Wednesday 11 January 2012

An open and shut case

Opening doors seem to emerge as metaphors for so many things, and in so many different fields and disciplines. From the football commentator's description of a team's defence being "like an open door", to doorways ( and stairways) to heaven, to many an artist's depiction of light and dark either side of a doorway. This seems to be a very long way from the pure functionality of a door!

When we launched the Energy Look Out initiative a couple of months ago, inviting people to tell us examples of everyday energy wastage in Norwich, we had several comments about the practice of shops and stores wedging doors open, with the consequent huge and rapid loss of heat from inside to out. Years ago, as a Councillor, I had occasion to take up this very issue with particular shops in Norwich following complaints.

The reason that shops do this is based on the belief that the door's position influences their footfall - that rather irritating commercial term used to describe how many customers actually go into the shop. To customers, of course, the feeling of warmth once inside is more important. This also applies often to the shop workers! So here we have a nice little microcosm of what is at the heart of promoting carbon reduction generally:
  • the differences in perception from one group of people to another over the same issue
  • a firmly held belief that is not actually supported by evidence (see below)
  • a linkage between commercial practice and public behaviour
  • a widespread practice that is actually responsible for high carbon emissions and financial cost, and which does not involve any cost or investment to change
Back to the doors. There is actually a national campaign to encourage the shutting of shop doors in the winter months - see here. To their credit, some shops in Norwich have signed up to this and display the sticker on their door to say so. The one here is at Oxfam in Bedford Street.

The campaign - started by 3 women in Cambridge - has now been endorsed by a number of well known politicians across the political spectrum, and has been signed up to by a range of the larger chains.

The practice of propping doors open persists, however....all the more surprising when the research carried out by Cambridge University on the energy and carbon wastage involved says shutting the door will:
  • Reduce energy usage by up to 50%

  • Cut a shop’s annual CO2 emissions by up to 10 tonnes of CO2

  • Maintain energy use at a standard low level

  • Enable heating to be shut off long before the end of the day without affecting internal temperatures

  • Stop need for so-called “air curtains” over the door – among the greatest wasters of energy: a single one consumes 24 kWh per day. This is equivalent to emitting 91 kg CO2 per week.

    The research found no conclusive evidence that footfall or transactions were affected by closing the shop door.(2)

This last point - "air curtains" are the commercial description for those fan heaters placed over open doors - is particularly poignant. Consider that the average household electricity consumption, for a whole house, is calculated as about 9 kWh per day, and you can see just how wasteful these contraptions are. My own household consumption now runs at an average of less than 1 kWh per day - more about that later when we talk about the whole subject of Energy in our theme week next week.

I never thought I would get so excited about doors.

Pictures Top: Waterstones in Back of The Inns, who keep 2 separate doors wedged open; Middle: Jarrolds Stores, Exchange Street, who keep all their doors shut; Bottom: Oxfam in Bedford Street, who keep their door shut and display the sticker


  1. Very exciting, looking forward to the next steps we get to take that will "open minds and close doors!"

  2. And that excitement is very contagious, Chris. Great post!

  3. Shops that heat the great outdoors annoy me too!
    However, sometimes all is not quite as it seems.
    On one occasion, I complained to the manager of a large department store about his wedged open door. Apparently, the problem was that the combination of a large number of shoppers and the in store lighting was causing the shop to overheat - with the heating off! So the open door was offering some help in cooling even though it was a fairly cold day.
    To be fair the shop concerned has had a major refit with more efficient lighting and now keeps its doors closed.

  4. Having a closed door I have noticed makes potential new customers walking past outside, who have never been in the shop before, feel unwanted, that they are 'not part of our club', as they are not already 'familiar faces'.

    Having a closed door means that they have no opportunity to 'feel' their way to the shop door - can they smell something? Soaps? Incense? Bakery smells? Flowers? Coffee? Yummy food? This denies them a chance to 'engage' with what they might find inside what may be a new shop to them, people who perhaps are unused to shopping anywhere but a big multi-national.

    Can they hear something? Gentle music? Tinkling of wind-chimes? The sound of water? Gentle chit-chat? The laughter of children? No - this is also denied - the door is firmly closed. Perhaps they should walk on, and not 'intrude' on the 'privacy' of the shop with the closed front door.

    An open door is welcoming.
    An open door is non-committing.
    An open door means they can 'earwig' a little first, and may give them something to 'hang' the idea of coming inside on, eg 'what's that music you're playing?' or 'what's the 'special' on the menu today?'

    An open door is freeing and means they can 'bolt' if they have to.

    An open door means a 70% more likely 'head-round-the-door to have a peek' as opposed to a 'no, let's not open the closed door, let's walk on'.

