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from The New Yorker

November 4, 1996
A REPORTER AT LARGE

The Science of Shopping


The American shopper has never been so fickle.
What are stores, including the new flagship designer
boutiques, doing about it? Applying science.

by Malcolm Gladwell

1. Of course, a lot depends on a store, he says, you never


how fast the potential shopper want to be next door to a
Human beings walk the way is walking. Paco, in his bank: potential shoppers
they drive, which is to say previous life, as an urban speed up when they walk
that Americans tend to keep geographer in Manhattan, past a bank (since there's
to the right when they stroll spent a great deal of time nothing to look at), and by
down shopping-mall thinking about walking speeds the time they slow down
concourses or city sidewalks. as he listened in on the great they've walked right past
This is why in a well- debates of the nineteen- your business. The
designed airport travellers seventies over whether the downshift factor also means
drifting toward their gate traffic lights in midtown that when potential
will always find the fast-food should be timed to facilitate shoppers enter a store it's
restaurants on their left and the movement of cars or to going to take them from five
the gift shops on their right: facilitate the movement of to fifteen paces to adjust to
people will readily cross a pedestrians and so break up the light and refocus and
lane of pedestrian traffic to the big platoons that move gear down from walking
satisfy their hunger but down Manhattan sidewalks. speed to shopping speed-
rarely to make an impulse He knows that the faster you particularly if they've just
buy of a T-shirt or a walk the more your peripheral had to navigate a
magazine. This is also why vision narrows, so you become treacherous parking lot or
Paco Underhill tells his unable to pick up visual cues hurry to make the light at
retail clients to make sure as quickly as someone who is Fifty- seventh and Fifth.
that their window displays just ambling along. He knows, Paco calls that area inside
are canted, preferably to too, that people who walk fast the door the Decompression
both sides but especially to take a surprising amount of Zone, and something he tells
the left, so that a potential time to slow down-just as it clients over and over again is
shopper approaching the takes a good stretch of road to never, ever put anything of
store on the inside of the change gears with a stick-shift value in that zone- not
sidewalk-the shopper, that automobile. On the basis of shopping baskets or tie
is, with the least impeded his research, Paco estimates racks or big promotional
view of the store window- the human downshift period displays- because no one is
can see the display from at to be anywhere from twelve to going to see it. Paco believes
least twenty-five feet away. twenty-five feet, so if you own that, as a rule of thumb,
customer interaction with academic he might have been Blockbuster, Apple
any product or promotional if he hadn't been captivated, Computer, A.T. & T., and a
display in the twenty years ago, by the ideas number of upscale retailers
Decompression Zone will of the urban anthropologist that Paco would rather not
increase at least thirty per William Whyte. It was Whyte name. When Paco gets an
cent once it's moved to the who pioneered the use of assignment, he and his staff
back edge of the zone, and time-lapse photography as a set up a series of video
even more if it's placed to tool of urban planning, cameras throughout the test
the right, because another of putting cameras in parks and store and then back the
the fundamental rules of the plazas in front of office cameras up with Envirosell
how human beings shop is buildings in midtown staffers-trackers, as they're
that upon entering a store- Manhattan, in order to known-armed with
whether it's Nordstrom or K determine what distinguished clipboards. Where the
mart, Tiffany or the Gap-the a public space that worked cameras go and how many
shopper invariably and from one that didn't. As a trackers Paco deploys
reflexively turns to the right. Columbia undergraduate, in depends on exactly what the
Paco believes in the 1974, Paco heard a lecture on store wants to know about
existence of the Invariant Whyte's work and, he recalls, its shoppers. Typically,
Right because he has left the room "walking on air." though, he might use six
actually verified it. He has He immediately read cameras and two or three
put cameras in stores everything Whyte had written. trackers, and let the study
trained directly on the He emptied his bank account run for two or three days, so
doorway, and if you go to his to buy cameras and film and that at the end he would
office, just above Union make his own home movie, have pages and pages of
Square, where about a pedestrian mall in carefully annotated tracking
videocassettes and boxes of Poughkeepsie. He took his sheets and anywhere from a
Super-eight film from all his "little exercise" to Whyte's hundred to five hundred
work over the years are advocacy group, the Project hours of film. These days,
stacked in plastic for Public Spaces, and was given the expansion of his
