Why is Walmart so noisy and Nordstrom’s so quiet. And why, almost without exception, are mass-market retail environments, and the packaging contained within them, a visual and aural riot while more upscale retail stores are often a study in calm. Where did this come from?
Dwight Garner has a review in the NY Times, titled Meditations on Noise, that reviews three books on the cultural implications of noise in our lives. Here is a quote from his review that got me thinking.
“You can judge a person’s clout — his or her social and political standing — by witnessing how much racket he or she must regularly endure. Those who lack silence in their lives tend to be the politically weak, whether the poor (investment bankers don’t live near runways) or laborers or soldiers or prisoners or children. In creating noise that others must live with, we display our contempt for those weaker than ourselves. Hear us roar; eat our exhaust.”
It got me speculating on comparisons between the noise an individual is subjected to in their lives and the noise they are subjected to in their retail experiences. I don’t pretend to understand why, but it does seem that the person who is likely to live in a noisy environment is the same individual that is subjected to the wild and intimidating retail experiences of the dollar stores, the fast food restaurants, and the strip malls.
While those who live along the leafy edges of Central Park or hushed suburban cul-de-sacs have easy access to much more restrained retail choices.
And the brand identities and package design within these two types of retail environments, at least until recently, seems to be consistent with the notion that mass-market is noisy, while expensive is quiet. Pick almost any product category from breakfast cereal or potato chips or skin care or chocolate bars, the pattern has stayed fairly consistent.
But there is evidence that this is changing. I have written often about the simplification taking place in the retail shelves, and a recent food store audit seemed to confirm that the volume is being dialed down in most aisles. The chip bag images above are typical of the diverse decibel level that can be seen now in most categories.
Perhaps marketers are beginning to realize that with increasingly complex and noisy lifestyles, consumers are often looking to the time spent in the stores as a more personal and reflective time. A time for all of us, regardless of means, to make important choices, quietly, peacefully, and personally without all the yelling.