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Book Review

Book Review: by Lang Reid

Why we buy (the science of shopping)

I 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 shopping trips?
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 retailers.
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 alone!
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.