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Why We Buy: The Science Of Shopping Paperback – June 2, 2000


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (June 2, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684849143
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684849140
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.4 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (235 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #281,479 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

In an effort to determine why people buy, Paco Underhill and his detailed-oriented band of retail researchers have camped out in stores over the course of 20 years, dedicating their lives to the "science of shopping." Armed with an array of video equipment, store maps, and customer-profile sheets, Underhill and his consulting firm, Envirosell, have observed over 900 aspects of interaction between shopper and store. They've discovered that men who take jeans into fitting rooms are more likely to buy than females (65 percent vs. 25 percent). They've learned how the "butt-brush factor" (bumped from behind, shoppers become irritated and move elsewhere) makes women avoid narrow aisles. They've quantified the importance of shopping baskets; contact between employees and shoppers; the "transition zone" (the area just inside the store's entrance); and "circulation patterns" (how shoppers move throughout a store). And they've explored the relationship between a customer's amenability and profitability, learning how good stores capitalize on a shopper's unspoken inclinations and desires.

Underhill, whose clients include McDonald's, Starbucks, Estée Lauder, and Blockbuster, stocks Why We Buy with a wealth of retail insights, showing how men are beginning to shop like women, and how women have changed the way supermarkets are laid out. He also looks to the future, projecting massive retail opportunities with an aging baby-boom population and predicting how online retailing will affect shopping malls. This lighthearted look at shopping is highly recommended to anyone who buys or sells. --Rob McDonald --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Underhill, once a budding academic who worked on a William H. Whyte project analyzing how people use public spaces, adapted anthropological techniques to the world of retail and forged an innovative career with the consulting firm Envirosell. Since brand names and traditional advertising don't necessarily translate into sales, Underhill argues that retail design based on his company's closeAvery closeAobservation of shoppers and stores holds the key. His anecdotes contain illuminating detail. For example, since bookstore shoppers like to browse, baskets should be scattered throughout the store to make it easier for customers to carry their purchases. In clothing stores, fitting rooms are best placed closer to the men's department, because men choose based on fit, while women consider more variables. And he sprinkles in other smart suggestions: drugstores could boast a consolidated "men's health" department; computer stores, to attract women, should emphasize convenience and versatility, not size and speed; and clerks at luxury hotels should use hand-held computers to check in travelers from lobby chairs. Underhill remains skeptical about cyberspace retail, believing that Web sites can't offer the sensory stimuli, immediate gratification or social interaction available in brick-and-mortar stores. While the book does little to analyze the international, regional or ethnic dimensions of the subject, it should aid those in business while intriguing urban anthropologists, amateur and professional.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

Paco Underhill is the founder and CEO of Envirosell, Inc. His clients include Microsoft, McDonald's, adidas, and Estee Lauder. He is a regular contributor to The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. He lives in New York City.

Customer Reviews

A very interesting book and a very easy book to read.
Ian P. Burns
This book will help give insight into what it takes to be a successful market and how it applies in the real world to getting the products sold to the consumer.
Chris Hilt
This all seems sort of obvious, but most people running the businesses don't think it through.
oldtaku

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

113 of 114 people found the following review helpful By oldtaku on January 5, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The first four parts of this book are absolutely fascinating. It's an in depth look at the psychology of shopping and it is exactly what the title promises. Underhill's company gets paid to spy on people in stores and see what they're doing wrong and right. The gems in this book are the anecdotes and the specific revelations about how any obstacle you put in the way of a shopper drops your sales figures. Any way you can make life easier raises your sales. This all seems sort of obvious, but most people running the businesses don't think it through.

One example is the entry zone at the front of the store - you'd think that's a prime location for signage, deals, brochures, etc. But when you're headed through the door into the store you see almost nothing and stop for almost nothing, and then (in America) you tend to drift to the right and then you're 'in' the store. If you put a store directory just inside the door, nobody uses it. Move it back a bit so you can find it once you're into the store and suddenly it's heavily utilized. He has hard observational data for all these, so they're compelling in addition to being fascinating.

