Why we buy: The Science of Shopping

whywebuybook  Why we buy: The Science of Shopping – Paco Underhill

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Are you a typical shopper who enters a supermarket to buy some essential items but end up buying tons of items with bill amounting to thousands and later realize that half of the stuff was never required and you don’t know what made you buy it?

Are you a store owner and want to improve sales?

Are you interested to know about behavior of humans and their thinking patterns across ages, demographics, geographies & gender?

Are you a curious reader and want to know how art and science converge to design an effective retail store?

If your answer is “Yes” to any of the above questions, you will enjoy reading the book!!

I was blown away by impressive analysis & presentation throughout the book which is a result of immense and painstaking research done by the author for over 25 years!! He has studied shoppers using CCTV footages of thousands of hours and personally spying on them from a distance by walking across malls like a regular shopper and noting several aspects of their shopping patterns (More than 900 aspects & parameters).


Excerpt from the book “Why we buy”

Some of his analysis sound trivial but we would not have thought about it before. For example, have you noticed that after you enter a mall, you do not really care about what is displayed in the first 10-20 feet because your mind/body undergoes a transition from being outside to inside the mall which lasts a few seconds during which we would have already walked few steps after which we realize and start looking around. He calls this “Transition zone”. Malls make the mistake of showcasing their prominent offers in this area and fail to capitalize on it because it is in the transition zone. And another mistake they do is to place their carts at the entrance which is again part of the transition zone and goes unnoticed by the shoppers. when they start picking goods and accumulate 1-2 items, they realize the need for a cart but are not able to find one (because its at the entrance and they missed it already). Frustration starts to seep in.


Women being the primary customers of retail stores (and women love shopping), significant part of the book is about shopping patterns of women, and about how stores use psychological & emotional cues to lengthen their shopping duration, thereby increasing their sales. Ladies might find such insights useful because it would help them understand how stores are manipulating their minds. Also, retailers can find out more about common errors in product placements which can be rectified to increase sales. For example, if a woman shopper is searching for feminine products and if they are placed in the lower racks, she is forced to bend down, which by itself is an uncomfortable feeling for women in public places leading to frustration. There is a high probability that she decides not to buy it. But suppose she decides and bends down to buy, she would spend some time to examine the details during which other shoppers would have bumped into or brushed against her intentionally or intentionally (the author calls it “Butt-Brush” factor”). The frustration exceeds its limits and she would leave the store.  The solution in this case would be to place feminine products in the middle or higher rack (at eye level or above the hip level), or increase the space between aisles and provide small, mobile seats on which they can sit and examine all the goods and take their own sweet time to decide.

There is an entire chapter dedicated to comparing shopping styles of men & women with insights into how and why each gender behaves that way, along with psychological analysis & statistics to back those claims.

Excerpt from the book "Why we buy"

Excerpt from the book “Why we buy”

A lot of emphasis is laid on designing a store with the right ergonomics, ambiance, facilities, placements of goods and so on. Basically the whole idea is to push a shopper into making impulsive purchases and push those who are on the fence to take a quick decision (obviously the decision to buy).

At some point, the author states that if everyone enters a store with clarity/focus and buys only things which are necessary and uses only cash instead of credit card, it will lead to an economic collapse because the economy is built on overspending & credit cards.

A great book for retailers to know how to manipulate the human mind into buying.
A great book for shoppers to know the kind of distractions intentionally imposed by retailers and how they can prepare themselves, overcome such distractions and become sensible shoppers.