Why are department store ceilings so high?
January 30, 2010 3:36 PM   Subscribe

Why are department store ceilings so high?

I see the ceilings and they are very high, some maybe two stories high. Why make them so high? The heating and the cooling costs are higher. It takes more material to build such a building. The company could save money by making a smaller store and pass the savings onto the customers.
posted by abbat to Shopping (10 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
They feel light, airy and less crowded. It's visually impressive -- important places are big, like theaters, churches, courthouses, etc., and stores want to look important and valuable.

It's also easier to set up impressive, sometimes temporary, displays that make use of the height, such as big signage, display cases, Christmas decorations, etc. Tall ceilings make it easier to see from one side of the store to the other, so if you're shopping for shoes, and you suddenly want some shirts, you can look up and find the section of the store where the shirts are. There may even be a sign directing you.

It's also easier to move freight around with forklifts if you need to.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:53 PM on January 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

When the Auckland domestic airport terminal was remodelled they purposefully put in lower ceilings in the areas they don't want people to linger, near the check in areas etc where people have to queue then get out of the way. The lower ceilings made it less pleasant to be in those areas and made you feel like moving on (it works too, and is actually kind of horrible). Department stores, on the other hand, want you to spend time in there looking around and feeling comfortable because then you'll spend money. Lower ceilings will make you want to rush off somewhere else. Add in the stuff Cool Papa Bell mentioned too and you're probably a long way towards the full reasons.

Everything they do in there is to make you spend money. How the displays are set up, how the place smells, the music playing, the layout of the displays, it's all designed to set a certain atmosphere or make you feel a certain way so you want to buy more of their stuff.
posted by shelleycat at 4:10 PM on January 30, 2010 [7 favorites]

Some of the points raised in this askme question about heating/cooling in large buildings might have something to do with it.
posted by cobaltnine at 5:00 PM on January 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Ceiling Height Can Affect How A Person Thinks, Feels And Acts

See also Paco Underhill's "Call of the Mall." "Mall Maker," which I just stumbled across, also looks fascinating.
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:05 PM on January 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Because the area is so large, the ceilings have to be higher, otherwise it would feel claustrophobic, like the ceiling was caving in. Also, it's easier to light stores if the lights are as high as possible; otherwise, the shelves would block out most of the light.
posted by Sys Rq at 5:23 PM on January 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

I would also imagine it is a bigger help for security cameras to be able to have a wide area to survey with better camera angles.
posted by NoraCharles at 6:42 PM on January 30, 2010

Department signage is more effective when the the ceiling allows for it to be placed high enough to see from almost anywhere in the store.
posted by Witty at 7:30 PM on January 30, 2010

In addition, more air needed for numerous customers during the rush hour. Otherwise ventilation would blow your hair off. Lack off fresh air is a common problem in the public space, and may make people pass out etc. Furthermore, the commercial buidlings are seldom designed for a specific type of store or use. Thus, higher ceilings make the space suitable for wider variety of purposes, and a better business.

posted by Doggiebreath at 5:13 AM on January 31, 2010

In addition to the psychological & practical effects mentioned above, large amounts of unused space convey a sense of wealth. Think of the long, meandering drive up to mansion - it communicates "we're so rich, we don't need to crowd our space with stuff."

In New York City, the regulations stipulate square feet of floor vs. square feet of land the building takes up, though I'm sure there are limits to this too, so regulation wise, having high ceilings isn't much of a penalty.
posted by MesoFilter at 11:17 AM on January 31, 2010

If you're interested in how these department-store conventions developed, William Leach's Land of Desire might be worth reading.
posted by box at 11:39 AM on January 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

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