Why Do We Buy Things?

Have you ever wondered why we buy the things we buy? For a society of consumers, it’s easy to presume that we must have an answer to this simple marvel. However, that is rarely the case. We believe things for practical and functional reasons, but we’ve also purchased meaningless stuff more often than we should.

People have no inherent idea why we buy things. Worse, we find ourselves buying things for undefined emotional reasons and end up regretting the purchase later on.

Answering this age-old mystery took rigorous research and tons of observation by a team of researchers led by Paco Underhill. For over three decades, he has closely watched consumer behavior across retail stores. Finally, in 1999, he had the answer all documented in his best-selling book.

However, amidst all this wondering, what is the more profound relevance of understanding the reason why we buy?

Simple. It gives business owners free access to the minds of their consumers. When you understand your audience’s behavior, you can frame how you do business toward that angle.

Underhill’s book paves the way for your to understand your customers’ buying decisions. Do you want to learn more? Keep reading.

Why We Buy -The Science of Shopping by Paco UnderhillWhy We Buy -The Science of Shopping by Paco Underhill

Before we dig further into this topic, there is one matter we must first address: who is Paco Underhill? What makes him the qualified authority to uncover the secrets behind your customer’s psyche and buying behavior?

Knowing the brain behind the operation is just as important as the operation itself. It keeps the topic in perspective and gives us peace that the information we digest is reliable and true.

So, who is he?

Paco Underhill is a behavioral analyst and the founder and CEO of Envirosell, a behavior research and consulting firm research. For many years, he has been studying consumers’ shopping behavior in retail environments. All his collated data were transcribed and published in his 1999 book “Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping.” He has also written other books, including “Call of the Mall” and “What Women Want.”

In “Why We Buy,” Underhill’s team embarked on a mission to answer the question: Why do we buy things? The book looked into the psychology behind purchasing decisions. Underhill uncovered the factors that drive consumer behavior through observations and surveys of shoppers in malls across America.

His book is unique in its seemingly doubled-edged thrust to the business landscape. 


For one, the book offers a more profound understanding for shoppers to look inward and reflect on their buying behaviors. However, it also teaches retailers how to create the most effective shopping experience that captivates their target market.

This article will look at six key ideas you will find from his book. Our complete guide aims to offer valuable insights to shape your store experience for your consumers. 

However, realistically speaking, implementing his teachings will take work. You may stumble and go through a trial-and-error series before finding the best application. Unless, of course, you seek the help of expert business strategists.

Wizard of Sales® can help you on this front. For many years, we have been assisting businesses align their culture to cater to why customers buy. Companies managed to spike sales and improve revenue through our comprehensive guidance and strategies.

That’s our same offer to you. If you’re tired of measly sales and depressing profits, let’s shift your course to favorable tides. Book a call.

6 Key Ideas from the Book

Paco Underhill‘s book had five parts carefully subdivided into 20 chapters. Remember that this will not be a review nor a “Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping” summary. This article aims to deliver the six primary ideas we pulled from his research.

Here’s one question you might have. If his book “Why We Buy” is about retail stores, how does it relate to residential home services? Don’t worry, buying behavior is universal – a predictable science, not a tactic. We’ll show you how Underhill’s concepts link to the residential home services industry.

Let’s get right to them.

Every aspect of an institution influences the buying behavior of customers

One key point Underhill emphasizes is the importance of observation in retail success. He delves into the science behind how customers behave inside a store and advises retailers to keep close attention. These behaviors could pave the way to attracting more customers and increasing sales.

He argued that the significant details down to the most minute aspects of a store influence a person’s buying behavior. From the layout of the parking lot to the width of the aisles, these could affect how much customers will purchase. Understanding and catering to these subconscious factors can help entrepreneurs create an optimal shopping experience for their customers.

For example, they observed that narrow aisles in stores encouraged impulsive purchases among customers because they felt crowded and rushed. Alternatively, wider aisles made customers feel more relaxed and in control. This makes them less likely to indulge in spontaneous buying.

How does this concept relate to the residential home service industry? If you’re a plumber or an HVAC contractor, you may need a physical store for customers to browse through. However, “Why We Buy” principles can still apply to your business in other ways.

Think about it.

Customers behave differently, NOT because of the aisles themselves. It’s what customers feel that ultimately influences their buying behaviors. The aisles are merely instruments used by retail stores to render those emotions. What are ways to make your audience feel crowded and rushed to commit impulsive purchases in your business?

Simple. Ads.

When you infuse scarcity into your advertising, interested people will hurriedly buy in fear of missing out. Using phrases like “Only two spots left!” or “Limited time offer!” activates their sense of urgency. This leads them to buy out of impulse. Particularly if the offer is a no-brainer value proposition.

