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Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping

3.90  ·  Rating details ·  12,452 ratings  ·  510 reviews
Is there a method to our madness when it comes to shopping? Hailed by the San Francisco Chronicle as "a Sherlock Holmes for retailers," author and research company CEO Paco Underhill answers with a definitive "yes" in this witty, eye-opening report on our ever-evolving consumer culture. Why We Buy is based on hard data gleaned from thousands of hours of field research–in s ...more
Paperback, 256 pages
Published June 2nd 2000 by Simon & Schuster (first published May 13th 1999)
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Average rating 3.90  · 
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 ·  12,452 ratings  ·  510 reviews

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Jul 01, 2007 rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: Beginning retailers
Rather disappointing -- it reads like a book length sales brochure for Envirosell, the company the author founded. Every page follows the same formula: A foolish retailer was doing this. I told him to do this. He did, and he is now more virile, has a better looking wife, has more money than he could imagine, and he thanks me daily.

This gets old. A few fun tricks of retailing are buried here and there, but the book should be subtitled: How to Get Rich Using Common Sense.
Nov 19, 2011 rated it liked it
Firstly, Why We Buy should have been How They Buy, because 1) the book is about insights on shopping (and not shoppers), based on extensive observations of shoppers when they're shopping and, 2) it's addressed from the retailer's point of view, about what they can do to make people buy more things.

The structure of the book goes something like this:
* Opening scene: the retailers were basically village simpletons who happened to have stores that were being visited by cattle masquerading as custome
Jessie Young
Aug 29, 2011 rated it really liked it
This book was recommended to me after I became absolutely obsessed with grocery shopping in Santiago, Chile. I think it was the hunt, or maybe just that I had a ton of time, but I went grocery shopping pretty much every day while I lived in Santiago. I found the assortment of foods fascinating and the way they were packaged (mayo in a bag!?) even more-so. I'm also, in general, a very tactile shopper so I was interested in what he'd have to say about that.

My expectation was that this book would b
Aug 20, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: everyone
As a consumer, this book frightens me; every display, every sign, every detail in a store is designed to part me from my money. I'm pretty aware of that, but the details in this book will frighten you.

For librarians, this book has a vital message: marketing (and thinking about marketing) is everything. We have something to sell, even if we don't make a profit. The author, from a science-sales point of view, thinks that books should have age ranges; that's scary to me, but understandable from a s
Feb 06, 2021 rated it liked it
Shelves: own, non-fiction, america
This book need not have been 250 pages long. Whatever Paco needed to say could have been said in 20 neat bullet points, like those PDFs your uncles forwarded on WhatsApp family groups containing the do's and don'ts of the lockdown.

It's also not "Why We Buy" it's "How do we make them buy more". The whole book is written for retailers and tells them how best to arrange things in-store in order to maximize the amount of time customers spend in there and buy more things etc. Some solutions are hidd
Nov 26, 2010 rated it did not like it
Don Draper would scoff and say "what?"

I could barely finish this, and I'd say he ripped off Don Draper were it not for the fact that Mad Men was written after this book was. Is advertising really all about love? Hmph.

This book is written by Paco Underhill, who presents himself as an arrogant, simple-minded know-it-all who left (cue schlocky singsong playground bully voice) "academia" to go out in the Real World to actually apply all these "scientific" thi
Anna Morgenstern
Despite the rather mediocre rating, I did learn a lot from this book. There are several reasons that this one got three stars and not four or even five, I'll list a few of them.