Tupperware containers offered a job. Soon, however, business, he might tape
practically up to the ceiling, it dawned on Paco that fifteen thousand hours in a
he can show you reel upon Whyte's ideas could be taken a year, and, given that he has
reel of grainy entryway step further-that the same been in operation since the
video-customers striding in techniques he used to late seventies, he now has
the door, downshifting, establish why a plaza worked well over a hundred
refocussing, and then, again or didn't work could also be thousand hours of tape in
and again, making that little used to determine why a store his library. Even in the best
half turn. worked or didn't work. Thus of times, this would be a
was born the field of retail valuable archive. But today,
Paco Underhill is a tall man anthropology, and, not long with the retail business in
in his mid-forties, partly afterward, Paco founded crisis, it is a gold mine. The
bald, with a neatly trimmed Envirosell, which in just over time per visit that the
beard and an engaging, fifteen years has counselled average American spends in
almost goofy manner. He some of the most familiar a shopping mall was sixty-
wears baggy khakis and names in American retailing, six minutes last year-down
shirts open at the collar, and from Levi Strauss to Kinney, from seventy-two minutes in
generally looks like the Starbucks, McDonald's, 1992-and is the lowest
number ever recorded. The americanus than anyone else magisterial "Design for
amount of selling space per alive? Effective Selling Space," that
American shopper is now the Invariant Right is a
more than double what it 2. function of the fact that we
was in the mid-seventies, "absorb and digest
meaning that profit margins Paco is considered the information in the left part
have never been narrower, originator, for example, of of the brain" and "assimilate
and the costs of starting a what is known in the trade as and logically use this
retail business-and of the butt-brush theory-or, as information in the right
failing-have never been Paco calls it, more delicately, half," the result being that
higher. In the past few years, le facteur bousculade-which we scan the store from left to
countless dazzling new holds that the likelihood of a right and then fix on an
retailing temples have been woman's being converted object to the right
built along Fifth and from a browser to a buyer is "essentially at a 45 degree
Madison Avenues- Barneys, inversely proportional to the angle from the point that we
Calvin Klein, Armani, likelihood of her being enter." When I asked Paco
Valentino, Banana Republic, brushed on her behind while about this interpretation, he
Prada, Chanel, Nike Town, she's examining merchandise. shrugged, and said he
and on and on-but it is an Touch-or brush or bump or thought the reason was
explosion of growth based jostle-a woman on the behind simply that most people are
on no more than a hunch, a when she has stopped to look right-handed. Uncovering
hopeful multimillion-dollar at an item, and she will bolt. the fundamentals of "why" is
gamble that the way to break Actually, calling this a theory clearly not a pursuit that
through is to provide the is something of a misnomer, engages him much. He is not
shopper with spectacle and because Paco doesn't offer any a theoretician but an
more spectacle. "The explanation for why women empiricist, and for him the
arrogance is gone," Millard react that way, aside from important thing is that in
Drexler, the president and venturing that they are "more amassing his huge library of
CEO of the Gap, told me. sensitive back there." It's in- store time-lapse
"Arrogance makes failure. really an observation, based photography he has gained
Once you think you know on repeated and close analysis enough hard evidence to
the answer, it's almost of his videotape library, that know how often and under
always over." In such a Paco has transformed into a what circumstances the
competitive environment, retailing commandment: a Invariant Right is expressed
retailers don't just want to women's product that requires and how to take advantage
know how shoppers behave extensive examination should of it.
in their stores. They have to never be placed in a narrow
know. And who better to ask aisle. What Paco likes are facts.
than Paco Underhill, who in They come tumbling out
the past decade and a half Paco approaches the problem when he talks, and, because
has analyzed tens of of the Invariant Right the he speaks with a slight
thousands of hours of same way. Some retail hesitation-lingering over the
shopping videotape and, as a thinkers see this as a subject first syllable in, for example,
result, probably knows more crying out for interpretation "re-tail" or "de-sign"-he
about the strange habits and and speculation. The design draws you in, and you find
quirks of the species Emptor guru Joseph Weishar, for yourself truly hanging on his
example, argues, in his words. "We have reached a
historic point in American symbolize-touching. "Where the far wall, with the
history," he told me in our do we eat?" Paco asks. "We changing rooms and the
very first conversation. eat, we pick up food, on pants stacked on shelves.
