When you go to a retail shop, especially a chain store, everything you experience is planned from the moment you walk in.  Fortune 500 retailers have actually hired people to follow shoppers around and watch what they do.  Here’s a few things you don’t think about.

— Store temperature.  Dressing rooms are intentionally too warm, because it makes you less likely to spend time examining the garment you’re trying on and more likely to just buy it to get out of the heat.  And most people don’t bother returning items they don’t like once they get the products home, so they’ve made a sale even if you find yourself hating that new pair of pants later on.

— The hand issue.  You’ll buy more if you get a basket or cart, because otherwise your hands will be full after picking up a few items.  So stores place baskets and carts where you’ll see them right away, as well as sometimes placing baskets around the store (if applicable to the business model) so that you can pick up a basket when your hands get full.

— Shelf position.  Most people won’t bend over or reach up high to get an item.  A product’s kiss of death is to be higher than eye level and lower than knee level, although putting large items on the bottom row with large labels to accompany them can help with that.

— Personal space.  People won’t stop to browse a display if other people are moving behind them or beside them too closely.

— Movement.  People slow down when they see mirrors or reflective surfaces.  When shoppers enter the store, they usually head to the right, unless they’re from countries that drive on the left.  Right-handed people tend to notice things just to the right of where they’re looking, so (for instance) groceries will put the main brand name products in the center, and then the product they’re trying to sell more of just to the right of the main brands.  Endcaps are evil because humans walk forward, not sideways, so the items at the end of an aisle are more likely to catch our attention.

Random fact: The reason drug stores put the pharmacies in the back is that it forces customers to move through the whole store to get there.  Same reason many bookstores will put the kids’ books in the back.  If shoppers make it to the back of the store, they’re exposed to more products, which leads to more sales.

Retailers do everything they can to keep you in their store and looking around.  Maybe you should take a look at the store design next time you shop somewhere.  There’s a reason for everything there.  Retail psychology is far more interesting than most people think, and kind of creepy too.

Those are just some random snippets from Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping by Paco Underhill.  He also wrote a fun one called Call of the Mall: The Geography of Shopping, on how shopping malls are designed.  I recommend it, too.


Categories: Science


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