Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping


Why We Buy


When you step into a store or shopping environment, have you ever wondered why signs are placed where they are or why there is two feet of walking in between isles? Paco Underhill, the author of Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping, created a company in which he and his colleagues credited themselves on mastering the science of shopping.  Big name corporations would hire him and his company to execute research in their establishments, whether it is a department store or a family restaurant, and determine how they can be more efficient in their selling strategies.  Through his years of service, Underhill has uncovered incredibly insightful  bits of information that have allowed these companies who get the help of Underhill to have one up on the competition.


Men, Women, and even children all have different shopping patterns.  Through hundreds of hours of video observation, Paco Underhill has uncovered the insights and behaviors that have allowed business to see massive increases in profits.  One of the first findings Underhill found was the idea of “butt brushing”.  “Butt brushing” is the occurrence that takes place in a store where the isles are not wide enough and as a result, Paco found that people were immediately dismissing their purchases due to the overcrowding of the store.  When Underhill witnessed this during his video research, he suggested that the store increase the width of the isle.  As a result, the store experienced a massive jump in their sales.


Another interesting excerpt from the book, which most relates to my life and experiences, is how women shop.  Working in a high-end retail boutique, I constantly come in contact with various kinds of shoppers; the quick in and outers, the touchers, the wanderers, and the ones that come in with their husbands.  After reading Why We Buy, Underhill has opened my eyes to these clients thoughts and behaviors.  One of the first things he stated in the chapter devoted to female shoppers is the fact that women are reluctant to ask for help out of embarrassment.  Whether they are shopping for make-up or dresses, if these female shoppers are unable to find what they are looking for, they will leave the store without asking any questions, therefore leaving the store with a lost sale.  I experience this daily at my job.  Whenever someone walks in, they are immediately greeted and asked if they need help findng anything.  Nine times out of ten, the answer is no even though my colleagues and I know that they need something in particular.  Through probing questions with the client, we can usually get to the bottom of what they are looking for and make their shopping experience more pleasant.


Another interesting aspect of the female shopping pattern is their shopping times.  When a female is shopping with another female, the average shopping time is 8 minutes and 15 seconds.  When a female is shopping with a man, the time is cut to 4 minutes and 41 seconds.   With this massive cut in shopping time, Paco suggested that retailers place areas for men to be distracted by so they are not bothering the women.  He did this in Pfaltzgraff, a ceramic dish maker.  Through his ethnographic research, he found that men skipped over the plates and immediately went for the glass department, specifically the beer mugs.  Paco suggested that the store put in fake beer taps as well as masculine signage showing a man pouring beer to increase the stimuli that the men would experience.  The store did it and not only did the shopping times increase, so did the sales of beer mugs and cups.


Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping was a truly fascinating read.  Not only did it allow me to learn things about my current profession and offer me tips on how to increase the sales, it also helped me reconfirm the importance of everything I have been taught.  Through very in depth research, whether it be video watching or on site ethnographic research, by studying the way people shop, you can learn their attitudes and behaviors and use these habits to the retailers advantage and position and place items in certain ways that will help sky rocket sales.  I would recommend this book to anyone!


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