"Men, for the first time, have tables." Paco regarded this as an
begun to buy their own extraordinary figure,
underwear." He then paused Paco produces for his clients a particularly for a long,
to let the comment sink in, series of carefully detailed narrow store like this one,
so that I could absorb its studies, totalling forty to a where it is not unusual for
implications, before he hundred and fifty pages, filled the rate of penetration past,
elaborated: "Which means with product-by-product say, Zone 3 to be under fifty
that we have to totally breakdowns and bright- per cent. But that didn't
rethink the way we sell that colored charts and graphs. In mean the store was perfect-
product." In the parlance of one recent case, he was asked far from it. For Paco, all
Hollywood scriptwriters, the by a major clothing retailer to kinds of questions
best endings must be analyze the first of a new remained.
surprising and yet chain of stores that the firm
inevitable; and the best of planned to open. One of the Purchasers, for example,
Paco's pronouncements take things the client wanted to spent an average of eleven
the same shape. It would know was how successful the minutes and twenty-seven
never have occurred to me store was in drawing people seconds in the store,
to wonder about the into its depths, since the nonpurchasers two minutes
increasingly critical role chances that shoppers will buy and thirty-six seconds. It
played by touching-or, as something are directly related wasn't that the
Paco calls it, petting- clothes to how long they spend nonpurchasers just cruised
in the course of making the shopping, and how long they in and out: in those two
decision to buy them. But spend shopping is directly minutes and thirty-six
then I went to the Gap and related to how deep they get seconds, they went deep into
to Banana Republic and saw pulled into the store. For this the store and examined an
people touching and reason, a supermarket will average of 3.42 items. So
fondling and, one after often put dairy products on why didn't they buy? What,
another, buying shirts and one side, meat at the back, exactly, happened to cause
sweaters laid out on big and fresh produce on the some browsers to buy and
wooden tables, and what other side, so that the typical other browsers to walk out
Paco told me-which was no shopper can't just do a drive- the door?
doubt based on what he had by but has to make an entire
seen on his videotapes-made circuit of the store, and be Then, there was the issue of
perfect sense: that the tempted by everything the the number of products
reason the Gap and Banana supermarket has to offer. In examined. The purchasers
Republic have tables is not the case of the new clothing were looking at an average
merely that sweaters and store, Paco found that ninety- of 4.81 items but buying
shirts look better there, or one per cent of all shoppers only 1.33 items. Paco found
that tables fit into the warm penetrated as deep as what he this statistic deeply
and relaxing residential called Zone 4, meaning more disturbing. As the retail
feeling that the Gap and than three-quarters of the way market grows more
Banana Republic are trying in, well past the accessories cutthroat, store owners have
to create in their stores, but and shirt racks and belts in come to realize that it's all
that tables invite-indeed, the front, and little short of but impossible to increase
the number of customers you well. But that's the on another pair. There's the
coming in, and have awkward thing: he has looked primp again. The twirl. The
concentrated instead on at you so closely that you're mother. The wallet carrier.
