The thesis behind this book is that by making the process of shopping easier and more desirable, and the choices clearer, the consumer will buy more. That's very similar to the observation that Taylor made about manual labor. Make it simpler and easier, and more work will get done. The methods are remarkably similar. Measuring the actions that the person under study makes, and changing the environment and process to see how the productivity is affected. I think this work is an important extension of behavioral economics, and hope it will be applied to more areas of business.
Although a book like this could be written in a very technical way, the voice and perspective are quite approachable. Also, the book is written to be equally interesting to shoppers and retailers. I'm sure you notice a lot of new things about your own behavior and that of others the next time you go shopping.
I also thought that the book was a good example of the way that stalled thinking holds back progress. For example, without this kind of observational measurement of shoppers, most retailers would never know which shoppers leave without buying and why. Or, why some merchandising experiments succeed or fail. In both cases, there are opportunities to accomplish more, if you can only grasp how your own decisions and behavior are helping and hurting your sales.
One of the sections I enjoyed was an evaluation of why many book stores miss sales. I often notice the inconveniences mentioned when I am in a book store, and wondered why the stores persist in doing things that make the store hard to shop in. There's a lot of stalled thinking in the industry, which is why we are fortunate to have Amazon.com to help us.
The book does a nice job of discussing how people with different perspectives shop differently. You'll probably get a laugh or two when you find yourself there. Do you secretly dig a sample out of the lipstick or the men's deodorant gel? Do you browse and rarely buy in Laura Ashley or in a computer store? When do you look at yourself in the mirror in a store? When do you not even go into a store because you can see long check out lines?
Ultimately, almost everything in this interesting book is common sense. But chances are that your needs are not often well served in areas that are important to you in retail outlets. My favorite was the problem of people only having two hands, and all of the times that we need three or four to negotiate the retailer's set-up.
A particular strength of this book was that it also pointed out that behavior is subject to change, as social patterns and values change. Men's jeans need to be in areas of wide aisles or fathers pushing their children in strollers will have to choose between looking at jeans and abandoning their children. That was not a very important problem 50 years ago.
I have often noticed how much people like to sample things before buying them, and how difficult it is to sample in many situations. Do you really want to go through what it takes to take a test drive of 20 different cars in 20 different dealers? Probably not. Yet, I would certainly buy a car more often if I had an easier chance to try the new ones out. You are probably the same way.
The main weakness of the book is that much less work has been done in looking at consumer behavior on the Internet, so the findings will hardly surprise you. You probably noticed these things years ago, like sites that are hard to navigate, have no site maps, and won't let you use the forms to buy.
I encourage anyone who has an interest in being more customer oriented to read this book, and use it to reexamine what your customers have to go through to do business with you. How could you improve?
Eliminate your stalls that make buying from you difficult, and rapid profitable growth should quickly follow.