Entertainment, Health and Lifestyle

The Science of Shopping

Don’t look now, but that man who just walked into the store behind you is not here to shop. He’s a shopping anthropologist on assignment. His employer just landed a big contract with this store. They want to know what makes you tick, and why you do the things you do. Once they have this data, they’ll use it manipulate and control you to do their bidding and improve their profit margins.

He’s watching your every move, taking notes, timing each of your behaviors and reporting back to central command.

You lingered for 7.37 seconds at the eye-level display strategically positioned 15 feet from the front door. Check.

You reached out to touch the bath towels on Aisle 7, but put them back. Check.

It appears that you eyed another set of towels on Aisle 8, but you could not reach them. Copy.

Finally, you settle on the Sale towels, (Today Only!) of fine Egyptian cotton. You wheel away, pause slightly then return to pick up a second set. Duly noted.

Just as you were getting ready to check out, a friendly employee offered to help you find the matching bathmat and shower curtain. How lovely.

As you wait in line, the fragrance of coordinating candles and a strategically placed display of bathroom accessories calls your name. Bingo.

By the time you reach the front of the line, you have unintentionally redecorated your bathroom. You came with cash to buy towels. Suddenly you find yourself reaching for a debit card. Success recorded. And thank you for shopping.

So, you think I’m kidding? Not at all. Our “guy” is an employee of Envirosell, Inc., owned by Paco Underhill, author of “Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping.” Envirosell has offices in every major city in the world, with thousands of employees who lurk and observe shoppers in retail stores and malls, bringing back valuable data that helps Underhill’s team advise their retailer clients on how to boost profits. You are their best teacher because you show them what works and what doesn’t work.

In an amazing twist, we can use what they learn about the way we buy to turn the tables right back on them. Here’s how:

PLAN: Underhill’s data shows that 70% of all purchases are unplanned. Retailers live and thrive because of unplanned purchases. Counterpunch: Do not browse. Make a list. Stick to it.

TIME: The longer you spend in a store the greater your personal “conversion rate,” which is retail speak for turning a looker into a buyer. Counterpunch: Do not dilly-dally. Take care of your business then get out of there.

TOUCH: Retailers know that if they can get you to reach out and touch something, chances skyrocket that you will buy it. Counterpunch: If it’s not on your list, do not touch it.

SOUND: Envirosell’s strategic planning advises retailers to first identify their target audience demographic, then to play the music that was popular when that group was in high school and college. Isn’t that your favorite music? It makes you feel warm and happy, which makes you want to linger. And the longer you stick around, the more you’ll buy. Counterpunch: Recognize this fact, then get out of the store. You can listen to your favorite music in the car or and at home.

CONTACT: Here’s what Envirosell knows and preaches to its retail customers: The more shopper-employee contacts that take place, the greater the average sale. Talking with an employee has a way of drawing a customer in closer. Why? Most people are kind and do not want to be rude. And when someone reaches out to help us, we feel the need to reciprocate by buying whatever it is they’ve offered. We don’t want them to feel bad or ruin that salesperson’s day. Counterpunch: Do not reach speak with store employees unless you initiate the contact for a specific reason. A pleasant “No, thank you” when approached is proper.

Remember the five shopping triggers whenever you are in a retail environment — plan, time, touch, sound and contact. Then take control.

Enjoy the retailer’s every attempt to improve its conversion rate at your expense, then determine that you are not obligated to help them pull it off.

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Mary Hunt

Mary invites you to visit her at EverydayCheapskate.com, where this column is archived complete with links and resources for all recommended products and services. Mary invites questions and comments at https://www.everydaycheapskate.com/contact/, "Ask Mary." Tips can be submitted at tips.everydaycheapskate.com/ . This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of EverydayCheapskate.com, a frugal living blog, and the author of the book "Debt-Proof Living."

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