getting the customers they sure he does know you well, And then again, with
do have to buy more. Paco and you, meanwhile, hardly another pair. The full
thinks that if you can sell know him at all. This kind of sequence lasted twenty
someone a pair of pants you asymmetry is even more minutes, and at the end
must also be able to sell that pronounced when you watch came the take-home lesson,
person a belt, or a pair of his shopping videos with him, for which Paco called in one
socks, or a pair of because every movement or of his colleagues, Tom
underpants, or even do what gesture means something to Moseman, who had
the Gap does so well: sell a Paco-he has spent his adult supervised the project. "This
person a complete outfit. To life deconstructing the is a very critical moment,"
Paco, the figure 1.33 shopping experience-but Tom, a young, intense man
suggested that the store was nothing to the outsider, or, at wearing little round glasses,
doing something very least, not at first. Paco had to said, and he pulled up a
wrong, and one day when I keep stopping the video to get chair next to mine. "She's
visited him in his office he me to see things through his saying, 'I don't know
sat me down in front of one eyes before I began to whether I should wear a
of his many VCRs to see how understand. In one sequence, belt.' Now here's the
he looked for the 1.33 for example, a camera salesclerk. The girl says to
culprit. mounted high on the wall him, 'I need a belt,' and he
outside the changing rooms says, 'Take mine.' Now there
It should be said that sitting documented a man and a he is taking her back to the
next to Paco is a rather woman shopping for a pair of full-length mirror." A
strange experience. "My pants for what appeared to be moment later, the girl
mother says that I'm the their daughter, a girl in her returns, clearly happy with
best-paid spy in America," mid-teens. The tapes are the purchase. She wants the
he told me. He laughed, but soundless, but the basic steps jeans. The wallet carrier
he wasn't entirely joking. As of the shopping dance are so turns to her, and then
a child, Paco had a nearly familiar to Paco that, once I'd gestures to the salesclerk.
debilitating stammer, and, grasped the general idea, he The wallet carrier is telling
he says, "since I was never was able to provide a running his daughter to give back the
that comfortable talking I commentary on what was belt. The girl gives back the
always relied on my eyes to being said and thought. There belt. Tom stops the tape.
understand things." That is the girl emerging from the He's leaning forward now, a
much is obvious from the changing room wearing her finger jabbing at the screen.
first moment you meet him: first pair. There she is Beside me, Paco is shaking
Paco is one of those people glancing at her reflection in his head. I don't get it-at
who look right at you, the mirror, then turning to see least, not at first-and so Tom
soaking up every nuance and herself from the back. There is replays that last segment.
detail. It isn't a hostile gaze, the mother looking on. There The wallet carrier tells the
because Paco isn't hostile at is the father-or, as fathers are girl to give back the belt. She
all. He has a big smile, and known in the trade, the gives back the belt. And
he'll call you "chief" and use "wallet carrier"-stepping then, finally, it dawns on me
your first name a lot and forward and pulling up the why this store has an
generally act as if he knew jeans. There's the girl trying average purchase number of
only 1.33. "Don't you see?" questionnaire takers and Decompression Zone and
Tom said. "She wanted the phone surveyors. That some the Invariant Right seek not
belt. A great opportunity to people are now tracking our to make shoppers conform
make an add-on sale . . . every shopping move with to the desires of sellers but
lost!" video cameras seems in many to make sellers conform to
respects the last straw: Paco's the desires of shoppers.
3. movies are, after all, creepy. What Paco is teaching his
They look like the surveillance clients is a kind of slavish
Should we be afraid of Paco videos taken during devotion to the shopper's
Underhill? One of the convenience-store holdups- every whim. He is teaching
fundamental anxieties of the hazy and soundless and them humility. Paco has
American consumer, after slightly warped by the angle of worked with supermarket
all, has always been that the lens. When you watch chains, and when you first
beneath the pleasure and the them, you find yourself see one of his videos of
frivolity of the shopping waiting for something bad to grocery aisles it looks as if
experience runs an happen, for someone to he really had- at least in this
undercurrent of shoplift or pull a gun on a instance-got one up on the
manipulation, and that cashier. shopper. The clip he showed
anxiety has rarely seemed me was of a father shopping
more justified than today. The more time you spend with with a small child, and it was
The practice of prying into Paco's videos, though, the less an example of what is
the minds and habits of scary they seem. After an hour known in the trade as
American consumers is now or so, it's no longer clear "advocacy," which basically
a multibillion-dollar whether simply by watching means what happens when
business. Every time a people shop-and analyzing your four-year-old goes over
product is pulled across a their every move-you can and grabs a bag of cookies
supermarket checkout learn how to control them. that the store has
scanner, information is The shopper that emerges conveniently put on the
recorded, assembled, and from the videos is not pliable bottom shelf, and demands
sold to a market-research or manipulable. The screen that it be purchased. In the
firm for analysis. There are shows people filtering in and clip, the father takes what
companies that put tiny out of stores, petting and the child offers him.
