| NEW YORK
NEW YORK Dec 4 It's the season for eggnog,
mistletoe - and the mad retail rush.
This year more Americans are forgoing shopping malls for
their favorite websites. They are also buying what they want for
themselves instead of waiting for someone to present it to them
as a gift.
Shopping guru Paco Underhill is the founder of consulting
firm Envirosell and author of several books on consumer behavior
including "Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping" and "What Women
Want." He explains how and why consumption is changing in the
Q. What's different about this holiday shopping season?
A. Americans are very ready to come out of a recession, if the
rest of the world would let us. We are tired of gloom and doom.
Three years ago, conspicuous consumption was considered to be
bad manners. People are tired of being restrained. More of us
think: "If I have a job, I'm not as afraid of losing it as I was
Some of us are doing just fine in this post-recession. The
"haves" are back shopping.
Q. More of us are shopping online. What does this say about
Americans - are we lazy, cheap or something else?
A. Online shopping is female-friendly. But there's another side
to this process - it's taken the cyber world by surprise and
thrown the data mining community for a complete loop. The
"retail therapy" women used to do at the mall is now happening
Retailers like eBay and Gilt are asking: Why is
this woman looking at clothes but not buying? They don't realize
that she's not there to shop; she's there to fantasize. Women
are on these websites for two hours-plus at a time. Unlike going
to the mall, you don't have to dress up, drive, park or put on
lipstick when you look at eBay from the comfort of your bed on
your iPad or iPhone.
Q. According to the National Retail Foundation, 20 percent of us
buy gifts for ourselves when shopping for others. What's behind
A. Many more Americans are living alone, particularly women who
are single and later in their lives, who have pots of
discretionary income. This is the time for so many of them to
self-gift, to be their own Santa Claus. The thinking is: "If
nobody else will give me what I want, I can buy it myself." That
explains marketing strategies like the right-hand ring (which
jewelers target to single women).
Q. How is social media changing the way we shop?
A. The wholesomeness of social media is rapidly being corrupted.
People believe things online more than when they read it in a
magazine, but they shouldn't. At least magazines make some
semblance of fact-checking.
We have given the Internet a naïve trust. We believe that
the reviews we read and the personal recommendations we get are
legitimate. We seldom question their authors. From Hotels.com to
Amazon.com, the review process has been grossly misused
if not thoroughly corrupted. When people start paying for
positive comments or liking something, it's drastically wrong.
Neither of these two sites pay for reviews. However, public
relations firms are arranging positive reviews for authors on
Amazon.com. And authors are getting friends and family to write
Q. Where is your favorite place to shop?
A. I am someone who tends to shop globally. I have favorite
stores all over the world. If I ever turned up dead in a back
alley, they'd be confused because my underwear, trousers and
socks are all from different places.
I've worn almost exactly the same shoe for eight years. I
like a variation of Ecco's slip-ons with elastic inserts. I
could walk 10 miles in them.
I live my life out of carry-on luggage. I believe firmly in
silk and cashmere and custom-made suits. Think: fewer, better
things. The world is coming around to that. Fast-fashion is
starting to fade, so the pundits tell me.
Q. Are you a deal hunter?
A. I bought my first pair of Ecco shoes for 170 bucks, then two
years later I was at ... (a DSW Inc store) and I found
the same pair of shoes for $78. Two years after that, I was back
at DSW, and I found a similar pair for $26. I've bought the same
style, but from a different brand, ever since. How could I ever
go back to paying full price for anything?
This is still one of the challenges of our culture. We are
celebrating how little we spend for something rather than how
much. With the power of our smartphones, the one thing we have
access to is pricing. The merchant community - the brick and
mortar stores - hasn't been able to figure out how to use that
to their advantage.
Q. What's the biggest shopping mistake you ever made?
A. I bought a male menopause car - an eight-cylinder Audi
sports car. I drove it for two years. I
woke up one day, and said, "What am I doing?" I traded it for a
Nissan Rogue - which I drive twice as much because it's
so much easier to drive. People will put you into a box if you
drive a Subaru, Honda or Mercedes, but a
Nissan Rogue? It's the most anonymous vehicle you can buy.