Category Archives: Why We Buy

How Big Does a Shopping Cart Need to Be?

pennies in shopping cart

pennies in shopping cart









What if grocery stores only offered hand baskets? People would cram as much as they could into one, but the weight would cause them to shop shorter because of the heaviness. Heavy items like gallons of milk or jars of pickles would be more carefully considered and ultimately, less purchased. Mothers would bring their whole families along so that everyone could carry a basket, which would make the store noiser, whinier, and more crowded. Sounds like a fatal mistake for the grocery stores’ sales, right?

Of course, a paper goods store should only offer a hand basket, because their items are small and light, but as a customer walks throughout the store, it is likely they will want to choose more than they can carry all at once.

Apparel stores should offer shopping bags, the reusable sort. These are less bulky than baskets and are much more comfortable to carry about.

So consider your merchandise, and know that average transaction goes up when stores make necessary assistance more available to customers.

You can’t know how much shoppers will buy until you’ve made the shopping experience as comfortable and easy and practical as possible.

-Paco Underhill, “Why We Buy”

Shopping Baskets – A Key to Increasing Sales



Everyone nowadays has their hands full. We go shopping, we are carrying our briefcases, handbags, coats, gloves, etc. We do not have enough hands for everything. Chapter 4 of “Why We Buy” is titled “You Need Hands”. 

Their studies have shown that customers are unlikely to pick up baskets on their own, though almost always accept one when they are carrying at least 3 items in their hands. Once they have the basket, their carrying capacity increases and they are more likely to select more merchandise because they are not limited to what they can balance in their arms. Average transaction goes up, customers have been given excellent service, and another day passes in the world of retail. 

At my work, a clothing retailer, we have a similar notion about the volume someone will try on after they have selected too many items to carry. If someone is carrying at least 2 items, we offer to start them a fitting room. Their arms are emptied and ready to choose more items, they will go to the fitting room (which increases the possibility of a sale) and we provide excellent service all at once. It’s a win-win. 

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It’s Worse to Bend the Rules than to Break Them



Wrapping up Chapter 3 of Paco Underhill’s “Why We Buy”! And I quote: “…Being first isn’t necessarily best…” in relation to store entrances.

There may be 7 types of shampoo on a shelf, and by the time the customer has looked at the seventh one, the first is easily forgotten. Simple principle of shopping. The best locations are not near the front. Especially for more personal or private items. People do not want to be seen purchasing toiletries or hair coloring kits, so choosing a spot at the end of the aisle, or better yet, nearest the end of that product’s section where another, less embarassing or personal item section begins. Never place a feminine item nearby to a masculine item, it is uncomfortable. 

Also, being visible as a customer is approaching gives an advantage. however, posting such an item directly in their face will shy them away. Instead, give a time for “visual anticipation” to build as the customer approaches the item. The first shall be last and the last shall be first!

Buy buy for now!

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The Landing Strip

I witnessed the need for this one today. I was in a Whole Foods grocery store to pick up some cheese for Thanksgiving. As I stood in the express line I had a perfect view of the front doors to the store. Against the front wall, directly to the left and right of the entering and exiting shoppers were two tall stacks of handheld shopping baskets. This is exactly what the book said would happen. Every customer entering the store completely ignored the baskets.

There was no decompression zone. The first 8-10 feet of any store should be left practically bare so that once the customer gets inside, they can begin to adjust to the retail environment. Most displays or products put right next to the door are ignored entirely by shoppers who haven’t had a chance to get in “shopping mode” just yet.

In a smaller store perhaps the decompression zone must be smaller, but do not place anything directly in front of the door for the first 8 feet. This is a deterrent to enter. Some shoppers will stop in front of it, look around, then turn around and walk back out.

The book refers to the space required for a shopper to adjust as the “Landing Strip”. They’ve been walking hurriedly through the parking lot or down the sidewalk, perhaps they’ve been dealing with awful weather, their thoughts were not on shopping. Then they step inside. The lighting changes, the temperature changes, the noise changes, and just in that short 8 to 10 feet they have adjusted their speed to be appropriate for viewing items on shelves and making purchases. Give your people time to recuperate, and whatever is at the front of the store will not be wasted.

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Conversion (no, not the religious kind)

Conversion is a simple equation: The number of people that walk in / The number of people who actually buy something. The start of the second chapter in “Why We Buy” focuses on what retailers typically don’t know. Unfortunately this book is a slight bit outdated because most major retailers have taken care of the conversion mystery with automatic counters at the door and fancy computer systems that compare the number of transactions for the day against the number of people who entered. However, the concept of conversion is still just as relevant.

When I began working at my job, one of the seasoned associates informed me that I should watch out for the clothing censors in relation to conversion. If someone sets off the front door alarm without understanding the cause, about half of people will walk through the censor again just to be sure it was them. This messes up our conversion rate. “I don’t even consider theft anymore,” my coworker admitted. “I’m just like, get out of the doorway, you’re messing up conversion!”

