Paco Underhill’s “Why We Buy – The Science of Shopping” was first published 11 years ago and everything in it still rings true today. Let me tell you who this book is for: anyone who is in charge of or needs to think about creating a space where human interactions take place. The title byline, “The Science of Shopping”, is a bit misleading as it isn’t strictly about the sale of merchandise, but the dispensing of services, the exchange of information, a location where human beings go to in order to experience or facilitate a transaction, be it online or in-the-real-world.
This book is a mandatory read for retailers, hospitality industry folks, people who dispense services from their own locations, or even people in charge of setting up tradeshow/convention booths. When creating these spaces, too often the business is interested in what they want to get out of what will happen in the space: money getting handed over and getting the “customer” in and out of the space as quickly as possible so that more transactions can take place, thus maximizing the efficiency of their investment. Underhill’s approach is to invest in the space so that the “customer” gets maximum benefit from the experience.
In our free-market system there is one rule that is still paramount: the customer is always right. At your trade show, you might think that your primary purpose is to tell as many people possible about new feature X in your product but if the people who come to your booth are interested in finding support for your legacy system you will serve them best by answering their needs as quickly and comprehensively as possible _then_ you can ask for their permission to be shown a demo for your new feature. If you have set up your booth/retail space/etc. to execute your needs (your new product, your promotion, etc.) you will fail.
It seems like common sense but Underhill has filled his book with countless examples of common sense failures that may not have been so obvious when the company/organization first set up their environment. From gas station chains to newsstands to the Gap to banks in Brazil – Underhill looks at the products, the services, the companies, the customers, and the environment to figure out what works, what doesn’t and why. Almost all the examples are remarkable although by the end of the book I was a little “oversold” on Underhill’s company, Envirosell, which he mentions far too often.
So what is it with the “updated and revised” edition? Underhill attempted to address some of the complaints that he was lambasted with back in 1999. Unfortunately I don’t think he responded very well to the complaints that primarily focused on his assessment of online shopping. I think we get it, online shopping is not ideal and very well might never be for a wide variety of products and services – you can’t taste, smell, or feel via the web and thus, the experience is a poor one compared to the possibilities of going into a retail store or service boutique. Underhill can’t seem to let go of this and it’s detrimental to his book. The brick and mortar facets of a company need to integrate well with online access and services, it’s that simple – we don’t need to hear any more about why online stinks compared to a real-world experience.
The rest of the book is fantastic, however, so do not let Underhill’s “Internet” chapter interfere with your enjoyment of it or miss out on an opportunity to learn a lot from someone who has mastered identifying and correcting problems with transactional environments.