Burlington Coat Factory Ethnography

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Burlington Coat Factory is not what I would call an aesthetically pleasing store. The fluorescent lights are almost blinding, the signs above the racks of clothing are incredibly plain, the displays don’t all match; Burlington Coat Factory is not the place to go for a relaxing shopping experience. But just because it doesn’t share the same aesthetic-oriented goals as retail establishments like Starbucks, doesn’t mean it doesn’t design its stores to best serve its customers. In fact, the plain, warehouse-like layout of the store is exactly what its target customers want. Burlington shoppers want to save and they want to know exactly what they’re saving. This is why Burlington Coat Factory has designed the layout of its stores and the displays to focus on the type of deal the customer is receiving and exactly how good that deal is. Burlington Coat Factory has also designed its stores to cater to its two main types of customers: shoppers looking for brand names at lower prices and more value-oriented shoppers who disregard brand names for low prices.

If you enter the Burlington Coat Factory store at 11th and Market in Center City Philadelphia the first thing you will encounter is a massive sign reading, “BIG SALE Up to 80% off Department Store Prices”. At this moment, you know two things: one, you are not in a department store (so you shouldn’t expect plush carpets and lush decorations) and two, you are in for some BIG savings. Burlington Coat Factory is all about the savings. Everywhere you look you see ‘up to 65% off this brand’ and ‘up to 50% off that brand’; the deals are entirely unavoidable. The main decorations on the walls of the store are its slogans, which also emphasize a customer’s possible savings.

“Everyone loves a great buy!”
“Hot looks, cool prices.”
“Fashion sense meets common sense.”
Phrases like these are plastered on every wall and every pillar in the store. Accompanying these catchy slogans are pictures of over-excited young adults modeling clothing that you would assume came from the store. However if you ask any salesperson, none of them will be able to locate the outfits pictured. As a matter of fact, most of them will admit that they’ve never seen the clothing modeled in the photographs in the store before. The photos are included to set the mood, they exemplify people who are happy and excited about the clothing they have bought (presumably because they received a sizeable discount).

The first floor of the store consists of women’s clothing and accessories. The second floor features youth clothing, the third men’s, and the fourth outerwear and home goods. If you’re a woman who is shopping for both regular clothing and jackets you must travel to both the top and bottom floor. The most convenient method for traveling to these floors is the escalator. But in order to go up repeatedly on the escalator you have to walk in a circle, so you end up seeing half of the level you’re currently on. In Crawford’s “The World in a Shopping Mall” she details how malls are designed to control the flow of customers. Escalators are strategically placed at each end of the mall, requiring visitors to travel the length of the building to go up or down a floor (Crawford 1992:12). The design of this Burlington Coat Factory reflects this clever concept. Burlington’s design is meant to encourage women to be sidetracked as they head up or down to the floors they would most likely be shopping on. Additionally, the company wants women to be distracted by home goods while shopping for outerwear so it placed the two departments on one floor together. Furthermore, on the first floor in the middle between the shoes and the clothing you will find a random display of children’s toys. Because the majority of Burlington’s customers on the weekends are women with children, placing toys in the area where women spend most of their time shopping is meant to attract the attention of the shopper’s youthful prisoners. Kids are...
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