cameras inside frozen-food moving on, abandoning their "Generally, dads are not as
cases in supermarket aisles; merchandise because good as moms at saying no,"
market-research firms that checkout lines are too long, or Paco said as we watched the
feed census data and leaving a store empty-handed little boy approach his dad.
behavioral statistics into because they couldn't fit their "Men tend to be more
algorithms and come out stroller into the aisle between impulse-driven than women
with complicated maps of two shirt racks. Paco's in grocery stores. We know
the American consumer; shoppers are fickle and that they tend to shop less
anthropologists who sift headstrong, and are quite often with a list. We know
through the garbage of unwilling to buy anything that they tend to shop much
carefully targeted unless conditions are perfect- less frequently with
households to analyze their unless the belt is presented at coupons, and we know,
true consumption patterns; exactly the right moment. His simply by watching them
and endless rounds of highly theories of the butt-brush and shop, that they can be
organized focus groups and petting and the marching down the aisle and
something will catch their the other, and the product new venture, though, is what
eye and they will stop and under glass in the middle. In it says about the shifting
buy." This kind of weakness its place the company has balance of power between
on the part of fathers might provided an assortment of buyer and seller. Around the
seem to give the product-display, consultation, old rectangular counter, the
supermarket an advantage and testing kiosks arranged in relationship of clerk to
in the cookie-selling wars, a broken circle, with a service customer was formal and
particularly since more and desk and a cashier in the subtly paternalistic. If you
more men go grocery middle. One of the kiosks is a wanted to look at a lipstick,
shopping with their "makeup play area," which you had to ask for it.
children. But then Paco let allows customers to "Twenty years ago, the sales
drop a hint about a study experiment on their own with staff would consult with you
he'd just done in which he a hundred and thirty different and tell you what you
discovered, to his and shades of lipstick. There are needed, as opposed to
everyone else's amazement, four self-service displays-for asking and recommending,"
that shoppers had already perfumes, skin-care products, Burns said. "And in those
figured this out, that they and makeup-which are easily days people believed what
were already one step accessible to customers who the salesperson told them."
ahead-that families were have already made up their Today, the old hierarchy has
avoiding the cookie aisle. minds. And, for those who been inverted. "Women
This may seem like a small haven't, there is a semiprivate want to draw their own
point. But it begins to booth for personal conclusions," Burns said.
explain why, even though consultations with beauty Even the architecture of the
retailers seem to know more advisers and makeup artists. consultation kiosk speaks to
than ever about how The redesign was prompted the transformation: the
shoppers behave, even by the realization that the beauty adviser now sits
though their efforts at modern working woman no beside the customer, not
intelligence-gathering have longer had the time or the across from her.
rarely seemed more inclination to ask a salesclerk
intrusive and more to assist her in every 4.
formidable, the retail purchase, that choosing
business remains in crisis. among shades of lipstick did This doesn't mean that
The reason is that shoppers not require the same level of marketers and retailers have
are a moving target. They service as, say, getting up to stopped trying to figure out
are becoming more and speed on new developments what goes on in the minds of
more complicated, and in skin care, that a shopper's shoppers. One of the hottest
retailers need to know more needs were now too diverse to areas in market research, for
and more about them simply be adequately served by just example, is something called
to keep pace. This fall, for one kind of counter. "I was typing, which is a
example, Estée Lauder is going from store to store, and sophisticated attempt to
testing in a Toronto the traffic just wasn't there," predict the kinds of products
shopping mall a new Robin Burns, the president that people will buy or the
concept in cosmetics and C.E.O. of Estée Lauder kind of promotional pitch
retailing. Gone is the U.S.A. and Canada, told me. they will be susceptible to on
enclosed rectangular "We had to get rid of the glass the basis of where they live
counter, with the sales staff barricade." The most or how they score on short
on one side, customers on interesting thing about the standardized
questionnaires. One market- who reads The New Yorker is marketing professor at the
research firm in Virginia, an Intellect). When I asked University of South Florida,
Claritas, has divided the Morton to guess, on the basis who first came up with the
entire country, of my score, what kind of Market Maven concept, in
neighborhood by razor I used, he riffed, the late eighties. "This is a
neighborhood, into sixty- brilliantly, and without a person who has information
two different categories- moment's hesitation. "If you on a lot of different products
Pools & Patios, Shotguns & used an electric razor, it or prices or places to shop.
