The Science of Shopping

Paco Underhill is founder, CEO and president of Envirosell, a global research and consulting firm based in New York City. For more than 25 years, Underhill has been conducting research on the interaction between people, places, services and things in order to help companies understand what motivates the behaviors of today's consumer. What he's discovered is that today's retail world is ruled by factors such as gender, "trial and touch" and human anatomy. His 1999 best-selling book, Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping has just been updated for the Internet, the global consumer and beyond. It's a must-read for anyone in the retail business. Underhill examines the demographics of shopping—men are from Home Depot and women are from Bloomingdale's, in case you're interested—and holds forth on how people interact with the retail environment. Let's face it, if you're a salon owner you're in the retail business, but did you ever wonder if you're doing your best to create a retail experience that benefits both you and the customer?

Brett Vinovich
Brett Vinovich

"If we went into stores only when we needed to buy something, and if once there we bought only what we needed, the economy would collapse—boom," writes Underhill, who notes that the "level of impulse purchasing is going through the roof." What's more, brand loyalty is waning while "big decisions are being made right there on the buying floor." That means you need to learn how to design signs that shoppers will actually read, build displays that shoppers can interact with, and create an environment so comfortable and relaxing that your customers won't want to leave. Why? Because studies show that the longer a customer remains in a store, the more he or she will buy. That information alone might justify a remodel. Want to get a customer to try a new product? Place it slightly to the right of the most popular product on the shelf. Want an effective way of displaying products so they'll be seen? Try chevroning—placing shelves or racks on an angle so more of what they display will be visible as customers navigate the retail area.


Now here's something you might not know about your female customers. They actually spend time reading the packaging before they buy something—13 seconds for facial cleansers, 11 seconds for sun care products, 16 seconds for moisturizers and five seconds for shower gel. The bottom line: Make sure she can shop without being jostled from behind. Otherwise, she'll breeze right past those products you're trying to move. My advice? Read this book. It just may change the way you do business. —Brett Vinovich, publisher, [email protected]