658: Why We Buy by Paco Underhill

by Gerard

658.834: Underhill, Paco: Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping. New York: Touchstone, 2000. 244 pp. ISBN 0-684-84914-3.

658 is a scary section of the Dewey–it’s general management. So, every book every MBA candidate has read belongs here. Wonderfully dull tomes on executive management and organization and how to raise capital and job analysis. Awesome stuff, yeah? No. But hiding amongst all that are some gems. You just have to know where to look…

Paco Underhill started Envirosell in 1977 to try to understand consumer behavior and marketing science. But–he approached it like an anthropologist. In Why We Buy, he details the work of his researchers who walk around a store, following shopper (secretly), and recording every little thing they do. What do they look at? Where do they stop, What do they touch? How long to they touch it? Where don’t they go? Everything from the moment they enter the store to the moment they leave is reviewed. Then, after watching hundreds of shoppers and logging days of video, they help companies and retailers make their stores better.

He learned that hand-held baskets need to be moved much farther into the store to be seen. He learned that if a product is in an area with a lot of “butt-brushing” traffic, no one will stay long. He learned that small changes in layout to aid marketing have a big impact on store staff and their efficiency. He learned that kids will touch and play with almost anything.

If you’re a retailer, or in marketing, or run a shop of your own, read this book. It’s worth the money. Some of the ideas in here are “duh” ideas, but it turns out that many people took them for granted until Paco and his band of merry men show up and ask basic questions to which they have either no answer or the wrong answer. And yes, some of his ideas are a bit over the top (who would organize a grocery by meal type?), but they make you question everyday traditions and that’s what counts.

It reads quick, so it won’t take up too much of your time.