupted by some piano plinking – why do they do this and what has it got to do with the programme? It just makes me switch off.

Sally says:
20 April 2015

Patrick/Andrew, I am getting confused as to where we should be posting comments on this topic. The original conversation still seems to be going strong. My understanding is that you started this new conversation for 3 reasons (I might be wrong!)
1 to introduce the poll
2 so that people could comment on whether or not the advice from shops to turn down the music worked
3 to make it easier for people to find the conversation as the original one had been going on for such a long time.
However, the comments here aren’t limited to whether or not our complaints have made a difference; they are far more general. There have been interesting comments on disability discrimination on both conversations in the past few days. It seems a shame that visitors to one conversation might be missing the posts on the other.

Buddy says:
20 April 2015

The original conversation was not hard to find doing a search in a normal search engine. It came straight up with it. But it was hard to find doing a search for piped music in Which?’s own in site search. Which? should keep it going and make it easier to find as it would be a shame to lose all those interesting and well thought out comments. All effort gone to waste.

As a deaf person I feel very strongly about this and think that a conversation with a greater number of comments tells those in charge how important this subject is to many people, especially the deaf or those with health problems made worse by unnecessary noise.

Which? should break with their usual convention and keep the old conversation going.


Buddy – If you have a look at the other Conversation you will see that we are discussing the Disability Discrimination Act. We need people with hearing problems, like yourself, to push for action. Companies and other organisations can tell the rest of us that many like the music, but it would be very foolish to ignore those who have genuine disabilities.

Much of the discussion so far has focused on personal preferences, polls and people wanting to persuade companies of what could improve their sales. Supporting the disabled and those employees who are obliged to listen to music all day and every day is far more important. In fact discussing polls is just detracting from the more important issues.


Hi Sally and Buddy – the original Conversation (and as with all Conversations) will go on as long as you’d like them too! These can run in parallel.

I wanted to bring the shop responses to you, but also add the poll and promote the issue. However, there’s no reason why you can’t keep talking on both. Thanks 🙂

bill says:
20 April 2015

you have deaf people and people with learning difficulties in all countries and you go to other countries where more shops play music then here. if it affected people at all caused grief we would have a world of silence in shops bars restaurants and shopping centres also we would have world wide petitions about it but we don’t. its just this country where people want to have it all there way or no way for just a 20-30min shopping.

[This comment has been tweaked to align with our commenting guidelines. Thanks, mods]

lizbie says:
23 April 2015

I don’t know what your knowledge of the rest of the world is like – I can tell you that in the U.S. the customer is always right, and complaints result in action. In France, “background” music is rare since people actually enjoy the civilized aspects of shopping. It is in fact only in the UK that one is subjected to loud pop just about everywhere.

[This comment has been tweaked to align with our commenting guidelines. Thanks, mods]

Sally says:
24 April 2015

Campaigning against unnecessary background music in public places is certainly not limited to this country, Bill. There are noise abatement groups worldwide and these often include a section against muzak. Germany even has its own version of Pipedown http://www.pipedown.de/


Hi Lizbie, thanks for your comments, but please be polite when you disagree with someone. Read our community guidelines for more: https://conversation.which.co.uk/commenting-guidelines

Catherine Nugent says:
20 April 2015

The places I find most problematic with loud background “headbanging” music are areas that I frequent a lot, ie cafe’s/ restaurants *Saturday) treat. The main areas mentioned in Quiet Edinburgh are Museum/Castle type of café’s. I like to go in, sit down and people watch. Another area that has increased loud head banging blary music is Charity shops. You used be able to go in and have a chat with person behind counter who was often a bit of a character who played classical music or Elvis. Older people are still behind the counter, but music is modern, head banging type. I no longer go in or stay as long. Almost all cafés Café Nero, Costa, Starbucks etc have loud blary music, but most of their customer base are young students etc.. Recently Lidl have taken to playing music, the one in Leith Walk had quiet background music which was fine. The one in South Bridge had young people’s blary music, again a Student area.

