World Wide Words logo

Retail anthropologist

You can’t even go shopping now without being watched and studied. This term has turned up in several places recently, but in every case it can be traced back to the same retail consultancy firm in New York, Envirosell, so it’s probably a clever piece of PR rather than a genuine addition to the vocabulary. The founder of the firm, the self-styled retail anthropologist Paco Underhill, calls it the science of shopping, which just happens to be the subtitle of his recent book, Why We Buy. The idea is that observing shoppers as though they were members of an alien culture develops insights that can help stores persuade people to spend more. Simple things can pay dividends — display shirt and tie combinations, because men hate shopping and want it made as simple as possible; don’t put expensive merchandise just inside a shop doorway because this is where shoppers are adjusting to the ambience of the place and aren’t noticing things; place goods so shoppers have plenty of room to inspect them without being bumped by passers-by in the aisles; organise displays to take account of the way that people unconsciously navigate a store — in general respond to the psychology of the customer.

Paco Underhill, retail anthropologist and passionate shoppers’ advocate, gave me a withering look. Macy’s, the look said, wasn’t doing its job, and he was mad about it.

New York Times, May 1999

According to “retail anthropologists”, who base their findings on hours of videotapes of shoppers, the percentage of shoppers who buy some items if they pick up a basket: 75.

Independent on Sunday, July 1999

Page created 31 Jul. 1999

Support World Wide Words and keep this site alive.

Donate by selecting your currency and clicking the button.


Buy from Amazon and get me a small commission at no cost to you.

Buy from Amazon UK Buy from Amazon USA

World Wide Words is copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–2014. All rights reserved. See the copyright page for notes about linking to and reusing this page. For help in viewing the site, see the technical FAQ. Your comments, corrections and suggestions are always welcome.

World Wide Words is copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–2014. All rights reserved.
This page URL: http://www.worldwidewords.org/turnsofphrase/tp-ret1.htm
Last modified: 31 July 1999.