    There is precious little to help us continue to trade, in an economy which has been diving since 2007-8. We are hammered with higher electricity fees than domestic unit-rates, higher phone-line rental than domestic. Higher bank fees, where we pay to put money in, as well as take it out, pay for every transaction - even getting change we're charged a fee, and don't get me started on those costly little card-machines we have to rent forever because 'everyone expects to be able to pay by card', leaving us paying for the second phone line, the electricity, the percentage fees per 'swipe' - we even have to buy the flippin' paper it uses: the most expensive, of course, is what it requires! We pay high insurance, rising yet higher, post-riots. We have little money for advertising, like the big-boys do - and we are hardly on a level playing-field for anything related to how business is these days.

    Thousands of us are simply giving up.

    A closed door is pretty much ALL we will have soon, as we have our livelihoods disappearing along with our homes.

    And no, we're not turning up the heat in winter - we can't afford it! Customers come in in their coats, and are a little warmer than outside, we just get used to being cold! That’s the way it goes! - and we'll afford the heating even less with a closed door resulting in passers by doing just that: passing us by.

    No, I will keep my door open, and so be able to keep smiling to those outside, keep singing out a cheery 'hello, you're welcome to browse!', and hope that people feel comfortable and at ease, with the door open behind them.

    FROM: A Norwich “small-shop” shop-keeper

  5. I have to say that this idea is one which may work with big stores: department stores, big-sized chains whose shop floor covers many square feet and multi-floors - but it most certainly will likely contribute to the destruction of the small, independent shop, who can lose up to 90% of customers when the shop door is closed!

    People feel that to turn the handle on a firmly-shut front door, and to then 'visibly' enter a small shop, where perhaps they are the only customer in the room, somehow commits them to making a purchase, otherwise they are 'wasting our time' by browsing. This attitude may seem novel to the confident type who is happy to 'be the only one in the room' and sing out a 'hello' to the staff, but to many punters, this is a very unnerving experience.

    Perhaps some of you think this attitude old-fashioned, but I can assure it exists in a high percentage of customers! It may be a legacy of 1950s-type old-style shopping behaviours and attitudes, like the "hello Mrs Bloggs, and can I get you your usual order of three yards of knicker elastic and a bobbin, and a side of salted parsnips today?", a time where when you shopped "everyone knew your name", and when you went into a shop, you went in to BUY something, and not 'malinger' getting under their feet: you might be amazed how many people still shove their heads round the door and say "is it OK to have a look around? We aren't going to BUY anything today though!"

    Bewildered by the idea that there's a real-life human behind a counter, or walking around the shop with them, many people feel immediately 'caught on the hop', having had plucked up their courage to even have the temerity to enter the premises. It’s a real skill, the art of the shop-assistant being present but not ‘in your face’, being ready to help, but not the intense ‘can I help you?’ interrogation which can be unnerving for people. Facing a closed door, all my many years of shop-keeping show me that most will decide "maybe I won't bother", and simply walk away, to shop - as always - with the familiar anonymity of the big-name store, where few notice you enter or exit.

    Having a closed door and making the customer open and close it themselves, in my 40-years-plus experience, seems to make people feel as though they are being 'watched' by the beady eye of the shop assistant, and that every noise they make, or item they look at, must also be 'noted' and observed. They will quickly feel uncomfortable, and leave - usually slamming the door behind them and shaking the shop to bits, and making any other browsers feel even more awkward.

    Having a closed door I have noticed makes potential new customers walking past outside, who have never been in the shop before, feel unwanted, that they are 'not part of our club', as they are not already 'familiar faces'. Some people even ask "am I allowed to come in?" - yes! Really!

    Having a closed door means that they have no opportunity to 'feel' their way to the idea of coming in through the shop door - it immediately makes them uneasy. Whereas if the door was open, then they can consider the idea. Also: can they smell something? Soaps? Incense? Bakery smells? Flowers? Coffee? Yummy food? The closed door denies them a chance to 'engage' with what they might find inside what may be a new shop to them, especially if they are the kind of people who perhaps are unused to shopping anywhere but a big multi-national.

  6. In response to concerns posted by Anon Shop Keeper(s):
    Dear Friends, none of us want to see you suffer further downturns in your business at all! That is NOT the point of this activity. There is some GOOD JOINED UP THINKING involved in this campaign. Take heart, read on.
    1. No small shop in a lane or street will be alone in the door shutting exercise. The objective is to ask everyone in the same area to do the same, so the shoppers are experiencing the same phenomena door to door.
    2. There will be press releases sent out to put the public "in the know" - so they can feel like they are taking an active part in supporting these changes by going in shops who have signed up to shut their door.
    3. There will also be free publicity availabe to shops who sign up -- posted on the Close the Door website, and mentions in further press notices.
    Thanks to your comments, we can start thinking about ways to make "opening the door" inviting for the public.