And of course all the bad examples are great fun to read (seniors crawling along floors trying to read labels on badly shelved medicine), as are the descriptions of how different groups shop (male vs female, old vs young, parents vs. single, etc.) The whole book is pretty much a commercial for Underhill's company, but it's still informative and fun reading.

Where the book falls down is at the end, where a chapter on the Internet is shoehorned in and a perfunctory shout out to each of Envirosell's worldwide branches is included.
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62 of 66 people found the following review helpful By Russell Belfer on November 6, 2000
Format: Paperback
I found this book to be interesting, if not mind-blowing, with a lot of basic observations about the shopping experience and the need to make measurement a fundamental part of the way we approach business. The book treads a line between feeding you specific anecdotes and findings from Mr. Underhill's research and giving you a framework for thinking about measuring and tuning your business, but it doesn't commit fully to either path. You may be left feeling like there were not actually that many interesting examples nor was a methodology sufficiently fleshed out to be useful.
I view this book as the non-scientific underpinnings of a science (contrary to the sub-title of the book). Mr. Underhill seems like the gentleman scientists of a couple hundred years ago, making excellent and valuable observations, but not having clearly articulated a scientific method that can be applied broadly. This book is certainly worth reading (and for some it may be a real eye-opener), but I feel that a definitive text on the study of buying behavior has yet to be written (or, at least, discovered by me). In favor of this book, it is a fairly easy and quick read, where perhaps a more comprehensive book would not be as accessible. Consider it ...
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30 of 30 people found the following review helpful By "papierman" on December 27, 1999
Format: Hardcover
This is a book both McDonalds and Ralph Nader would love. In this book, Underhill suggests different methods to maximize retail sales. Some include, for example, common sense solutions such as raising or lowering products so as to fall within the person's view range. Others are based on his research, such as putting a product you're pushing to the right of the best-seller. Many people will gravitate to the desired product (think of it as the magician's trick of "forcing" a card).
The book further discusses the different age groups, family configurations, and genders, and how they shop, maximizing the efficacy of signage and packaging, etc. It has many hints to increase sales over short and long periods of time.
It also advocates making stores more family-friendly. As a parent that has failed to successfully negotiate the Gap Kids' fixtures with a stroller and thus decided not to shop there again, I heartily agree with Underhill's suggestions.
Consumers should also read this book to understand the insiduous (and fascinating) means retailers are using to manipulate them into further purchases. We all know how playing Christmas music is supposed to get you in the mood to buy more. This book details different subtle ways in which retailers are modifying their stores to entice you to buy. My favorite: placing a hopscotch game on the cereal aisle, forcing parents to slow down and become more vulnerable to kids' requests for the latest Sugar Bombs. If you feel that retailers are the enemy, this book will provide further proof.
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43 of 46 people found the following review helpful By A Lover of Good Books on December 3, 1999
Format: Hardcover
When the author sticks to reporting on the things he's observed over many thousands of hours of watching actual shoppers shop, this is an informative useful book. My partner sells pottery out of a studio/gallery and we found much of the data Underhill presents relevant to our experience selling.
However, once he runs out of facts a couple of chapters into the book, Underhill pads the rest of the book out with opinions, and this is where the problems begin. While he may be an excellent observer, Underhill is a poor business analyst. He doesn't understand the dynamics of many of the businesses he comments on. Many of his suggestions are embarassingly ignorant of the realities behind the businesses he discuss, or, worse, suggest--as if he invented the concepts-- that companies should do things that they have already been doing for years.
His chapter on the Internet is a perfect example of both of these criticisms. As someone who has designed and run a successful internet sales site for 5 years I wasn't sure which was greater--his ignorance or his condescension to those of us who have actually done the pioneering work he snipes at.
So read this book with the understanding that Underhill is a pretty good anthropologically-trained note taker,whose observations have turned up several things of interest to the retailer, at the same time that he is a pathetically bad business consultant and would-be futurist, with a pathological need to self-promote and a very annoying prose style.
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