"Nothing is in a grocery store is where it is by accident. Every item on a shelf has been planned
." Theatrically lit fruits and veggies? Limbic system-triggering flowers up front? Subtle manipulation of the shopping path? Meet Paco Underhill, master of the science of shopping, author, and founder of a consulting firm that specializes in advising companies on how small changes in retail environments can add up to increased sales. Think of him as a tour guide
(YT, from his firm) who explains how these spaces are designed and why we fall for it.
Paco Underhill considers himself a retail anthropologist, and has spent thousands of hours analyzing Americans' shopping behavior: what they touch; how long they spend reading packages; how they move in stores (hint: narrow aisles mean "butt brush," a major turnoff for women who are potential buyers); their responses to signage; how they negotiate the heights at which products of interest are placed. He now advises numerous companies on how these and other factors (such as well-designed dressing rooms) can affect the bottom line.
* Malcolm Gladwell's 1996 profile of Underhill from The New Yorker, "The Science of Shopping"
: "In such a competitive environment, retailers don't just want to know how shoppers behave in their stores. They have to know. And who better to ask than Paco Underhill, who in the past decade and a half has analyzed tens of thousands of hours of shopping videotape and, as a result, probably knows more about the strange habits and quirks of the species Emptor americanus than anyone else alive?"
* A 2004 interview
with Terry Gross on her radio program, "Fresh Air"
* "Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping" (story and excerpt here
* An interview with Underhill in which he talks about the tools he uses in his research
* Underhill and "Giving Good Library"
(and bonus article: What happened when the Hayward [Calif.] Public Library took Underhill's advice
* "The Call of the Mall" (interview here
* "What Women Want: The Global Marketplace Turns Female Friendly" (story and excerpt here
* "Why We Shop"
(interview): "Q: Is their any single most important thing that you’ve discovered about consumer behavior over the last 25 years? A: ... The biological constants govern the things that are driven by us being right-handed, or that our eyes age in a very predictable manner, or that there are some basic ergometrics, or human measurements, that factor into how we interact with stuff."
And what has he concluded after 25 years of studying shopping?
“I think what the recession showed us is that our debts were too big, our cars, our houses our bellies were too big and we all need to go on a diet,” says Underhill
on how he sees bricks-and-mortar pricing strategies.) "Acquiring that iPod or that tube of lipstick or that Maserati doesn't change us into anyone other than what we were to start out with and that, therefore, our relationship to consumption here has to be more real