Why We Buy: The Science Of Shopping--Updated And Revised For The Internet, The Global Consumer, And Beyond By Paco Underhill
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Revolutionary retail guru Paco Underhill is back with a completely revised edition of his classic, witty bestselling book on our ever-evolving consumer culture -- full of fresh observations and important lessons from the cutting edge of retail, which is taking place in the world's emerging markets. New material includes:
• The latest trends in online retail -- what retailers are doing right and what they're doing wrong -- and how nearly every Internet retailer from iTunes to Amazon can drastically improve how it serves its customers.
• A guided tour of the most innovative stores, malls and retail environments around the world -- almost all of which are springing up in countries where prosperity is new. An enormous indoor ski slope attracts shoppers to a mall in Dubai; an uber luxurious Sao Paolo department store provides its customers with personal shoppers; a mall in South Africa has a wave pool for surfing.
The new Why We Buy is an essential guide -- it offers advice on how to keep your changing customers and entice new and eager ones.
- Amazon Sales Rank: #6941 in Books
- Published on: 2008-12-30
- Released on: 2008-12-30
- Original language: English
- Number of items: 1
- Dimensions: .90" h x 5.40" w x 8.30" l, .65 pounds
- Binding: Paperback
- 320 pages
- ISBN13: 9781416595243
- Condition: New
- Notes: BRAND NEW FROM PUBLISHER! 100% Satisfaction Guarantee.
- Tracking provided on most orders. Buy with Confidence! Millions of books sold!
"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.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
A Science Is Born
Okay, stroll, stroll, stroll...stop.
Shhh. Stay behind that potted palm. Get out your clipboard and pen.
Our subject is the fortyish woman in the tan trench coat and blue skirt. She's in the bath section. She's touching towels. Mark this down -- she's petting one, two, three, four of them so far. She just checked the price tag on one. Mark that down, too. Careful -- don't get too close -- you don't want her to see you. She picked up two towels from the tabletop display and is leaving the section with them. Mark the time. Now, tail her into the aisle and on to her next stop.
Thus begins another day in the vineyards of science, specifically the science of shopping. But let's start by addressing a fundamental question: Since when does such a scholarly discipline even exist?
Well, if, say, anthropology had devoted a branch of itself to the study of shoppers in situ (a fancy Latin way of saying shoppers out shopping), interacting with retail environments (stores, but also banks and restaurants), the actual, physical premises, including but not limited to every rack, shelf, counter and table display of merchandise, every sign, banner, brochure, directional aid and computerized interactive informational fixture, the entrances and exits, the windows and walls, the elevators and escalators and stairs and ramps, the cashier lines and teller lines and counter lines and restroom lines, and every inch of every aisle -- in short, every nook and cranny from the farthest reach of the parking lot to the deepest penetration of the store itself, if anthropology had already been studying all that...and not simply studying the store, of course, but what, exactly and precisely -- scientifically -- human beings do in it, where they go and don't go, and by what path they go there; what they see and fail to see, or read and decline to read; and how they deal with the objects they come upon, how they shop, you might say -- the precise anatomical mechanics and behavioral psychology of how they pull a sweater from a rack to examine it, or read a box of heartburn pills or a fast-food restaurant menu, or grab a shopping basket, or react to the sight of a line at the ATMs...again, as I say, if anthropology had been paying attention, and not just paying attention but then collecting, collating, digesting, tabulating and cross-referencing every little bit of data, from the extremely broad (How many people enter this store on a typical Saturday morning, broken down by age, sex and size of shopper group?) to the extremely narrow (Do more male supermarket shoppers under thirty-five who read the nutritional information on the side panel of a cereal box actually buy the cereal compared to those who just look at the picture on the front?), well, then, we wouldn't have had to invent the science of shopping. In 1997, when this volume was originally written, the academic world knew more about the marketplace in Papua New Guinea than what happened at your local supermarket or shopping mall. Twentieth-century anthropology wasn't about what happened in your backyard.
In 1997, I'd been fighting for what I knew was right for more than ten years -- and since then, a whole lot has changed. Companies across the world are now employing anthropologists to staff what have been popularly titled shopper and consumer insight groups. Ethnologic studies (that is to say, a science that breaks down humans into races, cultures and their various obvious and not-so-obvious characteristics) are part of mainstream market research. But when I first hung out my shingle, my academic colleagues thought I was selling out, and the marketers and merchants I sought to serve looked at me as an alien from a distant planet.