I appreciate the method that the book uses for discussing the different expectations of conversion. If you are a fast food chain, you would expect 100% conversion, because people enter with the intention to spend money because food is a necessity. If you are an art gallery, you probably have a conversion rate of 1% or less, assuming 1 out of every 100 people who enter the gallery purchase something, and that is expected for that genre of store. My work sets their goal at about one-third, which is typical for clothing. Mostly because not everyone NEEDS what they have to offer.

All of this to say: conversion is like a measure of real success. Once the customer is actually in the door, what are the odds they will actually make a purchase? How can you improve the number of people who actually purchase something once they are inside? Part of this is customer service, or perhaps availability of items desired, but a large part is merchandising and making the product appealing and accessible.

Consumerism from the Aisle

I close chapter one with two quotes I found astonishingly unrecognized and entirely true.

“If we went into stores only when we needed to buy something, and if  once there we bought only what we needed, the economy would collapse, boom.”

“As a result, an important medium for transmitting messages and closing sales is now the store and the aisle.”

-from Paco Underhill’s “Why We Buy”

Today in church the preacher spoke of decisions. He said the average human makes around 65,000 choices per day, from deciding which shoe to put on first to electing a president. He went into further analysis of the grocery store, and discussed the numbers of choices to be made there. There are 70 different toothpastes to choose from, 114 salad dressings, and more than 400 types of cookies in a single average grocery store. One must decide which to purchase somehow, be it from brand loyalty, trial and error, or “this one is in the prettiest box!”.

The truth is, ladies and gentlemen, everyone sells. Whether you are selling your skills at a job interview, selling the idea of buying a new car to your spouse, or selling snow to an eskimo, you are selling SOMETHING. The crux of all this is that you take part in a consumerist society that is driven by sales. Tonight at work, my boss was complaining that the last few hours that were under her watch had slowed down and the sales goal was not attained. “You don’t know what mean things happen to managers who don’t make their sales goals for the day,” she told me and my coworker, only half kidding. Another reason why I will never be a sales manager. Just an artist.

Deals at the Door Make A Businessman Poor

I’m just to page 30 of the book and I have come across a faulty mistake dozens of retailers make every day. The sale rack belongs in one place: the back, and with good reason. Many retailers during the summer will put the sale rack just outside the front door to lure people in. It gets the unsightly muss of non-cohesive merchandise off their selling floor, and gives people a reason to come up and look. However, if people find nothing of interest on the sale rack (which happens more often than not) they will never bother entering the store. If they are the type to look for a deal (which is the customer you are trying to lure inside with this rack on the street) they will rifle through, find nothing, and never come in because they believe, as they should, that everything else in the store is full-price.

On another note, tucking the sale rack just inside the front door is also a no-no. This is what was directly discussed in “Why We Buy”. The difference is that those people who do enter the store are immediately taken in by the nearby sale rack. This can go south just as fast as having it outside if they find nothing. But if they DO find something, they are much less likely to buy anything else. People don’t even bother to look around at full-price when they think they can get a good deal.

The best place for the sale rack is in the rear of the store. Not hidden and ashamed, not hard to get to, but nonchalantly in the caboose region. This way, anyone looking for a deal will at least have to look around before they come to the sale rack. It draws people inside, keeps them inside, giving a salesperson time to begin a conversation and instigate the selling process. Sale racks at the front door = less business. Simple as that.

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Why We Buy: Introduction

Who knew a book about stalking people in the name of retail science would become a national bestseller? Paco Underhill, founder of Envirosell, the “stalkers for hire” consulting agency, has three books on the market, and this one, “Why We Buy” is the first. I am doing an analysis of this book to better my own knowledge of selling, merchandising, and why people spend money on anything and everything.

In short, Envirosell monitors, anaylzes and draws conclusions from following people and recording certain areas of retail environments and public spaces. They can tell you more than just the average number of people in the store per day (most major retailers have an automatic people counter above the door) but how old they are, how they’re dressed, what they bought, how long they were present, and more. They collected so much data on tape at one point, “Kodak told us we were the single largest consumer of Super 8 film in the world”.
After just a few pages, my favorite statistic listed is about jeans. Sixty-five percent of men who try jeans on buy them, but only twenty-five percent of women buy jeans after trying them on. There are a thousand explanations for this, but the fact remains. As a retail fitting room attendant, I can attest to that entirely. As a result, I will feel more validated knowing that only one out of the four women trying on jeans will actually buy them. Knowing this gives me more realistic expectations.

Anyway, I report more as I get through the book. So far I can see why it is a bestseller. The writing is masterful yet personal, but the content is thick and juicy. Can’t wait to tell you more!

Buy bye!

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