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The Butt-Brush and Other Retail Research Insights

In his landmark book Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping, the guru of retail consulting Paco Underhill reported on the findings of thousands of hours of field research in hundreds of retail environments over 20 years and offered conclusions to help retailers sell, sell, sell. Here are direct quotes from the book about some key findings:

Beware the Butt-Brush
We discovered a phenomenon we call the butt-brush effect. Women especially, but also men, do not like to be touched from behind. Theyll even move away from merchandise theyre interested in to avoid it. We learned that sales from a tie rack were lower than expected from a fixture located on a main thoroughfare [and we observed movement patterns]. The butt-brush factor, we surmised, was why the rack was an underperformer. [The tie rack was moved] and sales went up quickly and substantially.

Give Me a Sign
An important medium for transmitting messages and closing sales is now the store and the aisle. That building, that place, has become a great big three-dimensional advertisement for itself. Signage, shelf position, display space, and special fixtures all make it either likelier or less likely that a shopper will buy a particular item (or any item at all).

Lean to the Right
People invariably walk toward the rightand all shoppers reach right, most of them being right-handed. Planograms, the map of which products are stocked where on a shelf, are determined with this in mind. The most popular brand goes dead center at the bulls eye and the brand youre trying to build goes just to the right of it.

Look, Ma, No Hands
You cant know how much shoppers will buy until youve made the shopping experience as comfortable and easy and practical as possible. Soft, mesh tote bags are superior performers for hands-free convenience compared to plastic baskets.

Please Be Seated
In the majority of stores throughout the world, sales would instantly be increased by the addition of a chair. A chair says: We care When people go shopping in twos or threes, with spouses or children or friends along for the trip, seating is what keeps the non-shopping party comfortable and contented and cared for and off the shoppers back.

At What Price Manhood?
Eighty-six percent of women look at price tags when they shop. Only 72 percent of men do. For a man, ignoring the price tag is almost a measure of his virility. As a result, men are far more easily upgraded than are women shoppers. They are also far more suggestible than women men seem so anxious to get out of the store that theyll say yes to almost anything.

What Women Really Want
Its women, not men, who plumb the metaphysics of shopping they illuminate how we human beings go through life searching, examining, questioning, and then acquiring and assuming and absorbing the best of what we see. At that exalted level, shopping is a transforming experience, a method of becoming a newer, perhaps even slightly improved personTherefore, they need environments where they can spend time and move about comfortably at their own speed.

Touch Me, Feel Me
We live in a tactile-deprived society, and shopping is one of our few chances to freely experience the material world firsthand. Almost all unplanned buying is a result of touching, hearing, smelling or tasting something on the premises of a store.

A Reflection of You
Stand and watch what happens at any reflective surface we preen like chimps, men and women alike. Mirrors slow shoppers in their tracks, a very good thing for whatever merchandise happens to be in the vicinity.

A Bargain at Any Price
This seems obvious, but it goes beyond simply cutting prices. At Victorias Secret, for example, underwear is frequently piled on a table and marked four pair for $20, which sounds like a much better deal than the $5 a pair normally charged.

The Dressing Room
The dressing room may be more important than the floor of a store. Its a truism that improving the quality of dressing rooms increases sales. It never failsits a selling tool, like a display or a window or advertising. It sells more effectively than all of those combined if its properly used.

The Dressing Room Plus
Shopper conversion rate increases by half when there is a staff-initiated contact, and it jumps by 100 percent when there is staff-initiated contact and use of the dressing roomthe clerk escorting the customer to the dressing room, then going out to find a few belts that might go nicely with the trousers, or a shirt, or a vest, knowing that many times the right accessory sells the garment. When the customer is in the dressing room, he or she is in a total buying mode.

The Big Three
Retailing 101 starts with the notion that a store has three distinct aspects: Design (meaning the premises), merchandising (whatever you put in them), and operations (whatever employees do)The larger lesson here is that if one of the Big Three is strengthened, it takes some of the pressure off the other two. If one is weakened, it shifts more burden onto the remaining two. This is not a good thing or a bad thing it just is. Its the geometry that rules the shopping universe.

But Wait, Theres More
The subtler art and science of adjacencies [is] placing one item next to another to create some spark and sell more of both. Because add-ons typically have a high profit margin, they can make the difference between a store that just gets by and one that prospers The Gap now sells fragrance and candles. The U.S. Post Office sells toy mail trucks, leather jackets, teddy bears in mailman uniforms. Video stores sell microwave popcorn, Jujubes, Coke and other movie food.

How High Is Up?
I once heard a talk by the vice president of merchandising from a national chain of young womens clothing stores in which she deconstructed a particular display of T-shirts. We buy them in Sri Lanka for $3 each, she began. Then we bring them over here and sew in washing instructions, which are in French and English. Notice we dont say the shirts are made in France. But you can infer that if you like. Then we merchandise the hell out of them we fold them just right on a tasteful tabletop display, and on the wall behind it we hang a huge, gorgeous photograph of a beautiful woman in an exotic locale wearing the shirt. We shoot it so it looks like a million bucks. Then we call it an Expedition T-shirt, and we sell it for $37. And we sell a lot of them, too.

Above story first appeared in MADE TO MEASURE Magazine, Fall & Winter 2006 issue. All rights reserved. Photos appear by special permission.
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