Down the hall from my office then and now is an equipment room with more than one hundred cameras. Eight-millimeter video cameras, direct to hard drive, digital, even a few ancient Super 8 time-lapse film cameras. To keep track of them, every camera is assigned a name -- the video cameras are named after rock stars, the digital stills are signs of the zodiac. We find giving a camera a name rather than a number helps it last longer, and when Jimi Hendrix feels poorly, he gets to the shop faster than if he were camera number 26. In that same equipment room are piled cases of blank eight-millimeter videotapes, two hours per tape, five hundred tapes to a case. Across the world, we have now shot more than fifty thousand hours of tape per year. We also have dozens of handheld computers, or PDAs, on which we painstakingly jot down the answers from the thousands of shopper interviews we conduct; there are laptops in there, too, plus all manner of tripods, mounts, lenses and other camera accessories, including lots of duct tape. Oh, and many well-worn hard-shell cases for everything, because it all travels. A lot. The studio next to the equipment room has two complete digital editing suites and eleven stations at which to watch all those tapes -- because everything we shoot, we look at. We have more than enough gear in that room to make broadcast-quality documentaries and, while we're at it, to equip a good-sized university's school of social anthropology or experimental psychology, assuming the university has a deserved reputation for generating tons of original research gathered from all over the globe.
Even with all that high-tech equipment, though, our most important research tool for the past thirty years remains the piece of paper we call the track sheet, in the hands of the individuals we call trackers. Trackers are the field researchers of the science of shopping, the scholars of shopping, or, more precisely, of shoppers. Essentially, trackers stealthily make their way through stores following shoppers and noting everything they do. Usually a tracker begins by loitering inconspicuously near a store's entrance, waiting for a shopper to enter, at which point the "track" starts. The tracker will stick with the unsuspecting individual (or individuals) as long as he or she is in the store (excluding trips to the dressing room or the restroom) and will record on the track sheet virtually everything the shopper does.
Befitting a science that has grown up in the real world, meaning far from the ivory towers of academia, our trackers are not stamped from the usual researcher mold. In the beginning we hired graduate environmental psychology students, but we found they were often unsuited to the work -- more often than not, they came to the job burdened with newly learned textbook theories they wished to prove or disprove. As a result, they didn't possess the patience necessary to watch many shoppers at great length to see what they actually do. Creative people, however -- playwrights, artists, actors, novelists, a puppeteer -- have proven to be perfect for this work. They have no theories to uphold or demolish, just open minds and boundless curiosity about what people do and how and why they do it. They are dispassionate yet avid observers with no agenda except for wanting to accurately document how human behavior plays out in the retail arena. They manage to see the forest, the trees and everything in between.
When we find someone with the temperament and the intelligence for this work, we first put them through a training session in our office. There's a lot to learn -- how do I watch and simultaneously take notes, for instance, or how can I tell whether someone is reading a sign or just staring at the mirror next to it? We have to teach the most important tracker skill of all: How do I stand close enough to study someone without being noticed? Because it's crucial to our work that shoppers don't realize they're being observed. There's no other way to be sure that we're seeing natural behavior. Fact is, we're all still surprised by how close you can stand to someone in a store and still remain invisible. We find that positioning yourself behind the shopper is a bad idea -- we all pick up on the sensation that we're being watched. But if you stand to the side of a shopper, his or her peripheral vision reads you as just another customer -- harmless, in other words, and barely worth noticing. From that position you can get close enough to see exactly what a shopper is doing. You can be sure that he's touched, say, nine golf gloves, not eight or ten. Then we throw the tracker-hopefuls out into the real world, into a store setting, to see them in action. Most of them wash out at this point -- you can teach technique, but not the smarts or the slight case of fascination required to do this work well. It's weirdly addictive, and many of our trackers have been with us for a decade or more.
John has been doing fieldwork for my company, Envirosell, for more than ten years, in between working as a kindergarten teacher. Trained to monitor five-year-olds, does he have patience? Oh, yeah. He also just completed his two-hundredth fieldwork assignment. He's of medium height, with brown hair, a spare build, crinkles in the corners of his eyes and big broad feet. He has no trouble standing all day. In our tracker pool, we also have rookies who are still getting twenty trips under their belts, intermediate-level trackers, master trackers, team leaders...and Noah, who, after thirteen years of tracking and team leading, now directs the forty-plus members of our tracking staff based out of our home office in New York City. We found Noah in Nashville. He was a last-minute replacement, a struggling music student who three hours into the job had found his calling. The first time he walked into my office he was dripping with nervous sweat (he'd never been to New York before). Thirteen years later, I still can't break him of the habit of calling me Mr. Paco.
In addition to measuring and counting every significant motion of a single shopping trip, our trackers also have to contribute incisive field notes describing the nuances of customer behavior and make good inferences based on what they've observed. These notes add up to yet another, this time anecdotal, layer of in...
Most helpful customer reviews
79 of 79 people found the following review helpful.
Fascinating, though it ends badly
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.
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!
58 of 62 people found the following review helpful.
Valuable, but keep expectations low
By Russell Belfer
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 ...
27 of 27 people found the following review helpful.
Retailers, manufacturers and consumers should read this book
By A Customer
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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