When silence was golden

After coughing up blood, or something similarly red, for rather a long time, Circuit City is most sincerely dead, and in lieu of actually dancing on the corpse, a CC insider recounts one of the company’s more egregious failings:

In the late 90s, Best Buy emerged as the first serious competitor to Circuit City since the demise of Silo Electronics. After only a few years, BB had a commanding lead over CC in terms of market share, so CC did the fashionable thing and hired focus groups (ugh) to analyze what brought customers into each store. Many answers were returned, but one that seemed to resonate with upper management was that customers chose to go to Circuit City because it was a quiet store, and they felt it was a very professional and businesslike atmosphere. They could talk to a product specialist and take their time making up their mind, and unlike other places, they could hear themselves think. To them, coming to Circuit City carried the same level of importance they’d give to a visit to a bank or real estate agent, and the level of trust they placed in us was the same.

Upper management took one look at this, and their immediate conclusion was “QUIET!?!? We’re QUIET??? We don’t want to be known as ‘the quiet store’! That kind of image will kill us! Quiet is boring! Our customers want something fun and exciting, to motivate them to spend their money! They’ll never want to spend their money in a quiet store!”

So, the decree went out. Stores had to do whatever it took to not be quiet. TVs had to be turned on with movie demos playing at 50% volume, minimum. Home audio and car stereos had to have radios playing. Video games had to be cranked up, and computers were to have at least one laptop with bad-boy speakers hooked up for “multimedia demos”. The idea was that you could never go so far away from one sound that another wouldn’t start to take it’s place. The store was to be “A SEA OF SOUND AND EXCITEMENT”. Now, you take that, and add in all the unintended sounds, like phones going off, loudspeaker pages, and security alarms (which NEVER worked right) beeping, and the din was just chaotic.

It was hell to work in, but no one seemed to care because it was “for the customers”. Yet, the customers didn’t like it either. They’d bitch and moan that they couldn’t hear our conversation over the noise. They’d complain to the front desk. They’d even walk out in frustration. The ones that went to a manager would be told “Well, you don’t understand … this is something you’re supposed to like! This way, we give you an exciting, vibrant store instead of a ghost town! You don’t realize it, but you like this!”

Well, it’s certainly quiet now.

It never ceases to amaze me how many people fail to comprehend this simple concept: “Do not presume to tell me what I want or what I should want. You will be wrong.” And that goes double for the government that’s supposed to be working for us.

Addendum: “Meh,” says Lileks:

They lost my business years ago during a cellphone signup. They also had a Soviet-flavored model for getting your merch — you’d pay for it at one place, present the receipt, and wait for someone to bring it from the back. Haste and cheer did not seem high on the agenda, and they also seemed to specialize in oily young managers who oozed a slick of avarice, lechery, failure and contempt. Three out of four I can take if I must, but they hit all the wrong notes.

Sounds like the Law Firm from Hell. “Good morning, Avarice, Lechery, Failure and Contempt. How may I neglect your call?”


  1. Kay Dennison »

    19 January 2009 · 11:58 pm

    Our Circuit City store was quiet and the geeks who worked there helpful unlike their competitor whose geeks are far too good-looking to be true geeks and would rather talk to the cute chick with the maxed out credit cards than the old broad with cold hard cash. I shall miss it.

  2. fillyjonk »

    20 January 2009 · 7:21 am

    Oh, goodness, now I remember the circles-of-hell model of getting ANYTHING purchased and activated at Circuit City. (I’m not a big electronics buyer, but I have shopped there in the past).

    And what kind of FLAMING IDIOTS in management decided that the customers were wrong for liking quiet? I would like to bring back the stocks just for them. I loathe with the heat of a thousand suns the new business model that says every store must have noise levels approaching that of a Chuck E. Cheese on a teacher in-service day.

    I have walked out of stores that had music that was too loud playing. Yes, I know that makes me officially an Old Fart but I tend to believe that if a store’s too loud for you to hear yourself think, it’s so you can’t contemplate whether you’re getting ripped off or not before you purchase.

    At least now when some store or restaurant I like craps things up and ruins them, I can blame it on stupid management deciding to do the opposite of what focus groups say they actually like.

  3. McGehee »

    20 January 2009 · 8:14 am

    I’ll admit my first thought on reading what the focus group said was, “Obviously the stores are quiet because they have hardly any customers.” But I’ll be damned if I would have addressed that by turning the place into Dante’s Library.

  4. Huts »

    20 January 2009 · 11:45 am

    That’s one of the reason’s I liked CC better than BB. There is too much going on at BB. I don’t feel like I can casually look at anything. It makes me feel like I have to rush to get what I came in for and get out. I’ll miss CC. Maybe I’ll get a good clearance deal on something.

  5. CT »

    20 January 2009 · 1:17 pm

    Completely aside from this specific episode: Am I the only one who was disappointed to not see any headlines invoke the “Easy Button” when announcing CC’s demise? I was tempted to post something just so I could cook up a cleverish hed incorporating it myself…

  6. CGHill »

    20 January 2009 · 2:19 pm

    That would work if we could figure out some way to blame all this on Staples. You can be absolutely certain that CC management isn’t blaming it on themselves.

  7. Tatyana »

    20 January 2009 · 5:23 pm

    Thanks for reminder: I have to drop in to check those HDTV prices

  8. fillyjonk »

    20 January 2009 · 5:58 pm

    I thought the “Easy Button” was a Staples gimmick.
    But then again, I think they might be in bankruptcy too.

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