People behave in particular ways when they enter retail environments. They will almost always veer to the right when they step through the store entrance; they like to “pet” apparel; they can’t absorb signage that’s more than a handful of words. And if you’re a woman, you really don’t like the “butt brush.”

No, it’s not a scrubbing implement for one’s backside. It is, however, a consequence of bending over in a very narrow aisle to look at a product on a low shelf-your butt brushes the shelf behind it. Apparently, this is so agitating that many consumers will leave the store shortly thereafter, which is why many retailers now relegate women’s products to wider aisles.

This tidbit of consumer behavior is the fruit of the work conducted by Paco Underhill, urban anthropologist and founder of a company called Envirosell, Inc. What Paco and his Envirosell team do is to watch people shop. They are also surreptitiously videotaping and taking notes. The end result of all this effort, which now amounts to many hundreds of thousands of hours of video and reams of note pages, is a very precise view of how consumers act when they’re in a store.

Here are several of his compelling insights:

• Today’s man, whose male ancestors were hunters, shop that way-they get in, get what they came for, and drag it home. Today’s woman, whose female ancestors were gatherers, like to take their time when they shop, examining every item.

• What was once just a mall is now an “all,” providing 21st-century consumers with a variety of experiences, activities, and sources of entertainment, making this traditional retail environment a much more valued destination.

• The burgeoning movement toward handmade, non-factory generated products, called artisanal goods, is going to thrive and will continue to generate a premium. Think farmer’s markets and craft fairs.

For optical, there are many lessons and ideas to be gleaned from Paco’s vast research.

For example, don’t presume you know your typical patient-they may not be physically changing, but their views, attitudes, and tastes are. Do turn your retail space into an environment that appeals to as many senses as possible. Do promote your community connection and the fact that you provide custom products to your purchasers. Don’t let displays and store windows become outdated.

These are just a small sampling of the Envirocell chestnuts. For more great stuff go to (Also, be sure to listen to my podcast with Paco Underhill at 2015-05-11/PacoUnderhill.mp3.)

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