1. His know-it-all attitude and cockiness is tiring and annoying and there's only so much you can hear about his company and how he travels the world, all of this self-praise was frankly quite pathetic a certain point as it kept repeating itself on many occasions.
2. Despite trying to appear understanding and progressive,
May 30, 2009 rated it it was ok
Shelves: nerd-stuff
Here is a literary example of "good idea, bad execution." Underhill has lots of interesting little anecdotes, yet presents them in a disorganized, sometimes arrogant, sometimes wistful, and occasionally creepy style.
Some points I found interesting and profoundly true:
-You need to be slowed down when entering a store from a parking lot (caught myself speeding past the section I needed in Target just the other day).
-Despite my mom's vigilant hand-slapping when I was young, the adult consumer in
Dec 29, 2016 rated it it was ok
The author's tone was a major turn-off. The main focus of the book was self promotion. A whole chapter patting himself on the back for hiring women branch heads? Seriously? Plus, even the revised edition is outdated. Trumpeting the success of Radio Shack and Blackberry rings holllow in 2016. I was hoping for some solid information on consumer psychology. I didn't find it in this book. ...more
Hank Stuever
Oct 01, 2013 rated it liked it
Also essential book for anyone curious about the culture of American (and now global) shopaholism. For some reason, I found "Call of the Mall" (the follow-up to "Why We Buy" a little more enjoyable, useful. ...more
K.M. Weiland
Apr 30, 2015 rated it really liked it
I bought this out of interest in the psychology that prompts people to buy things—primarily online. On that score, the book was pretty disappointing. As other reviewers have pointed out, it’s more about the science of selling—and not even that so much as just shedding light on shoddy merchandise presentation. And the (single) chapter on e-selling is pretty much a blow-off.

That said, what *is* here is fascinating, humorous, and highly entertaining. Underhill shares anecdotes from a lifetime of s
Mick Bordet
Nov 06, 2016 rated it did not like it
The good: the book offers some insights into shopping behaviour and even more into the mistakes many retailers make by not treating human beings as people and rather as consumers. It's generally an easy read if you can get past the ongoing advert for his own consulting company.

The bad: for an author to spend so much time in telling us all the things people do wrong in trying to sell stuff, you might expect him not to completely miss-sell his own book. This explains how people buy, where and when
Jan 25, 2013 rated it really liked it
I will never be able to go into a business, especially a retail store, without an eye on traffic flow, product placement, the employee and purchaser environmental factors, along with signage, without thinking what I learned about the aforementioned topics. An enlightening read on "why we buy", and also an aid on possibly controlling why we buy. Great book. ...more
Jan 19, 2009 rated it it was ok
Shelves: babble-added
I guess his point is good, that we miss the obvious...but repeatedly stated in such a 'tada!' manner that makes you want to dislike him very much. ...more
Gisela Hausmann
Aug 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
It’s an excellent book though in a way hopelessly outdated. (I still recommend reading it :)) ) The book is outdated because though I wanted to learn about online shopping strategies, no such information in this book.

Relatively recently, I saw “Why We Buy” mentioned in an article; I immediately ordered the book from my local library. The book was depicted in the article, I got the same book. Red shopping bag on the cover (not red shopping bag with white diagonal filed stating “Updated edition (
Jan 01, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: retail
This book should be called "How we buy, how I observed people shopping". As I got to the end and the pages remaining on the right side of the book were thinning out, I realized, Underhill didn't answer why we buy.

But that's okay, this book was 'alright', like a lukewarm glass of water. It didn't break any ground, didn't revolution retail, was a little sketchy on the 'science' side of things. But I couldn't shake the fact that I was reading a book that was just a big advertisement.

This book featu
Aug 19, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2020-reads
Beautifully explains the science of shopping!
How placing one thing besides one thing in a supermarket will do wonders? This book perfectly answers certain kind of question!

A must read for a budding retailers.

Clearly does justice to the title of the book and answers the questions.

Reader will have to be a little bit of patient, explains every chapter in the detail!!
Ibrahim Niftiyev
Dec 07, 2019 rated it liked it
I am not into sales but this book was interesting enough. Just, the thing is that I can not benefit from it as any salesperson can, so I give 3 stars to indicate more or less mid-level impressions of mine about this book.
Good info, but dated

There's a lot of good information in this book. I came across several things that we are using to make our small Mom and Pop retail store better. The last bits, though, are incredibly dated. The section on internet shopping needs a serious re-vamp, ESPECIALLY in the era of COVID. I'd love to see an update in a year or so taking post#pandemic shopping changes into account.

