– How businesses decide on the perfect temperature
From gyms to coffee shops, here’s how businesses decide on the temperature of their establishment – one of the most crucial and overlooked elements in customer satisfaction and comfort.
We’ve all had the experience of walking into a coffee shop or a clothing store and feeling instantly uncomfortable. Perhaps it’s the height of summer and you’re wearing shorts and a T-shirt, but the air conditioning is turned up so high that you start shivering as soon as you walk in. Or maybe it’s freezing cold outside and once you’ve taken off your layers of clothing you realise you’re sitting right by the door which people keep leaving open, causing an unpleasant cold draught to hit every few minutes.
As a customer, you may not think much of it – you leave the establishment and go on with your day. But you probably won’t go back and you’re unlikely to recommend it, and that’s the opposite of what businesses want.
A number of studies dating back decades have shown how temperatures can shape perception and emotions. A 2009 study published in Psychological Science demonstrated that is a direct correlation between the social interactions within a space and the room’s temperature.
For businesses, the consideration is threefold – they want to keep the temperature comfortable enough that customers have a pleasant experience, they want to increase the expenditure of each customer and they need to keep staff comfortable.
Alison Edgar is a business coach who works with businesses around the world, and in particular across the Middle East. She encourages her clients to think carefully about ambient temperature early on. She said: “In my opinion, it fits into Marlow’s hierarchy of needs [a psychological framework which establishes the human needs which need to be fulfilled to achieve motivation and success]. Until the physiological needs have been met, people can’t move onto anything else.”
The general consensus is that the “perfect” office temperature is 71.6F – although the reality is often more complex, with women requiring higher temperatures for comfort, for example. But what about the perfect temperature to encourage people to buy things?
Lena, 38, runs a small vintage shop in Paris, as well as a coffee shop. The psychology of both businesses is quite different. “It sounds sneaky but I always keep the shop at a slightly higher temperature, because the longer people spend browsing, the more likely they are to spend money,” she explains. “In the coffee shop, the longer people are sitting there after they’ve finished the drink, the worse for me financially because I can’t get in more paying customers.”
She doesn’t want to make her customers uncomfortable, but a bit of a chill can speed up customer turnover just enough. Lena says this is particularly important in the summer when people are more predisposed towards spending money.
“In Paris, summers are hot and stuffy and not that many people have air conditioning at home, so I want to make sure the shop feels like a cool oasis that they never want to leave. I think a lot about myself as a consumer and if I spent 20 minutes walking around a shop I’d probably buy something out of guilt, or not wanting to waste time, so if I can make them want to stay, I think I can probably increase what I make,” she explained.
Karen Kwong is the CEO of business consultancy RenOC. She echoes Lena’s thoughts when it comes to setting the temperature of the premises.
“Shop temperatures will affect everything from customer buying decisions, how long they are in the shop for and their mood. People who are too hot can become cranky and irritable, leading to rudeness and short tempers,” Karen explained. “If the shop is too cold, this will greatly affect sales as consumers won't stay long enough to buy anything. In America, this can be a problem in the summer when everything is air-conditioned, people struggle to stay in the shop for too long before needing to go outside for some warmth.”
Of course, there are a number of other factors that go into the customer comfort process – from decor to music and staff training – but the temperature is perhaps one of the most subconscious, something customers rarely notice but requires a lot of careful consideration on the part of businesses of all sizes.
Keith McNiven is 35 and the founder of Right Path Fitness, a personal training company which is about to open its first studio in London. He said: “Not a lot of people notice temperature differences at the gym, but they're often set with a purpose.” Keith explained that due to the varying uses of different rooms, it’s crucial to think about how to set different temperatures for a weights room, compared to a yoga studio, a social area or a changing room.
“Most gyms tend to keep the rooms cooler than you'd have in a shop or at home. Think of it this way: when you walk into a shop, you want to envelop by the warmth (if it's cold outside) whereas, at the gym, you want to walk in and feel the energy – and the cooler air actually helps, because it's like a gust of wind and it also makes you want to get moving to heat up. It's two birds, one stone.” he explained.
Like in Lena’s case, for Keith, it’s crucial to his business that his customers have a positive experience and feel as comfortable as possible working out, especially considering people are prone to abandon healthy habits.
Karen encourages businesses to think carefully about what temperature they want to set and how to use this often overlooked element to improve their offering. “It shouldn’t be a surprise to know that temperature can really impact one’s mood, behaviour and decisions,” she said. “It’s like the story of the frog who will jump out of boiling water but if the water is gently boiled, it will stay in and not know it is slowly being boiled to death.”
Of course, no consumer likes to think of him or herself as a frog being manipulated, but the truth is that temperature impacts us all – from our perception of space to our desire to part with our hard-earned money to support the business. Temperature control can sometimes feel like a thankless task that customers will rarely comment on. One thing is clear though – any customer-facing business that wants to improve its offering should think carefully about this often-overlooked element of creating ambience. For those of us popping into a cafe or hoping to enjoy a shopping experience, it can make all the difference – even if we don’t realise it.