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Book Review: by Lang Reid
Why we buy
(the science of shopping)
am not a compulsive shopper. In fact, if I am truthful, I loathe shopping. I
will go to just one supermarket where I know the layout. Once they change
the layout, they lose me.
On the other hand, my wife can happily spend hours “shopping” and bring home
perhaps one or two items only, but with a 10 percent discount voucher. New
supermarkets hold an enormous attraction. Even with me grumbling behind.
So when I saw Why we buy (the science of shopping) by Paco Underhill,
(ISBN 9-7806-84-84-9, Simon and Schuster, 2000) on the Bookazine shelves, I
was immediately interested. Would I find the holy grail of retailing? Would
I begin to understand my wife’s habits? Would lunchtimes become secret
I warmed to author Underhill in the first chapter where he laid out his
methodology for collecting the data for this shopping ‘science’. Although he
had computers and software programs, the initial data came from pencil marks
on low-tech paper as his people surreptitiously followed shoppers around
supermarkets. I can relate to that style of science. From those pieces of
paper, the researchers could tell how many males who take jeans into the
fitting room will actually buy them, compared to how many females will (65
percent to 25 percent).
By the second chapter, Underhill demonstrates just how many stores just do
not understand their customers, and their customers’ needs during certain
periods of the year. Large displays of sun tan lotion at the start of winter
does not make any sense. Even blind Freddie would know that - and yet some
retailers don’t.One of his observations was on the mental mechanics of
purchasing more than one item. Again, it would seem to be obvious, but not
so, when you look at the retailers in Thailand. If the shopper does not take
a basket or trolley which is at the entrance, they will limit their
purchases to those that can be hand-held. If, however, there are baskets and
trolleys available throughout the store, the shopper buys more. Elementary,
my dear Watson!
In one chapter entitled the Sensual Shopper, Underhill advances theories on
in-store changing rooms. We have all experienced the changing room which is
roughly the size of a small broom cupboard. Getting undressed and dressed is
not a pleasant experience. However, stores that provide large change areas
sell more product. This concept still seems to have escaped the local
The various chapters deal in a light-hearted way with the mechanics of
‘shopping’ right from attracting the shopper, making it easy for the shopper
to select the items, and then hopefully buy some more, and even how and
where to place the checkouts. Many men will just look at a long checkout
queue and abandon their purchases and walk out. I was glad to read I am not
I found it an interesting book, but as I am not a retailer, it had limited
value for me, other than general education, but for anyone in the retail
sales networks, there was certainly worth more than B. 495 of value.
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