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Why We Buy

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Why We Buy

The Science of Shopping

Simon & Schuster,

15 min read
10 take-aways
Text available

What's inside?

You might think that your last purchase was an impulse buy, but someone worked very hard to create that impulse.

Editorial Rating



  • Innovative
  • Applicable


In Why We Buy, Paco Underhill reveals key principles that he and his company, Envirosell, have learned about shopping. He discusses what different types of customers see, and how they respond. He has more than 20 years experience observing some 50,000 to 70,000 shoppers a year in stores, banks, and public offices. This is an exciting, original book. It is sharply written, with a dynamic style. Underhill provides generous examples of what he and his team of trackers have learned by observing shoppers. He includes interesting anecdotes and statistics showing how shoppers behave under different circumstances. This is both a solid, carefully researched book and a joy to read. getabstract recommends the book to everyone in retail.


The Science of Shopping

Paco Underhill’s understanding about shoppers is the result of more than 20 years of careful observation and data collection. He approaches it like an anthropologist studying another culture, through participant observation and carefully noting dozens of pieces of behavior.

Underhill’s crew draws a detailed map of the shopping area they are studying. They collect hundreds of hours of observations using banks of video cameras. His individual trackers each follow a single shopper. Like private investigators, they observe and record virtually everything that individual does: where she walks, when she stops, what items she picks up, how long she looks at them, whether she buys or not, and so forth. Typically, researchers list 25 data points per shopper, which means about 2,500 entries for 100 shoppers. The field trackers also do 20-question interviews with shoppers as they leave the store. Then, all of these bits of data are entered into a database and cross-tabulated in various ways to produce results about the buying behavior of different types of shoppers.

It is an amazingly detailed and time-consuming process, but he uses this knowledge...

About the Author

Paco Underhill is the founder and director of Envirosell, a company devoted to analyzing shopping behavior. He has numerous corporate clients, including McDonald’s, Starbucks, Estee Lauder, Blockbuster, Citibank and Wells Fargo. He has written for many publications, including American Demographics and Adweek, and lectures widely.

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