Basket-placement, butt-brushing and other retail snafus

So I walked into a drug store yesterday and spied the plastic baskets with metal handles right beside the entrance. I thought aha, they haven’t read the book I’m reading.

Thanks to a reference in Daphne Gray-Grant’s wonderful weekly Power Writing newsletter (subscribe at I came upon Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping by Paco Underhill – I’ve been transfixed.

Paco and his team of “retail anthropologists” spend hours simply observing shoppers – where do they turn as they enter a store, what catches their attention as they walk down an aisle, where do they go after passing the drive-through window, what happens at the check-out counter (aka the cash/wrap) and when do they look for shopping baskets.

As Daphne mentions in her newsletter, Paco came up with the phrase the “butt brush effect”. Film footage showed shoppers at a Bloomingdale’s looking at a rack of ties near the entrance. Once they’d been bumped once or twice they abandoned the rack. “We watched this over and over until it seemed clear that shoppers – women especially… don’t like being brushed or touched from behind. They’ll even move away from merchandise they’re interested in to avoid it.”

Ever experienced this? I sure have. For me, dollar stores at Christmas come to mind!

One of the things I love about this book is that there’s so much I can observe and muse on about retailing – while I shop for anything. I’ve become an amateur retail anthropologist.

And the whole thing with baskets – well, it’s fascinating. I’ll save that for a later post.


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