Jewish World Review

JWR's Pundits
World Editorial
Cartoon Showcase

Mallard Fillmore

Michael Barone
Mona Charen
Linda Chavez
Greg Crosby
Larry Elder
Don Feder
Suzanne Fields
James Glassman
Paul Greenberg
Bob Greene
Betsy Hart
Nat Hentoff
David Horowitz
Marianne Jennings
Michael Kelly
Mort Kondracke
Ch. Krauthammer
Lawrence Kudlow
Dr. Laura
John Leo
David Limbaugh
Michelle Malkin
Jackie Mason
Chris Matthews
Michael Medved
Kathleen Parker
Wes Pruden
Sam Schulman
Amity Shlaes
Roger Simon
Tony Snow
Thomas Sowell
Cal Thomas
Jonathan S. Tobin
Ben Wattenberg
George Will
Bruce Williams
Walter Williams
Mort Zuckerman

Consumer Reports

Hidden-camera research tells retailers why we buy | (KRT) Is shopping a science?

More importantly to retailers, is there a way to design displays, signs and entrances so shoppers buy more?

National retail guru Paco Underhill has made a career out of convincing executives that the answer to both questions is yes.

This week, he made a stop in Charlotte, N.C., to share his insights with a group of executives from more than two dozen local retail and service companies, including department store company Belk Inc., grocer Harris Teeter, bank Wachovia Corp. and utility Duke Energy Corp.

"I don't think there's been a new idea in brick-and-mortar retailing in a while," he told the group. "We're looking for new tools."

Underhill, author of The New York Times bestseller "Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping," pioneered the field of retail anthropology. His studies use hidden video cameras and in-person tracking of shopper behavior; consumer groups have generally held that the cameras are not an invasion of privacy, since most retailers already use video cameras for security.

Underhill's research has found certain rules of design that encourage or discourage consumer spending:

Donate to JWR

The "butt-brush" factor: "Female butts have radar in them," Underhill says. So if a store display is designed so people have to brush past each other, women might leave without buying.

The counterclockwise trend: Because most people are right-handed, most have a tendency to turn right as soon as they enter a store. Successful stores arrange their traffic counterclockwise.

Shopping cart placement in department and big-box stores: Put shopping carts in more places than just the front. Shoppers with armloads of purchases might stop shopping if they do not have easy access to a cart.

Aging population: Stores need to be sensitive in designing their displays so that older customers do not have to crouch on their knees to reach items; similarly, items should not be placed so high that a customer cannot reach them.

Lessons for banks: Underhill's studies can carry over to banks and other sellers of services; for example, information displays should be mobile and employees should reposition them according to the length of the line of waiting customers.

Dennis Caudle, chief architect in the store planning division at Belk, said the Charlotte-based department store company has been influenced by Underhill's principles. "We've integrated a few of the things he's talking about," he said.

Examples include the wider aisles at the newly renovated Belk at SouthPark, and introduction of shopping carts at some of the retailer's smaller stores, he said.

Greg Kahn, CEO of Kahn Research Group, is a former employee of Underhill who set up his own firm in Huntersville, N.C., to conduct similar research. Kahn has used hidden video cameras to capture shopper behavior for clients including AutoZone, Home Depot and Pepsi-Cola Co.

"It's the best research methodology out there, hands down," Kahn said. "You can't capture the actual mindset of the consumer by asking them - you can only capture it by watching them."

Terry Shook, principal of Shook Kelley, the South End design firm that hosted Underhill's visit, said he hopes more store designers catch on to using principles of retail anthropology.

"Small things matter," he said. "A lot of designers miss those points."

Appreciate this type of reporting? Why not sign-up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.

Comment by clicking here.


© 2003, Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services