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1-Page Summary of Why We Buy

Overall Summary

Paco Underhill, author of “Why We Buy”, argues that people buy things not because they’re useful and sensible but because they make them feel good. His book has been updated for the Internet age to include more recent findings.

Underhill is an environmental psychologist who founded Envirosell, Inc. He observes how people respond to products and services in stores with a team of researchers, making detailed notes and recording videos. His clients include Microsoft, McDonald’s, Starbucks, Estée Lauder, Hewlett-Packard, Verizon, Sam’s Club, Pepsi-Co, Adidas and Unilever.

This book is divided into five parts. The first part explains what shoppers are looking for when they go to a store and the different factors that affect their decisions, including how much time a shopper has to spend in the store, where things appear on shelves, and even if there’s enough room for parking. Many retail executives aren’t aware of these details, so their businesses suffer as a result.

Part 2 of the article talks about how people shop. They enter stores in a certain way, and this affects which displays they’ll look at and which they’ll ignore. Customers also have only two hands, so if the store’s floor plan doesn’t account for that, it can affect sales by making entire departments go unvisited. People study some signs but ignore others. They also improvise when shopping—they select merchandise in surprising ways or sit in the wrong places to sellers’ dismay.

In Part 3, Underhill talks about the differences between men and women’s shopping styles. For example, she says that in the past there was a big difference between men’s and women’s attention to detail when shopping for clothes. However, this has changed a lot thanks to feminism. She also mentions how children influence their parents’ purchases as well as elderly people who have different needs from younger shoppers (for example they may need more help with mobility).

There are many details that go into the success of a store. Customers need to touch and feel products, they dislike having to wait in line, and they respond positively when something catches their eye. There are three main parts of marketing: store design, merchandise selection, and staff behavior. To learn more about how people shop internationally, Envirosell went overseas to Europe, South America, India Mexico and Japan. They found out that most shopping behavior is similar across cultures; however there were some subtle differences as well.

Throughout the book, Underhill explains common mistakes that retailers make and how to fix them. He also illuminates a lot about readers’ tendencies when visiting stores, potentially making us more aware of places we prefer.

Chapter 1: “A Science Is Born”

Everything in a store affects its shoppers. From display racks to signage to the color of the walls, everything can influence their shopping decisions. Until recently, though, anthropologists knew more about New Guinea’s markets than they did about modern industrial societies’ stores and how they affect shoppers. They had to invent science for studying those things.

A market research company called Envirosell, which is run by Paco Underhill, observes shoppers in order to see how they behave. The observations are made surreptitiously and the data collected is used for video cameras to record customers’ behavior.

Trackers are people who observe and record the behavior of visitors in a retail establishment. There are teams of trackers located around the world, including New York City, Mexico City, São Paulo, Milan, Bangalore, Moscow and Tokyo. Trackers work with half of the world’s top-50 merchant companies and one third of Fortune Top 100 companies.

Why We Buy Book Summary, by Paco Underhill