Why They Buy
A researcher discovers surprising and sometimes
strange consumer habits
The more scientific market researchers lashed out at Paco
Underhill; the media scoffed at him. But Underhill, president
of Envirosell, a New York City consulting company that founded
"the anthropology of shopping," has spent 20 years
studying the way shoppers act in stores and compiling information
most retailers would kill to know. He probably knows your customer
better than you do.
"The obvious isn't always apparent," Underhill writes
in his book Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping. His researchers
have watched tapes from hidden cameras and tracked shoppers from
the time they walk into stores until they leave, noting how they
read signs, approach displays and handle merchandise. Underhill
reports his findings to clients, who often are surprised to learn
how customers react to their stores. Here, from his book, are
some examples of what he found.
Once customers walk into a store, they still have to make
a mental transition between the outside and the inside. Approaching
a customer who's still in this "zone" is ineffective;
if you say "May I help you?" he or she probably will
say "No thanks." Consumers have the most confidence
when they reach the midpoint of a store. That's the time to approach
Women don't like to shop in crowded areas or where they'll
be jostled from behind. If they're brushed from behind several
times while looking at a display, most will walk away without
Out of Reach
Too often retailers put their merchandise in places that are
inconvenient for the people who buy them most often. For example,
one grocery store put dog treats on the top shelf, but the customers
who usually bought the treats were children or elderly adults.
They had to jump or use umbrellas to knock the treats off the
shelf. A drug store put concealer cream on the bottom shelf where
the older people who bought it had to bend over to pick it up.
Signs are most effective where people wait idly, such as in
lines or on escalators. The worst place for signs: hanging from
the ceiling people usually walk too quickly to look up.
Every store is a collection of zones, and you should determine
what customers are doing in each zone before you decide where
to place signs.
Bank on It
Consumers often walk past banks and other serious-looking
institutions quickly because most of them are uninteresting to
look at. If your store is beside one of these buildings, put
mirrors in your windows or on your facade to slow people down
people love to preen.
Toward the Back
If people think there's something interesting going on in
the back of the store, that's where they'll head. Consider where
to place your cash register and repair counter. At the front,
they could stop customers from moving further into the store.
In the middle, they could cause lines of customers to cut the
store in half.
Mars vs. Venus
Women who shop with men spend an average four minutes and
41 seconds in a store. This compares with eight minutes and 15
seconds when shopping with another woman, seven minutes and 19
seconds with children and five minutes and two seconds shopping
alone. Underhill jokingly says stores should have a place to
Customers who have to wait in line are more easily appeased
if there's some kind of interaction (even an acknowledgment from
the sales clerk that they're waiting). People shopping with companions
don't mind the wait as much, so lone shoppers often require more
attention. Providing a diversion, such as playing a video or
placing an interactive kiosk next to the line, makes waiting
by Stacey King
Copyright © 1999 by Bond Communications.