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Research explains who buys what, when

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

By Monica Haynes, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Shopper 1: Girl, that sweater is fabulous!
Shopper 2: You like it? I got this on sale. Thirty percent off. It's cashmere.

Shopper 1: Get out of here. That color looks so good on you, too.

Shopper 2: Thanks. Red is definitely my color.

The skills of a true shopanista could be considered a thing of beauty, especially by those who dabble in retail themselves.

However, no matter how much some have tried to raise shopping to a high art, there is true science at work behind the purchase of that sweater.

That goes for all the other stuff we buy as well.

Envirosell, the company founded by shopping science pioneer Paco Underhill, specializes in examining consumer shopping behavior for its clients using a combination of in-store video recording, observation and customer interviews, according to its Web site.

For retail projects, the firm collects data on the average time folks spend in a store, average time spent in each section of the store, age and gender of shoppers, percentage of shoppers who buy merchandise and average time spent with sales associates among other things.

It is from these studies and observations that Mr. Underhill originated the butt-brush theory that states women who are touched, brushed or bumped while shopping will abruptly leave.

Among other findings in his studies are:

North Americans turn to the right when they enter a store.

Seventy percent of shoppers are women.

Eighty-six percent of women check price tags; 72 percent of men do.

For example, Staples, the national office supply outlet, called Envirosell to look at its stores. Twelve stores were examined across the country for two days each.

Envirosell's recommendations, including a crisper, more hassle-free shopping environment, were then incorporated into a new store design that did away with the previous warehouse look.

But there's even more science at work than that.

In recent years, the term neuromarketing has been coined to describe the use of functioning magnetic resonance imaging to see how the brain reacts to advertisements.

Most notably in February, Dr. Joshua Freedman, assistant clinical professor at the University of California at Los Angeles and co-founder of FKS Applied Research LLC, conducted a study in which people watched Super Bowl ads while their brains were scanned.

About a third of the ads elicited no reaction, Dr. Freedman said.

"Essentially what we find is that people's brains are actively rejecting sales pitches before they even get to the front door," he said. "That's how people respond to a lot of advertising that comes at them."

But when folks do respond to an ad, the studies find that there is almost always a strong counter-reaction to it.

"You balance your impulse to get something with emotions and ideas to not want it," Dr. Freedman said. "If there's something that someone really wants and someone has done an effective pitch to make you really want it, you'll activate other parts of your brain to keep you from overreacting."

There are those who've decried using medical technology to aid marketers, but Dr. Freedman doesn't see it as a bad thing.

He said studies such as these help companies understand what's going on in the people they're trying to sell to.

"If you're promising people lots of things and it's showing up in their brain that they don't believe you, you may want to ask why they don't believe you," he said.
(Monica Haynes can be reached at or 412-263-1660. )