The Science of Shopping: eCommerce Insights

Have you ever asked yourself why retail stores are laid out the way they are? Do you know the reason behind marketing campaigns? Have you ever left the shopping mall thinking, “Why did I buy this product?”.

These types of questions are brilliantly answered by Paco Underhill in his bestseller, “Why We Buy – The Science of Shopping“. The timeless insights behind, “Why We Buy” are still relevant today, even decades after the first edition was published.

“No matter which point of view you’re come from, shopper or shopkeeper, you’ll find Underhill’s tips are often funny, sometimes provocative, and almost always usable” – The San Diego Union-Tribune

In the first chapter of his book, Underhill explains the science of shopping and how it works. According to the author, this science is the art, study and observation of customers in various shopping locales (malls, stores, banks, restaurants…). The customer behaviour insights help the reader understand the experience of shopping and the related profit improvement actions.  Business owners and managers can only succeed in applying the science of shopping when they are able to get out of the “academic office” and into the real-world to observe their customers.

“Befitting a science that has grown up in the real world, meaning far from the ivory towers of academic, our teachers are not stamped from usual researcher mold” ¹

Unfortunately, it’s not possible to relate all of Underhill’s conclusions about retail customer behaviour in this article – even if possible, I couldn’t maintain the level of brilliance of the original text! However, I wish to share with you a couple highlights about a specific chapter of the book: “17. The Internet”. I’m sure these observations will be interesting if you have some kind of eCommerce business or if you are simply an eCommerce customer.

Many customers have come to believe that if they can’t find something on the Internet, it doesn’t exist.” ²

Nowadays, if a customer is looking online for a hotel room – for example – and can’t find an available room, they will immediately assume there is none available. A simple phone call to the hotel often results in different information from that provided on the Internet. The lesson: if you are a business owner, keep your online information updated.

There is too much choice in the world. Too many products.“³ People don’t know what to buy.

The huge range of possibilities and customization options are bringing a “lack of expertise” feeling to the customers in their shopping experience. According to Underhill, many customers are just plain relieved to relinquish the burden of decision-making. To further explain this fact, Underhill notes the huge popularity of online “best-of” or “most popular” lists. Lists are a powerful marketing tool, even when a most popular list doesn’t necessarily reflect the best options. Amazon and iTunes have proved this option profitable for a long time, so keep it in mind.

“Why We Buy – The Science of Shopping” truly deserves to be a bestseller. I would love to write about it again. However, I strongly recommend you read the original text, I guarantee a funny and mind-altering experience for all business owners.

If you are looking for help marketing your business, please contact us. I would be happy to help you!

(1) In UNDERHILL, Paco, Why we buy – The Science of Shopping, Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, New York, 2009, p.6
(2) In UNDERHILL, Paco, Why we buy – The Science of Shopping, Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, New York, 2009, p. 230
(3) In UNDERHILL, Paco, Why we buy – The Science of Shopping, Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, New York, 2009, p. 230

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    • Vinicius André de Souza


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  • Vinicius André de Souza

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