Why We Buy (Paco Underhill) – Review

Why we buy : the science of shoppingWhy We Buy: The Science of Shopping by Paco Underhill
Read by Rick Adamson
Age: Adult
Genre: Nonfiction / Consumerism
Format: Audio CD
7 discs, 8 hours & 35 minutes
Random House, 2000

Find this book at your local library

Why We Buy is an in-depth look at consumerism in retail stores in the United States. CEO Paco Underhill takes us through various incidents, and experiences of hundreds of hours of field research in: shopping malls, bookstores, department stores, etc, to answer the simple question of how to make shopping easier for the consumer.

I really felt jipped by this book. Rick Adamson did a wonderful job narrating the book, bringing in a very upbeat and energetic tone of voice. Although it was informative, albeit somewhat outdated, I felt that this book should really have been called “How to Sell.” I didn’t really find out why we buy, just how retailers make it easier for us to buy. In my mind, those are two different concepts.

The book was written in 2000, and it was sort of eerie listening to Underhill prophesize the future of certain industries. He was correct in that self-check machines would soon appear everywhere, but he was wrong about a number of things. Namely how the Internet would play a role in consumerism. I think the entire section on Internet can be skipped. There is a 2008 revised edition of Why We By that focuses on the influence of the Internet, and I think that would be a more appropriate read.

I was also somewhat put-off that the shopper was always a “she” and that “she” would veer towards certain products. Health & fitness, cooking and parenting books are all “female” topics. It felt sexist to me, and that was discouraging as a female listener. I don’t want to be typecast just because I’m female, and its somewhat disturbing that major retailers would view genders in that way.

Perhaps the creepiest element of the book is right in the beginning when Underhill discusses the “trackers” he employees to gauge a shop’s accessibility and levels of accommodation towards its customers. It’s like a stalker 101 guide. The trackers will pick one shopper and follow them around the store, taking careful notes of what they look at, how long they look at an object, if they touch the object, how many times they touch and object, etc.

Despite all the flaws, I still found myself inspecting all the shops I walked into while listening to this book. It does raise awareness that retailers do go out of their way to sell certain goods and that the placement of each and every object in a store is carefully considered. Not much of the information was new or shocking, but I am curious as to what new strategies Underhill has uncovered and written about in the 2008 updated version of Why We Buy.

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2 responses to “Why We Buy (Paco Underhill) – Review

  1. It probably uses a female shopper because it’s predominantly women that make the home shopping decisions. That’s why commercials target women as well. Interesting review 🙂

  2. I listened to this years ago and agree with the points you make, especially that it’s more of a ‘how to sell’ than ‘why we buy’. Didn’t realize there is an updated version… I’m curious now.

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