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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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The book is strongest when it sticks with the insights gathered from tracking buyers in retail settings, and in the reactions that retail executives have to the data. The more forward-looking sections that attempt to predict the future of retail, internet use, or attitudes are very weak in comparison. But use this for inspiration about how to understand our fellow humans in all the settings they inhabit today, and you can't go wrong.
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.
I am unsure what the purpose of the chapters about his global offices is.
He starts by saying he was boo'd down in 97 by people defending the internet - only to say he was right the internet is a wasteland. He uses 2 examples, Amazon and iTunes, mainly to complain that neither site was able to give him suggestions unrelated to what he has previously purchased. He sounded like an old man who never learned to use the internet and completely unaware of what was there and didn't care.
He should have left the subject alone instead of being so negative about a topic he is obviously unfamiliar with. The next few chapters just rambled on about his company and how it went global-completely self-serving.
Good read but really left a bad taste in my mouth. Made me want to avoid reading anything else by him. Felt like he showed his true colors in the end.