I have mentioned about music levels to some café staff, and as there has been no response, much as I may like a particular café, I have left and not returned. It does give one the opportunity to try other places. Sadly, it is becoming more and more difficult to find a café, in Edinburgh, in particular which does not have loud, blary, “head banging” modern music. I recently visited the new Rabbies café in Waterloo Place. It had lovely Scottish scenery or 2 large screens. Food was ok. Sadly, background music was loud, blary and modern, which did not even sound Scottish, and therefore, not complementing calm, tranquil Scottish scenes on screens. Yes, I do accept that Rabbies is renowned young persons coach touring company and perhaps that was what was being reflected. So much more can be achieve by peace/calm/tranquillity. If there must be background music, keep it low, in the background, barely audible. Keep it easy listening, classical in nature. I have been in cafe’s where groups of people and individuals are meeting for a chat, catch up and generally listening to each other. This sort of contact should not be discouraged or drowned out by loud music. If that café/store etc wants to do something different than everyone else. Turn down/off loud head banging music, radio etc. You may find that you have got more customers who are willing to come in, stay longer and even buy things. These customers will then be able to pass on their experience to others and , hey presto, more happy/satisfied customers who will keep coming back and bring in their friends, and pass the word on of this fantastic place, I’ve just found.

The other areas that have come to the fore recently are Hospitals Inpatient Wards and Outpatient settings, where there is loud music or a day time TV on, particularly distressing if you are going for an Outpatient Cardiac apt. Having loud blary music emanating from a local radios station on in hospital wards, where there are particularly frail elderly people can be quite distressing and upsetting. If you must have music at least have it appropriate to the age group of the ward, I can feel my heart racing as soon as I hear modern “head banging music” and you have no control over it. In a restaurant/shop etc you can walk out. If you are recovering from an operation, or you are a frail elderly person, you cannot walk out of hospital

I thought an Entertainments licence was required to play music to the public.

Many thanks for allowing me the opportunity to express my views on a very important issue to us all. Please, please, keep Edinburgh quiet, so that all may experience peace, calm, tranquillity and spread the word accordingly. It is great for locals to have their say for a change. If locals have a problem with cafes, shops, stores etc having loud, blary head-banging music, how do we thing tourists feel!

Thanks for listening.

C. Nugent


Catherine, my understanding is that hospital treatment areas (including hospital wards) are exempt from having to pay for a music licence. However, they do have to pay for PRS for Music/PPL licences in NHS waiting areas. In Scotland alone the Health Boards are paying thousands of pounds of NHS money on these licences (and this doesn’t include GPs’ waiting rooms). The problem is that the music industry has convinced even the medical profession that background music is relaxing. It is only relaxing if you like the choice of music and actually want to listen to it at that time. Otherwise it can have the opposite effect.

Our local Quiet Edinburgh site http://www.quietedinburgh.co.uk/ is doing its best to highlight muzac-free venues in the Scottish capital. Unfortunately, you are right in saying that many of the “quiet” restaurants are in museums and art galleries. However, we are gradually adding more independent venues thanks to people notifying us. Please let us know if you come across any venues not already on our list.

Finally, I see that muzac-free Primark has just reported an 11% rise in profits. Yet more proof that spending large amounts of money on music licences has nothing to do with improved sales (and, judging by this conversation, might actually have the opposite effect)

Jacqui says:
22 April 2015

While shopping one evening in Tesco music suddenly started playing loudly. I was at the customer service desk at the time & couldn’t hear what the shop assistant was saying. On turning round I discovered it was being play through a stereo system by the door, operated by the security guard.
Should this happen again I fully intend to complain about it. There’s not much point in having a customer service desk if you can’t hear what they are saying.
Also my elderly mother who is deaf has great difficulty shopping due to the volume of music in shops even with family support. !
Just in case anyone out there thinks we are are being narrow minded I’d just like to add that we both love all kinds of music we do however like to shop in peace.


I asked Action on Hearing Loss for any research and other information they have that background music causes significant impairment, and to what proportion, of those with hearing problems. Their initial response was to refer me to their leaflet on the effect of loud noise (>80dB) on causing permanent hearing damage.

Pursuing the original question got this response: “We are planning to explore the accessibility of cafes, bars and restaurants in particular in the near future with our research panel, to analyse the key issues we might campaign on in this area. The impact of background music in these spaces, as well as the need for deaf awareness training and hearing loop systems will be explored.”

So, presumably, no research work known to them linking background music and hearing impairment. To help them with their proposed reseach those who do experience hearing difficulties should contact them direct relating their experiences.


That is a disappointing response but we certainly do need people who are suffering to come forward and push for action. Shops etc. are not obliged to pay any attention to whether or not we like music but they should not be ignoring the needs of disabled people or their employees.

I’m not sure how many premises have music so loud that it could cause hearing damage. If that was a problem it could be reported to HSE.


I doubt any retail premises would knowingly broadcast music above 80dB!

As for disappointment, it is a bit surprising that Action on Hearing Loss know of no relevant research (I was going to contact Hearing Research UK but find they have merged with Action on Hearing Loss). This may, of course, be because there have not been significant problems reported. Their role is to look after the interests of hearing-impaired people so had they been aware of problems I’d expect them to have followed them up – unless those in contact with me do not know what is going on.


