Paco Underhill is an environmental psychologist and business author based in New York. Basically, environmental psychologists believe that our surroundings influence our behaviour, a pretty straightforward idea. Underhill, however, has written a series of books – including “Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping” and “Call of the Mall: The Geography of Shopping” – suggesting that our retail surroundings influence our shopping behaviour, and that savvy retailers, developers and entrepreneurs can take advantage of this reality.
So far, this seems pretty obvious. But in his latest book “What Women Want: The Science of Female Shopping”, published in July, Underhill has the opportunity to turn the argument on his head. If built retail and commercial environments can influence economic activity and spending, and we know this, why have we been so bad at creating spaces that are “female-friendly?” And with women controlling an increasing portion of global financial resources, why is this only changing slowly? Underhill suggests that we’re at front end of a major market shake-up, where our understanding of how to build and use space is about to be reconfigured to a more female-friendly approach. In part, this means that malls and stores are going to change. But Underhill also suggests that how and where we build our houses, how we structure our office space, and how we design our hotels will change.
While much of Underhill’s approach is fairly straightforward, with a strong flavour of common sense, “What Women Want” is a great primer for those advising new or struggling business about how to expand market share. Even his initial suggestion that women look for four basic features in a retail environment – cleanliness, control, safety and considerateness – can kickstart a creative discussion that could help more than a few businesses in our communities. Underhill offers additional research – and many speaking appearances – through his consulting firm Envirosell. But for those looking at a less expensive way of looking at how markets are turning female-friendly, “What Women Want” is worth picking up.