The problem is that there’s a caveat in using scarcity in ads. Use them once, and they will work less effectively the next time. On the other hand, advertisements that build-long term relationship is better because it gives back control to customers.

When your ads build relationships subconsciously, your brand bonds with customers and you engrave your business in their subconscious. Once they require your services, they will be the ones to choose you deliberately. That’s the difference between the two.

In “Why We Buy,” Underhill stresses that all details matter when influencing buying behaviors. That means everything, including your website, social media, customer service, salespeople and all other aspects, will come into play. Ensure that all of these business touchpoints are at their best.

Set the ideal environment for sale; the layout of the store is crucial.

Another interesting point the book highlights is the importance of store layout. Retailers need to direct customers and create an environment that encourages purchasing. Underhill and his team found that customers typically navigate stores in a specific way. If the layout does not consider this, entire departments may not receive foot traffic.


For example, placing “impulse items” like candy or magazines near the checkout line dramatically increases their likelihood of being purchased. He also notes the importance of creating a pleasant shopping experience, including elements like scent and music. While these details might not be relevant to residential home services, there are nuggets we can learn from Underhill’s discovery. Allow me to explain.

Websites are examples of modern-day store layouts. In today’s business landscape, most businesses already have an online presence. An organized and easily navigatable website with streamlined appointment booking processes can significantly improve the likelihood of conversions. A well-tended website can do that if you need to set an ideal environment for conversions to happen.

The secret is to think of all your online and physical assets as floor layouts.

Spruce up your online presence, such as your website and social media channels. Make sure that these online assets are actively posting relevant information daily. The homepage should feature all the necessary details of your business. Hiring a social media manager can help you connect with people engaging with your business.

If you have a physical store, ensure the environment’s ambiance also caters to visiting clients. Conducting sales calls in spacious offices and offering refreshments softens customers up to doing business with you.

The key here is setting the ideal environment for purchasing. After all, will you even bother entering a disorganized and messy store? When stores take care of themselves, we can rest assured that they’ll also take care of the customers.

Consider the demographics of your audience.

One of Underhill’s primary focuses in his “Why We Buy” book is demographics. His book delved into the varying shopping styles of men and women. Men, according to him, are characterized by their impulsive hurry which means they like processes to be quick and easy. Alternatively, females have more attention to detail and want shopping to be a leisurely, enjoyable experience.

He highlights that retailers often mistake assuming that one gender is the primary shopper for their business. In reality, both play important roles. While a disparity exists, successful retail stores cater to both buyer types’ needs. Limiting your demographics bottlenecks the audience who enters and buys from the store.

The point is that appealing to all dominant demographics matters.

Keep in mind that demographics don’t only account for gender. In the residential home service industry, you will need to consider other factors that may affect the buying decision.

How then do we apply these principles in residential home services?

Targeting demographics is mainly attributed to advertising. As entrepreneurs, we must understand our target market and tailor our approach accordingly. If your services are limited within your city or state, there’s no point showing your ads abroad. It’s also a particular case for HVAC contractors, landscapers, and roofers because seasonality matters in their ads.

HVAC businesses will want to advertise their air-conditioning services during the year’s hottest months. For example, a roofing contractor may want to target the message during hurricane season. Landscapers, on the other hand, will most effectively sell snow removal and salting services in the winter.

Underhill’s research added that businesses should consider children’s needs.


Because kids possess a strong influence on the buying decisions of their parents, for instance, targeting kids for your ads could convince their parents to hire your services.  Moreover, using kids in your messaging is a soft spot for parents. This could then tip their buying decisions in your favor.

Touching-and-feeling potential purchases and swift customer service make the buying process more enjoyable.

Underhill’s research suggests that being able to “touch” and “feel” potential purchases makes buying more satisfying. Allowing customers to interact physically with products enhances their experience and increases the likelihood of purchase.

Think about it; there’s a different level of gratification when your buy products from brick-and-mortar stores rather than online. For one, you can physically assess the quality of what you buy. Secondly, holding the item makes you want to buy it immediately. If you have a physical store, you could use this to your advantage as a residential home service business. 

For example, HVAC contractors could display their various air conditioners for customers to see, touch, and try before buying. This will likely result in higher sales and customer satisfaction. On the other hand, plumbers could exhibit their water fixtures and equipment to help buyers make a good decision.

But how does this work in today’s business landscape? 

I’m sure you wouldn’t risk sending a sample product for free testing. If you think hard enough, there are workarounds to give your customers the gratification of touching and feeling their purchases.