I have been in touch with Hearing Link with the same questions. I have had a pleasant but not very helpful reply; suggestions such as asking for the volume to be lowered and writing to the bosses. I have asked if I might quote part of the response, but I have had no reply to that. It seems that the hearing loss organisations are not going to be much help.


I am encouraged by that reply, Malcolm. I wrote to Action on Hearing Loss a couple of years ago about access for people with a hearing impairment to restaurants playing loud background music and at that time they said that it was something they hadn’t really studied. The fact that they are now saying they are planning to explore the accessibility of cafes, bars and restaurants in the near future with their research panel sounds promising.

Have you tried writing to the MRC Institute of Hearing Research with your initial inquiry? They might know if any research is going on in this area. I came across a report that low frequency sounds can damage our hearing. http://news.sciencemag.org/biology/2014/09/sounds-you-cant-hear-can-still-hurt-your-ears Don’t know if this is relevant to our argument about non-stop background music!


Dorothy, thanks for the lead. I have now contacted them.


I wrote to my local Tesco yesterday and complimented them on the lack of piped music. This was via the general customer services contact form on Tesco.com, and I said: “this may come as a suprise to you unless it is a nationwide Tesco policy, but having NO piped music in the store is BRILLIANT!” I hope they spread the word.


I contacted Action on Hearing Loss again pointing out the research carried out for them in the past as Dorothy mentioned. The reply was “Our research department and campaigns team are looking to explore these avenues in due course, any new research and campaigns will be loaded onto our website. If you require further information please do not hesitate to contact us again.

They don’t seem very interested. Hope Which? has more success.

I’m still waiting for a reply from MRC.


Malcolm – It might be worth looking at the MRC Institute of Hearing Research, though I’m not sure that this engages directly with the public.

Having looked further into the scientific literature I’m beginning to think that there has not been much research to investigate the problems of exposure to music. 🙁


wavechange – I have contacted MRC but no reply yet.


Re Malcolm’s earlier response from Action on Hearing Loss…I now have contact details for a member of staff at Action on Hearing Loss who is in the process of “formulating a survey which we want to use to get café’s and bars to understand the problems background noise has to people with a hearing loss”

I know Which? commenting guidelines don’t let us post personal e-mail addresses but, if you contact me via our Quiet Edinburgh website, I am happy to pass on details to anyone who wants to help Action on Hearing Loss.

Apologies for wandering from shops again, Patrick!

Tumour says:
3 May 2015

Most shops I go to play background music. It’s like a noise wall that I really don’t go past. I have asked for managers to come to the door to complain. Nothing gets done for me to be allowed to spend anything! I have pain in my head because of tumours which goes on a long time and I want to make the most of my life that I can but everywhere seems to have music noise that drives me away. Most staff have told me they are afraid of losing their job if they complain. What can we do??


I have now had a reply from MRC as follows (there seems to be no research):

“There are HSE rules on the maximum allowed duration for various sound levels: see http://www.hse.gov.uk/noise/index.htm
The rules are somewhat complicated, but what they reduce to – for continuous sound such as background music in shops – is that an employer needs take action if a daily average of 85 dB(A) (for the actions, see http://www.hse.gov.uk/noise/faq.htm). This would be reached with a continuous 85 dB(A) for 8 hours, or 88 dB(A) for 4 hours, or 94 dB(A) for 1 hour (http://www.hse.gov.uk/noise/dailyexposure.pdf). These levels are quite a lot. There’s a figure at the bottom of this page that illustrates it: http://www.hse.gov.uk/noise/advice.htm

I (MRC spokesman) do not know of any research into the average sound levels that are used in shops, but, personally, I would be very surprised if it reached these levels. However, as far as I can tell, these rules do not apply to members of the public who go to the shops or restaurants, instead they apply to employees only (to quote the HSE website, “The Regulations do not apply to … members of the public exposed to noise from their non-work activities, or making an informed choice to go to noisy places [or] low-level noise that is a nuisance but causes no risk of hearing damage”).

If you wish to know more, I suggest you contact the Health and Safety Executive, as they will be the experts in this area

Second, does it affect the ability to hear? It depends … hearing-impaired people generally do find it harder to understand speech in noise than normal-hearing people, but the effects are largest where the speech level is about the same (or lower than) the level of the noise. If the speech level is a long way above the noise level, the impaired-normal differences are likely to be much, much smaller.”