WHY WE BUY by Paco Underhill


The Science of Shopping
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Shopping is one of the defining qualities of modern civilization, but this author convincingly argues that consumers may have a greater impact on the act of shopping than shopping has on them. Just as social scientists study people in natural conditions, Underhill studies consumers in retail environments. He’s no academic, however, but a “real-world” consultant with such clients as McDonald’s, General Mills, and the US Postal Service. Although Underhill’s work involves a certain amount of intuition and creative thinking, it’s primarily based on hard evidence: the measurements accumulated by teams of trackers working on the floors and behind the scenes of retail establishments. Details gathered from observation of consumers pinpoint problems with products, shelving, signage, register lines, and other factors. Such monitoring prompted one of the author’s key insights—that any space in which people are likely to be jostled from behind can lead to shopper discomfort (dubbed “butt sensitivity”). The solution: wider aisles. Underhill explores both similarities and differentiating features in the shopping experiences of varied groups, including the distinctive ways in which men and women browse and make purchasing decisions. His dissection of the retail industry finds much to criticize, but the book also dignifies shopping as a central focus of human activity. The author’s company, whose work is cited throughout, has earned its way by spotting flaws and advising retail owners on how to fix them, not merely to boost profits, but because the profits come from improving the quality of the shopping experience for customers. Underhill also analyzes the emerging arena of online shopping, offering tips for improved performance. Sales here will accelerate, the author believes, but they don—t fundamentally threaten the future of old-fashioned human sales interactions. A strong portrait of consumers as the most efficient arbiters of what to sell and how to sell it. (Author tour)

Pub Date: May 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-684-84913-5
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 1999


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