Thursday, September 25, 2008

Field Report

Walking towards Abercrombie & Fitch, I can already hear the thumping of the upbeat house music blasting away inside. This store is apparently intended for college kids. I pass by dark massive louvers with glimpses of light peeping out. The merchandise is barely visible from a quick glance. The wall behind the giant doors is plastered with an oversized grayscale image of a shirtless male model. Once I step inside, I am greeted by a model working in the front room with the season's tagline, "Hey, how's it going?". The strong aroma of the fragrance that's sprayed consistently throughout the day hits me. The music and the fragrance follows me as I stroll around the seven different rooms of the store. The lighting is very dim inside. I carefully maneuver around the plants with oversized leaves sprouting out at all angles. The ceilings are dark grey with small yellow lights scattered around. The clothes are all in perfect rectilinear piles, meticulously stacked with XL always at the bottom, and XS sitting at the top. The layout in the rooms resemble a large closet, with the numerous rectangular cavities in the walls with racks of organized clothing. The season's newest merchandise are on the mannequins and the employees themselves. I confuse the employees with the shoppers at times, since there is no official uniform, name badge, or any type of employee identification. I learn to identify them by their actions, such as tidying or folding up stacks of clothes, coming out of the stockroom, or simply clocking in or ringing up an order at the cash wrap. Contrasting to the dim store interior, the dressing rooms are brightly lit and spacious, with a large mirror and bench. I exit the store with a large Abercrombie shopping bag with thick fabric handles, and receive a smile, goodbye and thank you from the same model in the front who greeted me a little while ago. I leave the store as a walking advertisement for Abercrombie & Fitch.
The Apple store is never empty. Even if there are no customers, there is an army of employees always ready to assist you. The window displays are simple, but eye-catching with their large scale. The windows are kept to a minimal distraction and are transparent so the merchandise in the store can be fully visible to the window shoppers. The ambiance is relaxed, though a party atmosphere thrives inside, with all the employees chatting with the shoppers, not only about the electronics, but also small talk. On the parallel wooden tables, the electronics are laid out and ready to be played with. I see customers checking their e-mail, browsing through Safari, taking photos with their friends on the Macs, listening to their favorite artists on the iPods, or watching music videos. Adults are in their grown-up candy store. The ceiling has generic fluorescent lights and scattered trios of small yellow lights. With all the computer and electronic screens simultaneously turned on, the store illuminates. The interior is minimal and plain (such as grey floor tiles) shifting the attention to the merchandise. Customers visit the Apple store to play with the electronics in the unique ambiance and environment. I can walk to any section of the store and pull over an employee to assist me either right away or in a timely manner. There is not a clear central register station, so you pay for purchases wherever you are standing in the store with the employee. After making a small purchase, a matte white drawstring bag with the light grey Apple logo on it is provided. It is a subtle and modest bag.
I pass by a T-Mobile kiosk with classmates. The employee stops to ask us if we are doing a project, seeing us all holding notebooks. He tells us that he thinks his kiosk area is rather dark and plain, situated in an unfriendly location. With Barton Creek Mall located in a relatively wealthy area, he says the shoppers are harder to approach than the Highland Mall shoppers, who are more laid-back. He is trying to sell to us, as I pass by several other kiosks with employees engaged in their own personal activities. I pass a small coffee stand in an open, bright location in the center where the employee working there is typing away on his laptop with his earbuds plugged in. I could not find the name of the coffee stand anywhere, nor did I glimpse at the menu. When I pass the employee, he looks up from his computer screen, throws me a cold stare, and returns to his virtual state. The next kiosk I encounter, Sunny Shades, has an employee with his laptop cracked open in front of him, and texting on his cellphone. Another employee at a nearby hair jewelry kiosk is talking loudly into her cellphone in Chinese and eagerly pacing back and forth. The employee at the Godiva chocolate stand I pass by next notices me eyeing the display boxes, and asks if I'd like to purchase any chocolate today. I tell him I shouldn't, and he smiles and with formality tells me to have a nice day in return.
The diversity of stores is what completes the mall. Each store has its own way of luring in shoppers and making them revisit in the future. First impressions are very important in luring shoppers into a store, so the exterior appeal and brand identity are some of the top priorities. The mall is like a collection of different short stories woven into a novel. No two stores have the same identity, and shoppers have a different experience walking through each store, with sight, touch, smell, and sound.

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