AC Brings Shoppers in From the Heat

Discussion
Aug 24, 2009
Tom Ryan

By
Tom Ryan

Air
conditioning seems to be one of the costs of entry for retailers, especially
in the dog days of summer. But to some, it’s also one of society’s
most shameful signs of energy waste.

Last
summer, New York became the first city to pass a statute banning large
retailers from propping open their doors to lure customers in with
air-conditioning. A year later, a recent survey of 400 stores across
five key shopping areas in the region found that 25 percent of them
were in violation of the law. The survey was conducted by the Natural
Resources Defense Council, which initially pushed for the law.

The
article points out that keeping doors open can increase energy costs
by as much as 25 percent but can lower temperatures in front of the
store by as much as 20 degrees.

Eric
Goldstein, the director of the defense council’s Urban Program, estimated
that 10 to 12 percent of the stores were technically in violation.
The law only applies to stores with more than 4,000 square feet of
space or chains with at least five stores in the city. The article
also noted that rather than openly violating the law, most store employees
didn’t know of its existence.

Still,
Mr. Goldstein said air-conditioning overuse is an emotional issue for
New Yorkers.

“While
it is not the No. 1 issue on the national environmental agenda, it’s
an issue that seems to get New Yorkers riled up,” Mr. Goldstein said. “It’s
symbolic. If we can’t find ways of altering our most energy wasting
behavior, how will we tackle global warming?”

A
separate article in the New
York Times
discussed
the temptations around air conditioning overuse for retailers, which
have been gaining green points for discouraging plastic bag use and
other measures. The article addressed not only stores leaving doors
open but “over air conditioning” in general. It noted that some fashion
blogs have tallied the chilliest retailers in certain cities.

“The
question becomes, ‘How do you define over-air conditioned stores?’,” Daniel
Butler, the vice president for retail operations at the National Retail
Federation and the head of its sustainability group, told the Times. Depending
on the temperature, some customers will think the store is cool, others
find it too hot and “some customers will think it’s perfect,” he said.

The
practice of leaving front doors open, according to Mr. Butler, tends
to be more common among independents. Larger retailers and malls have
put more focus into energy consumption, with heating and air-conditioning
managed centrally by electronic thermostat systems.

“Retailers
don’t want to waste money by over-air-conditioning their stores,” he
said.

Discussion
Questions: Should retailers leave their doors open to lure in customers
with air conditioning? Even with doors closed, are retailers guilty
of the eco-sin of over-air conditioning?

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12 Comments on "AC Brings Shoppers in From the Heat"


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Peter Milic
Guest
Peter Milic
11 years 8 months ago

The short answer is NO. Let me elaborate–NO! Not only is this practice contrary to the environmental agenda, I can not believe the cost of this tactic is offset by the incremental traffic it generates. On a hot day, walking past the open door of a store and feeling the cool air is likely to only entice those who would step in to cool off, rather than shop.

Kevin Graff
Guest
11 years 8 months ago

While the propped open door has always been a good thing to do for street front retailers, it’s now becoming very ‘uncool’ to do it in the face of environmental concerns. So, close the door and put a sign up that your customers can’t miss inviting them in. Have some fun with the message and you’ll help your brand image out a bit too.

Too bad it hasn’t actually been hot enough in my area to actually need air conditioning this summer!

David Livingston
Guest
11 years 8 months ago

Forget about eco-sin. If it draws customers into the store then do what you have to do. It’s also an eco-sin to flush the toilet. But what customer would want to shop in a store that smelled like a port-o-potty–especially on a hot day when the air conditioning is turned off?

Mel Kleiman
Guest
11 years 8 months ago

Close the door. Customers know that it is air conditioned inside and if they don’t, put up a sign like they used to do at the movie theaters and let them know.

One of the experts made a comment about flushing toilets and all of the water they waste. Now we have waterless urinals that use almost no water. They are terrific.

