Monday, November 29, 2010

eighty-seven

Why We Buy: The Science Of Shopping

Don Draper would scoff and say "what?"

I could barely finish this, and I'd say he ripped off Don Draper were it not for the fact that Mad Men was written after this book was. Is advertising really all about love? Hmph.

This book is written by Paco Underhill, who presents himself as an arrogant, simple-minded know-it-all who left (cue schlocky singsong playground bully voice) "academia" to go out in the Real World to actually apply all these "scientific" things that he learned in the ivory tower to the retail world. If you don't want to read the book, and I don't recommend that you ever do, this is essentially what it is:

'I mean, these retail simpletons were practically barring customers from their stores before I came on the scene! When I told them to get rid of the flaming spike viper pit in front of the cash registers and to move the Metamucil display from the volcano-based trapeze obstacle course to a middle shelf, sales went up three thousand percent, the store owners became billionaires, and they recommended my company, EnviroSell (tm), to all their friends. Ha, ha!'

Okay it's not that bad. Mostly. But that's the impression I got from Chapter 1 to the end. He does go through what retailers should know, and this book is ten years old. It's an interesting idea, and should have been a good book. Some retailers don't think about what would be easy for their customers, or who their customers really are, or what draws attention most effectively. But he presents this information as both a pool of knowledge only his company provides through the Miracles of Science, and also simple stuff that these stupid retailers should know, and rely on me, in my brilliance, to tell them for a fee. It doesn't work. Organizational, behavioral, cognitive, and linguistic psychology more than covers all of the "science" he trumpets as his own genius oeuvre that No One Else In The World thought of before he went corporate.

He does manage, in his headlong blind horror movie chase scene of a narrative pace, to accidentally step on some mundanely interesting insights. People watch you while you shop, locking things in glass cases hurts sales, people look at flashy things, customers like to do whatever's easiest, waiting in line feels longer than it actually is, parents will buy things to shut up their kids, women like to shop longer than men do, people fall for "deals," customers like interaction and information when making large purchases, and people like to pretend they aren't spending money. If this guy wasn't such a sad little goober, some of these insights, presented in a completely different way, and multiplied by about 17, would have made the book almost tolerable. I think he didn't quite get there.

If I needed one more thing to convince me that he's not some retailing psychology genius, his chapter on internet shopping (written in 2000), sealed it. Essentially this whole stores-using-internet-to-sell-stuff will never take off. People like being in stores too much. How can you replicate the shopping experience on a monitor with tiny images?

I want Roger Sterling to rough him up a bit, verbally.

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