As I wrote about on September 17th in part 1 of Why They Buy, over the course of 4 years, 106 undergraduate business students initiated 90 visits to 15 local businesses, which resulted in 270 observation hours and 60 personalized improvement recommendations, most of which were acted upon. This was based on Paco Underhill’s book, Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping. I’d like to share some more of the recommendations and how they were instituted in our little river town.

 Click the pic to buy the book.

All shoppers have certain biological constraints and physical abilities and limitations that must be recognized by the retail industry. Elderly people don’t want to bend over to retrieve aspirin from the bottom shelf. I, as a short person, don’t want to have to climb on the lower display shelves to reach the cereal, three spaces back, on the top shelf. Busy moms juggling two kids, a purse and a hastily scribbled shopping list don’t want to have to carry items all the way to the front of the store without encountering a shopping basket or two or seven along the way.

A hug part of what this book does is “uncover ways in which environments fail to recognize and accommodate how human machines are built and how our anatomical and physiological aspects determine our behavior.” Underhill cites these examples:

  •  We have two hands that are at rest approximately 3 feet off the ground.
  • Our eyes focus on what is directly in front of us first while also peripherally scanning the environment around us.
  • We would rather look at people than objects.
  • We move in predictable paths. Most people go right when entering a doorway.
  • The speed at which I walk depends on my surroundings.

So, let’s talk about a few things, dear retailers.


This is the landing strip – the first 10 feet inside the doorway. Here in the Midwest most places have a breezeway, as you can see in this picture I got off of Google Images. This allows us to get in the door, the door to close behind us, essentially keeping in the warm air and staving off the cold air. We enter through the second set of doors and voila, we’re in. This student is sitting on a bench in the landing strip, a seemingly appropriate place for short-term seating, as I discussed before in part 1. Notice what’s not in the landing strip area: signs, advertisements, brochures.


The landing strip is part of the decompression zone, as depicted below in the circled area.


The decompression zone is where we transition from the outside to the inside. I’m walking into a retailer and, if I have my children and it’s winter, I’m shedding coats, taking off sunglasses and replacing them with my regular glasses, shifting my purse from my hand to my shoulder, getting a cart/basket and breaking up a fight that has erupted over who gets to ride in/on/under the cart.

I’ve just walked past all of your sale brochures, directional signage, offers for a store credit card, job postings anything else you’re trying to get me to do here.

Shoppers tend to look and veer right, so if your important aisle is left, I’ve just missed it.

You might be thinking, ok miss smarty pants, what should we do in here? Space is at a premium, you know?

Greet me. Offer me a basket. Suggest a coupon or map. Answer my question. Offer my kids a cookie sample and me a coupon for a package of the cookies! How about a coupon for a free small coffee at Starbucks, if you happen to have one in the store.

You should be a speed bump to get me to slow down. Things in the decompression zone should say “just consider the idea” instead of BUY ME NOW! Respect my physical and domestic requirements when getting into your store, consider my needs first and I’ll feel better about your store. I’ll stay longer and spend more and come back often.


When I’m walking around your store, accumulating clothes to try on, I want to see a chair outside of the fitting room when I arrive. I literally feel despondent when I’m shopping with kids or my husband when there’s not a chair outside for them to park their weary butts. This makes me hurry in the fitting room, ultimately reducing my desire to buy more stuff. YOU DON’T WANT THIS REALITY, TRUST ME.

How much does a chair or two cost? What’s the return on investment for two chairs outside of the fitting room? Throw in a wall-mounted, cable attached flat screen and my sales have just tripled because my peeps are comfortable, waiting for the mommy fashion show to start.


If you get a man in a fitting room, 65% of the time they will buy the item. If you get a woman in a dressing room, 25% of the time they will buy the item. Then again, we try on clothes much more frequently and spend way more time in dressing rooms overall.


I love any bookstore and Barnes & Noble is perhaps my favorite for a few reasons. First, I can get a venti, shaken, black iced tea at my closest B&N. Caffeinated book shopping is definitely a situation where the house always wins and my pocketbook loses. Second, book browsing is one of my all-time favorite past-times. Third, the bookstore has comfy chairs if I want to flip through books before I buy.


Have you ever noticed the chairs in the kid section of the store are, well, pint-sized? Only kids can fit into those chairs, as evidenced by my failed attempt to think my butt was smaller than it really was and, to my daughters’ mortified dismay, getting my rear stuck in a child-sized arm chair. Little kids need to be read to. If they find a book in their section, daddy needs a daddy-sized chair in which the kid crawls onto his lap and is read to.

Seating should reflect a relaxed ambiance and comfortable environment, not a stressful, frantic search for somewhere to park my rear.

And, hey, as long as I’m parking my butt, how about an outlet so I can charge my cell phone/laptop/tablet?


Think of a typical wall outlet. Where is it? About 12 inches from the floor blocked by chairs and tables and other furniture. We don’t use outlets like this in public, right? I want an outlet at hip-height so I can see it in order to plug in easily. At one of our local coffee shops where students like to gather to study and read and sip coffee roasted on-site, the hot booths are the ones with the power strips clearly visible.

Some of my undergraduate business students performed consumer behavior research in the University library. In addition to creating a cultural map of what really goes on in the library, they also located every single outlet in the building and found that the majority of them were covered by bookshelves or furniture. Especially in the library, outlets are important. Long-term seating for study and writing requires a good wireless connection and access to an outlet.

Instead of re-wiring the entire library which was both impractical and cost prohibitive, the Library Director ordered coaster-sized signs in a color different from the wall color  and placed them about 3 feet up the wall to indicate each outlet’s location.

Something like this, but in blue:


Hey, while we’re at it, let’s talk more about kids and shopping. Part two continues with Kids and Carts.

All images found on with open licenses for reproduction unless otherwise indicated.