Overall, though, an excellent resource, and an excellent study of humanity.
Faheem Kajee
May 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
I found parts of this book to be too much of a sales pitch for the author’s consultancy. That said, I think there’re a ton of interesting nuggets about how and what people want to buy.
Mar 05, 2011 rated it it was ok
This was an interesting book for the first couple chapters. I was fascinated by the premise: stores nowadays function as their own advertisement and can affect whether and how much shoppers buy through the judicious placement of signage, merchandise, and staff; however, it's hard to determine what ought to be moved without thorough study of current "traffic patterns" and even then adjustments don't always have their intended effect because "the obvious is not always apparent." Take the "butt-bru ...more
Oct 14, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Megan by: Caris
I learned about this book from a coworker at the library and am really glad I sat down to read it. This isn't a very long book, and it doesn't necessarily have to be read all the way through to glean the important points. Nevertheless, I really wish we could make every one of my coworkers read this book!

The author uses actual research he's done over years and years to glean new insights into the world of shopping and the people who shop. He researches everything from seat placement to aisle widt
Rebecca Radnor
Jan 15, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: consumer-culture
Quick easy read that I would suggest to every adult who holds a job. Underhill is an anthropologist who studies what does and does not work in terms of increasing sales to your customers who have already walked into the store, but its stuff that could be applicable in classrooms to public spaces. He looks at what does or does not make people comfortable, where you should or should not put a sign to ensure it gets read, understanding who buys what and making it easier for them to buy it, etc. Its ...more
Apr 19, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Paco Underhill (with a name like that, how could you go wrong?) takes the tools that he learned as an anthropologist and in the 70's started applying them to the largest tribe in America: consumers and shoppers. It turns out that retailers are willing to pay a lot of money to find out how many towels shoppers will handle before they purchase a set, how many feet from the entrance of a store a display should be placed for maximum exposure, etc. Is Underhill a sell-out? Possibly, but the scales ar ...more
Lukas Vermeer
Sep 11, 2012 rated it it was ok
After reading this, I still have no idea why I bought it, or why the word "science" appears on the cover. Perhaps a better title would've been:

"How To Design Your Store: Random Anecdotes And Unfounded Assertions (Also Did I Mention I Have A Consulting Business?)"

Would not recommend, unless you're the kind of person who likes to read about the author's consulting business, and you accept advice and conclusions presented devoid of methods or evidence, in which case this book would be an excellent
Aug 08, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have a thing for anything involving sociology, so I expected to like this book. With the introduction of "the science of shopping" that includes sociology and psychology, it did not disappoint. Some of the obvious things the author points out are downright amusing. This was written more than a decade ago now, but even the author's views on online shopping and successful websites still make sense. Some of the things he suggests have been implemented and duplicated by now, but he still shares so ...more
Devin Stagg
Aug 21, 2017 rated it did not like it
Way too outdated and honestly the title is deceiving. It should be called "How to Set Up a Retail Store." It's mostly about positioning of merchandise and signs. The title does not fit the content.

I understand the book was published years back, but that kills the relevance for me. So many of the "lessons" taught go against common business best practices now.

Bottom line, only read this if you are an owner of a local retail store trying to increase sales. For the everyday reader, spend your read
Erik Graff
Feb 01, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: consumers
Recommended to Erik by: no one
Shelves: psychology
I picked this up, thinking it might serve as a gift for someone difficult to engage in reading. Everyone shops, right? However, finding myself without reading material, except for this book, I started it and was sucked in, the first half or so of it being amusing and sometimes consciousness raising.

My initial enthusiasm petered out towards the second half, author Underhill having become repetitive and predictable.
Mar 15, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: yr-2008
A friend listened to the audio version and thought of me, so he bought me the book. (Hmmm... me and shopping? I don't see the connection.) I loved it! The author has a subtle sense of humor (doesn't try too hard) and the otherwise dull material was really quite interesting. I'll read it again sometime. Very interesting! ...more
There are a few great points and ideas in this book, and if you are 100% new to merchandising it's eye opening. Though, as others have mentioned it does read a bit like a sales pitch.

On the other hand, if, like me, you have a basic familiarity with the concepts then this book will be a little too basic. I was really hoping for something more in-depth.
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Underhill has spent more than 25 years conducting research on the different aspects of shopping behavior, earning his status as a leading expert and pioneer in the field. Paco helps companies understand what motivates the behaviors of today’s consumer. His research shows how today’s retail world is ruled by factors such as gender, “trial and touch” and human anatomy. He is an insightful and captiv ...more

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