Preppy tops and banging tunes
'The unique Abercrombie Fitch in-store experience is something that our customer wants'
Abercrombie Fitch is proud of its shopping experience, but are its noise levels too high, asks FRANK MCDONALD
The interior of Abercrombie Fitch’s new outlet on Dublin’s College Green is dark and suffused by loud music. People move around the store looking at the company’s branded goods on high stacks of shelving lit by spotlights.
The noise level in the store is exceptional by Irish standards. And while customers may spend 15 to 20 minutes there, employees must put up with it for the duration of their working hours, to deliver what the company calls its “unique AF in-store experience”.
John Mayberry, an acoustical engineer from California, told the New York Times last July that the impact of loud music “keeps out older people while teenagers venture in with their parents’ credit cards”. In this way, “you can control your audience”, he said.
Brian McKinley of DMX, the “sensory branding company” responsible for AF’s music playlists, told the newspaper that the goal was to create an “aspirational” environment. “Throbbing music and dim lights make youngsters feel as if they are in a club and entices them to stay longer.”
In the Dublin store, windows that face College Green and once offered views of the former Parliament House have been covered by blinds. Architectural details of the protected structure, including Corinthian columns and a coffered dome, are painted grey, which has the effect of making them vanish.
But it’s the noise that’s most noticeable. Tests carried out for The Irish Times by an acoustic engineer on two occasions – most recently last Friday – showed noise levels of 80 to 81 decibels (dB), compared with 72dB in River Island on Grafton Street and 69dB in Brown Thomas.
This may not seem significant, but the scale is logarithmic: every increase of three decibels doubles the sound energy. Thus, a rise of 10 dB represents a 10-fold increase in noise levels, while a rise of 20 decibels is equivalent to a hundred-fold increase.
Thus, the following noise exposures are identical – 80dB for eight hours, 83dB for four hours, 86dB for two hours, 89dB for one hour, and 92dB for 30 minutes. An exposure to 95dB for just 15 minutes is equivalent to a daily noise-exposure level of 80dB.
“In [a] jeweller’s, the level would be just 35 to 40dB – nice and quiet,” our expert says. “In a bar with amplified music or a nightclub, you could have levels of 95 to 100dB, which would be a problem for staff. The crowd roar in Croke Park could be as high as 105dB.”
Stephen Sealey, managing director of Brown Thomas, says music in its store “is designed to create a relaxing and pleasant shopping environment and at no time is intrusive”. When asked about the readings in its store, River Island said: “We don’t disclose publicly the information you’ve enquired about.”