Look at Brian Scudamore’s Wow 1 Day Painting business. His customers certainly don’t waltz around his shop, checking out various paint colors and palettes. He makes up for the touching and feeling part by finishing the paint job service in a day. When his clients return from work, the house will be painted entirely. How? Precision systems and processes and a truckload of people who all know what their job is. 

You can do the same in your business. Offering to deliver and finish the service in the quickest way possible gives customers that same bliss. They get to touch and feel the results of your services in a short turnaround time.

If you understand why people buy things, you can develop marketing campaigns that are more likely to appeal to their needs and wants. For example, you could create a marketing campaign that highlights the convenience of online shopping, or the ease of customs declaration for international orders.

Additionally, Underhill emphasizes the need for swift customer service. He explains that waiting longer than two minutes can lead to frustration and dissatisfaction for shoppers. In the residential home service industry, it’s important to consider these principles and strive to attend to your customers’ needs as quickly as possible in order to provide an enjoyable shopping experience.

Refrain from letting inquiries and messages sit in your inbox for too long. Be sure to attend to them ASAP.

Most shopping habits are similar all over the worldMost shopping habits are similar all over the world.

A key point highlighted in “Why We Buy” is the concept that shopping behavior is universal. While cultural differences may affect specific preferences and habits, overall, our approach to shopping is relatively consistent. 

How did Paco’s team find out about this?

To cement and complete their research, Paco and the rest of Envirosell expanded across various countries to seek the truth. They went to Europe, South America, Mexico, Japan, and India to understand the nuances of many cultures’ customs. More importantly, to know how these cultures influenced people’s buying behaviors. The business discovered that most shopping habits are similar all over the globe.

The likelihood of global expansion may be unrealistic for most residential home service businesses. At most, your target market will be neighboring cities or states within North America. Knowing the buying behaviors across cultures gives entrepreneurs the data they need for a successful business expansion.

Their research shows that while cultural differences may affect purchase decisions, overall shopping behavior remains constant. If shopping behavior is almost similar across the globe, then there are not many differences between states and cities. Regardless of culture, people have a fundamental need for pleasure and satisfaction in their shopping experience. 

Apply the tips we’ve provided above, whatever expansion or franchising you intend, and you’ll do okay. These tips include:

  • Master customer service and world-class buying experience
  • Provide a pleasant and satisfying environment for buyers and employees
  • Optimize your website and other online assets for conversion and human interaction
  • Streamline your processes for efficiency without compromising the buying experience
  • Cater to your targeted demographics needs and motivations
  • Perfecting all the touchpoints of your buying journey
  • Keep your customers happy and loyal by underpromising and overdelivering

When you meet all these standards, your business will thrive.

Although they won_t completely replace brick-and-mortar shops, e-commerce poses a threat

Although they won’t completely replace brick-and-mortar shops, e-commerce poses a threat.

Many believe that Underhill’s book, “Why We Buy,” no longer offers relevance in today’s business climate. Underhill and his team found that e-commerce has introduced a new level of convenience for shoppers. Instantly being able to compare prices and have products delivered directly to their doorsteps has changed the way consumers shop. With the rise of smartphones and digital marketing, people would rather stay home than endure a bad shopping experience.

There’s just one caveat. Underhill’s research found that physical stores still hold a special place in the hearts of shoppers. Particularly the ones that have upped their game.


It all comes down to our senses. Touching, feeling, and trying on products plays a big role in our buying decisions.

This is where residential home service businesses can capitalize. It’s not the end of brick-and-mortar stores but the beginning of a new marketing landscape.

Wizard of Sales® believes the same reality. Keep your physical stores and online presence in tip-top shape. Combine the digital and traditional methods of advertising and reap the harvest of the best of both worlds.

And when you have no store (like residential home services), bring the experience to them. Red carpet treatment, undisclosed services for free, and surprise gifts all make your experience that much more delightful. 

At the end of the day, why we buy things boils down to one reason: to gratify our motivations and justify our needs. Yes, even the grudge purchases. 

Giving your potential customers a reason to feel good about purchasing from you is essential. Whether that’s in-store, online, or in their home is up to you. What matters is that you’re prepared to give them a buying experience like no other.

Paco Underhill‘s book packs many principles and lessons you could apply to your business. Though these lessons are a bit general and retail store-centric, use them to spark your inspiration. In other words, some tasks may be applicable, while others might not be appropriate for your business. But there’s a secret.

A business strategist can help you sift through the information and develop a tailored blueprint for your business.

That’s what we are offering you.

If you’re looking for experts in sales and culture, Wizard of Sales® can help. Book a call.