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Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping--Updated and Revised for the Internet, the Global Consumer, and Beyond Paperback – December 30, 2008
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"At last, here is a book that gives this underrated skill the respect it deserves." -- The New York Times
" Thanks, Mr. Underhill, for explaining in clear and witty prose why my shopping habits are not all that crazy. Now, please tell my wife!" -- Bob Gale, writer/producer, Back to the Future trilogy
"I'm in love. And if I didn't have a devoted husband, two kids and a crushing mortgage, I swear I'd throw caution to the wind and run away with Paco Underhill...fascinating." -- Rocky Mountain News (Denver)
"Why We Buy is a funny and insightful book for people on both sides of the retail counter." -- Michael Gould, CEO, Bloomingdale's
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.
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Top Customer Reviews
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.
Even though I think he's more right than wrong, the whole Internet chapter comes across as a confused old guy muttering about how he doesn't get that new fangled rock music. He complains about how many review sites there are, for instance, and has no idea how much it can transform the shopping experience (and not just be a poor supplement). Worse, the book's entire premise is mostly about how you need observational data of real customers because they'll always do things you don't expect (can't argue there), but he HAS no data on this topic, so it's just not compelling. I can't help but think the whole chapter is just in there because 'we need something about teh intertubes'.
The 'Come Fly With Me' chapter must be in here because he needs to professionally backscratch all his international partners. It's pretty much useless and turns a mild commercial into an infomercial.
If I sound too negative, please don't take it that way - I'm just trying to tell you why this isn't a five star book. You have 220 pages of 'awesome and can't put it down' book followed by 40 pages of 'what the hell am I doing reading this' slog, then another 30 pages of fairly decent reading. If you don't read those two chapters, it's a five star book!
Upon closer examination, I see that the book appears to have been published in 2000 while the audio version of the book appears to have been released in 2008. In the much accelerated context of information and technology, practically speaking, any market analysis that's 17 years old IS in fact, ancient history. I wish I could get my money back as this is a perfect case of Caveat Emptor.
The first point that is brought up for evaluation is the importance of understanding customer behavior in a given store and adjusting it accordingly. Paco Underhill gives multiple examples of ways in which he has increased stores sales by 20% or higher through moving displays, changing signs and other small corrections. Validating these points, it is explained that customers may not enter a department from an anticipated angle and displays should accommodate the most common entry into a section. I found the idea of personal space as an issue to be very interesting and did not expect customers being bumped once to deter them from an entire section of a store. Furthermore, it is interesting how much goes into planning the layout of a store and that simply moving a rack out of a high traffic area can be extremely effective in boosting its sales.
Another reoccurring point that is brought up is the changing dynamic of customers and of shopping in general. Previous to reading Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping, I had not given much, or any, thought to why certain products were placed at designated shelf heights or that stores would have to change in the not so distant future to accommodate the large, rising market of elderly baby boomers. Underhill refers to the video tapes he studies for various stores throughout his text and utilizes one of an elderly woman unable to reach the dog treats that she wants and of the child who shares a similar problem. This ties into the section in which senses were emphasized as extremely important to the facilitation of sales. After walking past countless mirrors in Macy’s and other retail stores enticing me to try on necklaces and picture how I would look walking around with various handbags on my shoulder, it never occurred to me that this was exactly the store’s intention. Being able to touch items, see them up close and for some products even smell them increases the chance that they will buy something.
The examination of comfort and ease of shopping was a fascinating section of this book, and has made me a more aware shopper. Signs being broken up for easy comprehension, space between clothing sections and clear packaging have all stood out to me recently and realize that they are influential in the shopping process. Moreover, I was interested in the differences that are described between men and women in their shopping habits. Men asserting a sense of pride and not asking for help while women will not hesitate a help desk create a stark contrast. Underhill uses this to highlight how different groups have to be marketed to in different ways and that two people can go through the same store and have entirely different experiences.
Overall, Paco Underhill is extremely successful in validating the claims that he makes as he backs them up with real examples as well as results. Every assertion that he makes is followed up by some recorded instance in a real store that he has worked with and is followed up with the solution and result of the solution on the store’s profit. Even bringing attention to some everyday observations and supporting them with logic were effective ways of conveying his ideas. For example, to explain how the placement of goods in supermarkets can affect sales, Underhill brought attention to the fact that all supermarkets put milk in the back because it is one of the most commonly purchased goods and this causes customers to go through the entire store before finding what they came for, and hopefully they’ll purchase something else.
The only part of this book that I did not find interesting or helpful were the concluding chapters. It felt like he ran out of ideas, but felt the need to fill more pages due to the fact that the beginning of the book was filled with valuable information. A few pages were largely dedicated to the plane industry and the world cup with very little information about marketing. But, the preceding chapters would cause any reader to think back to a time when they perhaps have fallen victim to one of the marketing schemes that apparently most stores utilize. Many sections I just found to be shocking and was even provoked to reread. Who would have thought that there would be a drastic difference in the percentage of women who will purchase jeans that they bring into a fitting room versus men would be 65% to 25%? (Underhill 10). After reading Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping, I feel as though I have gone through countless stores and have witnessed and made too many purchases to have never noticed the consumer behavior that I am surrounded by. This text is eye opening and a bit concerning as it makes you realize how much you haven’t noticed about the world around you. Paco Underhill is extremely effective in conveying to readers the ways in which businesses encourage shopping and how important certain overlooked aspects are. Emphasizing comfort and ease of shopping, product placement and predicting customer’s actions are all focal points of Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping. I would recommend it to anyone, even someone with no interest in marketing or shopping, simply to make oneself more aware as a consumer. Particularly, I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys walking around the mall, like myself, because it was fun to make self-realizations and understanding why I make some purchases while simultaneously gaining insight about retail marketing.