It’s All in the Framing

Reader Steve Cebalt from Fort Wayne, Ind., sent in this picture, taken at a mega-supermarket near his home.  Here’s what he  had to say about it:

Winter Snow Song

I was struck by the unapologetic, commanding, imperative, unexplanatory tone of that message. I liked it and thought it was very effective communication. Understand that this is a mega-supermarket, and that closing this exit imposes a major inconvenience on all shoppers and a hazard on elderly people who have to traverse to the opposite exit and then back to their car in blizzard conditions, so the closure of this exit door is a major issue for the store. Somehow I find the store’s imperative tone more satisfying than anything else they possibly could have said. But why does it intrigue me, and why do I find it more satisfying than the overwrought “customer-centric” tone of most similar communications I see? I have my theories, but I’d be interested in whether your readers have reactions. By the way, I discussed this with the store manager, who thought I was nuts. Not really. Actually, he said they gave that sign a lot of thought. He said the wording was very deliberate because they knew that closing that door was a major decision that affected customers significantly during the worst weather of the year…Safety? Mechanical failure? OSHA regulations? It could be a lot of things, right? 

Well, Freakonomics readers, what do you think of the language? And what’s your guess as to why the store opted to block off the door?


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  1. didi says:

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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  2. Shane says:

    I’d assume the cost of keeping a “mega-supermarket” comfortably heated during cold temperatures gets expensive and the longer and more freak-quently (ha!) the door is opened let’s more cold air air, spending more money on more heat.

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    • Sam says:

      I think that’s a fair observation. But then it becomes a question of risk-assessment. Is the payoff from saving x amount of dollars on energy bills greater than the potential loss that could arise from lawsuits as a result of an emergency situation? It could very well be that the odds of some tragic emergency occuring were so low that it made sense to take the risk. I don’t know the answer to that, but it seems rare these days for companies to place employee comfort above the need to avoid a lawsuit.

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      • Enter your name... says:

        The store pays the heating bill. The insurance company pays the lawsuit (or most of it).

        I doubt that employee comfort entered into the equation.

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  3. John says:

    A lot better than the “in order to serve you better” nonsense (out and out lie) that we usually get

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    • Ray says:

      Saw this once at my pharmacy: “In order to better serve you, the pharmacy will be closed daily from 2:30-3″

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  4. Szlachta says:

    What’s that blue thing above the thermometer? A chefs hat? Boxing glove?

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  5. Patrick Piatt says:

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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  6. Kristen Rose Loyd says:

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    • Your comment about passive voice reminds me of a blog post I once wrote:

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    • Phil Persinger says:


      I noticed the passive voice, too, but I imagine what Steve Cebalt found charming about the sign was its obvious hand- and locally-made qualities: clearly not corporate, directly addressing the fact of a closed door.

      I can also imagine that many customers are familiar with this store and have been there during cold weather. Consequently, they know how it feels to be in the check-out lines if the “offending” door is in operation. If that’s the case, the sign doesn’t really need to address issues about which other posters (who, like me, have never been to Ft. Wayne) are speculating. Basically, it’s saying, “Please use the other doors, guys; you know where they are…”

      Does Mr. Cebalt patronize this establishment? Does he walk the long, cold walk– or simply park near the other door(s)?

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      • Steve Cbealt says:

        Hi Phil, Kirsten: FYI, I answered your comments in a separate comment on the current last page of this thread, so as not to hijack this page with my long-ish response! :)

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  7. Kahomono says:

    I like when business’ communications to me are straightforward and honest. This is the apogee of that.

    The worst thing a business can do to piss me off is lie to me. :We don’t have bathrooms” is a flat-out lie. “Our bathrooms are not for public use by policy” is MUCH nicer to hear, even though it has no better result as I dance the dance….

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  8. Rick says:

    I’ve been to plenty stores that do this during bad weather. Sometimes it depends on the direction the wind blows as to which doors get closed.
    Really, how many senior citizens go out in blizzards? Not too many.
    Much to do about nothing…

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