Marge Laney
Guest
11 years 8 months ago

Funny this discussion should come up today. I live in Houston, and it’s HOT here. We expect all venues, including retail, to be adequately air conditioned so it would never be a draw to choose one over the other for the sake of cooling off. My husband and I were down on Galveston Island this weekend where it was about ninety-five degrees at eight in the evening. We were walking the downtown area complaining about the heat when we walked past a shop with the door open. Something caught my eye inside the store and I steered us through the doorway. As I crossed the threshold I was hit by a downdraft of cold air! My husband, who is an engineer, explained to me how this down draft device at the entrance of the store, if installed correctly, will keep the cold inside and the hot outside! Sounds like a great way for retailers to keep that all important third window generating traffic without being an environmental disaster.

Lee Peterson
Guest
11 years 8 months ago

The real story here isn’t AC or open doors, it’s the fact that there’s just too many stores, period! If we had half the retail square footage per capita that we have now, think of all the other incredible savings–hopefully, the shrinkage of retail square footage will be the one huge plus that comes from this recession. As we’re saying around here, “2015 Retail – Fewer, Smaller, Better.”

Mike Romano
Guest
Mike Romano
11 years 8 months ago

Shut the doors and put up a sign that offers FREE lemonade inside so come on in and cool off! A 10 year old can figure it out, people. It isn’t that hard or so out-of-the-box, and you’ll really make a good impression for 3 cents a cup. Plus for all the environmental zealots, it is less wasteful and better than cooling the outside! Please…Just be a little creative and think a little bit!

Anna Murray
Guest
Anna Murray
11 years 8 months ago

Energy in this country is TOO CHEAP. In Europe people don’t heat or cool with the wasteful abandon that we do. And it’s not because they are better more worthy citizens of the planet than we are. It’s because it’s darn expensive over there! Last winter, I went to a restaurant in Siena, Italy at the very unfashionable hour of 7:30 pm. While the heat was on, the frigid terra cotta tiles at my feet told me it had just been switched on prior to our arrival. It was unthinkable that the proprietor would heat an empty restaurant just so it would be toasty when his guests arrived. And the ladies room? A meat locker.

Nothing will change in the US until energy costs hit everyone in the pocket where they feel it. Until then, we are relying on the strength of people’s conscience and what they know to be right. And, though I would like to believe in the essential goodness of human nature, is any of us willing to risk the planet on it?

Doug Stephens
Guest
Doug Stephens
11 years 8 months ago

I’m in Manhattan at the moment. Walked Soho and the Village yesterday and yes, doors are open and stores are baiting people with cold air.

I agree wholeheartedly that it’s an irresponsible tactic but the reality is when it’s 90 degrees in NYC, and you’re frying on the sidewalk, getting hit with a blast of cool air turns your head (at often your whole body) toward the source. So, I guess you could argue that stores do it because it works.

The sad truth is that the only way to stop it will be to make it a bylaw infringement with significant fines attached. It’s the only way to go I’m afraid.

Bernice Hurst
Guest
11 years 8 months ago

I hear hotels on the strip in Las Vegas keep their doors open but the street outside is covered so it’s all sort of part of one inside area. Perhaps NYC could go undercover?

Tim Henderson
Guest
Tim Henderson
11 years 8 months ago

Merchants must lure consumers into the store and, once inside, shoppers must find a welcoming environment. Accomplishing the former doesn’t require leaving the AC on and the doors open–it requires creative thinking. Doing the latter requires finding an acceptable AC level that makes shoppers feel comfortable–and that will mean changing the thermostat during various dayparts and on various days.

While we’re on the subject, I have to say that the NY regs are classic overkill. Education then and education now are the smart way to go. It’s simply smart business to keep your AC costs under control. Oh, and it’s good for the environment.

Shilpa Rao
Guest
11 years 8 months ago

There is no denying the fact that on a hot day, a cold blow from the opened door of a store is luring. It’s just that retailers need to explore new devices/techniques to be green. Simple techniques like double dooring and investing in cost-effective coolers, and things like what Marge pointed out in her comment above, can lower power consumption. Retailers need to understand that green does not always mean burning a big hole in the pocket; there are simpler, effective, and proven ways to become green and cost effective without losing customers.

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