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Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping Paperback – June 30, 2001
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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 alternate Paperback edition.
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 alternate Paperback edition.
Top customer reviews
I am unsure what the purpose of the chapters about his global offices is.
But when I bought the new version recently with, the subtitle of "Revised for the Internet", I was hoping Mr. Underhill would have evolved his point-of-view on the role of the Internet and perhaps taking a mea culpa stance about his mistaken prediction. But he didn't really. The same line is in there (on page 168) with no alteration. And the Chapter on the Internet is woefully lacking. A first year analyst at our firm could provide more insightful observations on the impact of the Internet on today's retail environment and Mr. Underhill seems to be more intent on defending his original statement than offering up an enlightened perspective informed by his obvious expertise in retail and human behavior.
Let's look at the fact: while absolute online sales still only represents about 8% of US retail sales, that is still far from just a minor sideshow but one might still argue his point that, at less than 10% of all sales, it is still not seriously threatening physical retail. But Amazon is obviously a major retail power at this point and strikes fear into the heart of almost every traditional retailer in the market except perhaps Wal-Mart. It is the consumers' changing behavior as a result of the Internet and of mobile along with the innovation at places like Amazon, Google, and all across Silicon Valley, that are forcing a re-definition of retailing. Mr. Underhill - the Internet is absolutely causing a seismic shift in retail that cannot be denied. In 2011, according to some research papers, more than half of retail sales were attributed to "Web lnfluenced sales" (the offline purchase was influenced by online research. I think this is overstated in terms of 2011 impact based on some of our research; however, it is more than just a complement - it is a major driving force. Forrester recently predicted that more than $1.6 trillion dollars in retail sales by 2016 will be attributed to cross-channel sales and, when you combine that with direct eCommerce sales, that is again pointing to more than half of the retail activity being directly impacted by the Internet. Let's not forget that e-Commerce sales are growing by 17% per year, far outpacing the rest of retail, but, again, more importantly, the role digital and the Internet play in the overall shopping experience is the radical change in shopping behaviors. It is the integrated, omni-channel experience that is what is transformational for retailers and shoppers today and Mr. Underhill barely scratched the surface on this topic which is was fine in 1999 but not acceptable in 2009. And definitely not now! All retailers are worried about the impact of "Showrooming" but very few (less than 15% by some reports) actually have a strategy to address this coming storm. Go check out thinkwithGoogle (no, I don't work at Google) and you'll stat after stat making this point. For example, nearly 80% of consumers are using smartphones while in the retail store and the list goes on and on. And it is accelerating, largely driven by mobile adoption. Wal-mart believes that 40% of all their online traffic will on smartphone and tablets this holiday season. To avoid beating a dead horse, I will end the critique there.
I do think Mr. Underhill has some amazing insight into the science of shopping and it is found, in part, here in this book. And, despite his seemingly blind spot for the role of digital and the Internet and its massive impact on that science, I do still strongly recommend this book. Just be sure to put his perspective into the context of the broader set of research out in the market today that perhaps is not as blinded by what I can only believe is a refusal just to admin "Damn, I was wrong" and move on and apply his valuable insight into the dynamic space that is the evolution of retail. I'd love to see a new updated version with enhanced thinking in that area come out soon before this valuable read goes the way of Blockbuster into oblivion.
- It opens your eyes to the hidden life of everyday things and everyday people's behavior. You will start noticing things around you that you've never noticed before.
- It teaches you the art of observation, how to see things beyond simply looking at them. Even if people-watching has never been your favorite pastime, it may well be now. The book is about shopping, but what you learn applies to observing any human activity.
- It's equally educational and entertaining. It's not a text book on user research techniques, and that's why I love it. It reveals to you many useful tips and techniques on doing research, particularly observation, without actually "teaching" or patronizing you in any way. You learn because you are engaged, fascinated and can't wait to turn the page. This is the best learning of all.
- It's a mirror. Even if you don't want to learn how to observe others, you'll laugh at noticing your own shopping behaviors you may have never thought about.
Stop reading reviews and start reading the book. Honestly.