As promised, here are some final thoughts on Paco Underhill’s Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping.

In my previous entry about using this book to learn to spend less, I discussed how the more time a person spends in a store, the more money he’s likely to spend. Remembering that, check out the following stats:

Here’s the actual breakdown of average shopping time from a study we performed at once branch a national housewares chain:

woman shipping with a female companion: 8 minutes, 15 seconds
woman with children: 7 minutes, 19 seconds
woman alone: 5 minutes, 2 seconds
woman with man: 4 minutes, 41 seconds

Underhill notes that men and women shop differently. Most men don’t enjoy shopping. “As a result, the entire shopping experience is generally geared toward the female shopper.” Specific differences include:

  • Men move faster through stores.
  • Men spend less time looking at things.
  • Men don’t ask where things are.
  • If a man can’t find what he wants, he’ll just leave.
  • When a man finds something he likes, he’s more likely to buy. “In one study, we found that 65 percent of male shoppers who tried something on bought it, as opposed to 25 percent of females shoppers.”

Men may shop quickly, but because they don’t often shop from lists, they’re just as likely to overspend as women who spend more time in stores. In fact, the combination most likely to splurge is a man with his children. Children are the source of a lot of overspending, and for a variety of reasons.

If it’s within their reach, [children] will touch it, and if they touch it there’s at least a chance that Mom or Dad will relent and buy it (Dad especially).

But if you think children are bad, you should observe teenagers. It’s no wonder so many us get into financial trouble when we strike out on our own.

Teenagers are still young enough to be total suckers for image, for all the blandishments of advertising, identity marketing, media messages, trends and labels, They still believe in a brand name’s power to confer status, cool, charisma, knowledge. They construct their identities by the shopping choices they make.

Teenagers, you can make some excellent steps toward your financial future by ignoring media, by ignoring what your friends are buying and wearing, by striving to overcome the power of branding.

Here’s how Underhill sums up Why We Buy:

Good stores perform a kind of retailing judo — they use the shopper’s own momentum, her largely unspoken inclinations and desires, to get her to move in a direction unplanned, and often unaware. In the end, it’s not enough that goods be within reach of the shopper — she must want to reach them. And having reached them, she must then wish to own them, or all this effort goes to nought. Amid so much science, we discover in the end it’s love that makes the world of retailing go round. What do shoppers love? A few important things, we’ve learned, such as:

  • Mirrors
  • Discovery
  • Talking
  • Recognition
  • Bargains

On the other hand, shoppers tend to hate:

  • Too many mirrors
  • Waiting in lines
  • Asking dumb questions
  • Goods out of stock
  • Obscure price tags
  • Intimidating service

Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping is a fascinating exploration of the retail environment. It’s not as in-depth as I had hoped, and it coveres things from the seller’s perspective rather than the buyer’s, but there are good lessons to be learned here. If you have an interest in the subject, the book is worth seeking out at your local public library.

I’ll leave you with a final quote from Underhill:

The purest example of human shopping I know of can be seen by watching a child go through life touching absolutely everything. You’re watching that child shop for information, for understanding, for knowledge, for experience, for sensation. Especially for sensation, otherwise why would he have to touch or smell or taste or hear anything twice? Keep looking: Watch a dog. Watch a bird. Watch a bug. You might say the ant is searching for suitable food. I say he is shopping.

Check out my earlier entries on Why We Buy — a review of the book and lessons about how to spend less.

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