The New York Times conducted an experiment recently in which a reporter visited various commercial corners of Manhattan with a high-grade thermometer. What was discovered was that the higher the prices, the lower the temperatures.
For example, the following temperatures were recorded for clothing stores: Bergdorf Goodman, 68.3 degrees; Bloomingdale’s, 70.8; Macy’s 73.1; Club Monaco, 74; the Original Levi’s Store, 76.8; Old Navy 80.3.
For the experiment a pair of professional-grade Mannix HDT303K digital thermometers were used. The temperature was measured as close to the center of each establishment as possible, away from any vents, moving air or doors. When the thermometers’ readings differed (never by more than 0.4 degrees), the two were averaged. The reporter did not announce his presence as one but entered each place of business as a normal customer would. While a few degrees’ difference might not sound like much, the feeling on bare skin can be surprising. Tiffany & Company (70.3), where a sterling silver baby rattle sells for $200, lacked the meat-locker-like sting of Hermès (68.6), which sells a stainless steel thermos for $1,200.
“There is still a status symbol in almost over-the-top air-conditioning,” Craig Childress, the director of prototype design for Envirosell, a New York-based consulting firm that studies retail stores’ designs to help them maximize sales, told the Times.
“It’s part of the whole environment package that we try to offer to our customers,” Tony Nicola, vice president for operations at Bergdorf Goodman, told the Times. “We’re offering the best of service in New York City, and what comes with that is how the store looks, how it’s lit, the cleanliness, and the temperature.”
Last year Bergdorf’s installed a new air-conditioning and heating system that features an array of software and sensors designed to keep the air near the target of 68 degrees. Nicola reportedly said.
Lower-end stores tend to be more frugal, according to the research. The 88-cent shoelaces at National Wholesale Liquidators on Broadway near Houston Street were curled up in 76.6-degree air, while half a block away, an $11.95 frosted soap pump at Crate & Barrel sat in a comparatively frosty climate of 70.9. The Energy Department says that each degree setting on a thermostat below 78 degrees increases energy consumption by 8%.
The consistency of the luxury-equals-cold pattern in the experiment was striking, according to the story. The book-strewn NoHo offices of Workman Publishing – which had a recent best seller with the lowbrow “Bad Cat,” a collection of amateur photos of strange-looking cats – were 76 degrees. The sleek, impeccable SoHo lobby of Scholastic, which publishes the best-selling Harry Potter books, was a chillier 73.