Pickups, Bohemia Mix, and would be a Braun," he began. This is a person who likes to
so on-using census data and "But, if not, you're probably initiate discussions with
results from behavioral shaving with Gillette, if only consumers and respond to
surveys. On the basis of my because there really isn't an requests. Market Mavens
address in Greenwich Intellect safety-razor like to be helpers in the
Village, Claritas classifies me positioning out there. Schick marketplace. They take you
as Urban Gold Coast, which and Bic are simply not logical shopping. They go shopping
means that I like Kellogg's choices for you, although I'm for you, and it turns out they
Special K, spend more than thinking, You're fairly young, are a lot more prevalent
two hundred and fifty and you've got that Relief than you would expect."
dollars on sports coats, Seeker side. It's possible you Mavens watch more
watch "Seinfeld," and buy would use Bic because you television than almost
metal polish. Such typing don't like that all- American, anyone else does, and they
systems-and there are a overly confident masculine read more magazines and
number of them- can be statement of Gillette. It's a open their junk mail and
scarily accurate. I actually very, very conventional look closely at
do buy Kellogg's Special K, positioning that Gillette uses. advertisements and have an
have spent more than two But then they've got the awful lot of influence on
hundred and fifty dollars on technological angle with the everyone else. According to
a sports coat, and watch Gillette Sensor. . . . I'm Price, sixty per cent of
"Seinfeld." (I don't buy thinking Gillette. It's Gillette." Americans claim to know a
metal polish.) In fact, when I Maven.
was typed by a company He was right. I shave with
called Total Research, in Gillette-though I didn't even The key question, then, is
Princeton, the results were know that I do. I had to go not what I think but what
so dead-on that I got the home and check. But my Mavens think. The
same kind of creepy feeling information about my own challenge for retailers and
that I got when I first predilections may be of marketers, in turn, is not so
watched Paco's videos. On limited usefulness in much to figure out and
the basis of a seemingly predicting how I shop. In the influence my preferences as
innocuous multiple-choice past few years, market to figure out and influence
test, I was scored as an researchers have paid growing the preferences of my
eighty-nine-per-cent attention to the role in the Mavens, and that is a much
Intellect and a seven-per- shopping experience of a type harder task. "What's really
cent Relief Seeker (which I of consumer known as a interesting is that the
thought was impressive until Market Maven. "This is a distribution of Mavens
John Morton, who person you would go to for doesn't vary by ethnic
developed the system, told advice on a car or a new category, by income, or by
me that virtually everyone fashion," said Linda Price, a professional status," Price
said. "A working woman is and women's, in the upper- deep," says James Adams,
just as likely to be a Market middle range-say, khakis at the design director for NBBJ
Maven as a nonworking fifty dollars, dress shirts at Retail Concepts, a division
woman. You might say that forty dollars, sports coats and of one of the country's
Mavens are likely to be women's suits at two hundred largest retail- design firms.
older, unemployed people, dollars and up. The work of "You wouldn't have fifty
but that's wrong, too. There Paco Underhill would suggest different cuts of pants. You'd
is simply not a clear that in order to succeed you have your four basics with
demographic guide to how need to pay complete and lots of color. You know the
to find these people." More concentrated attention to the Garanimals they used to do
important, Mavens are whims of your customers. to help kids pick out clothes,
better consumers than most What does that mean, in where you match the giraffe
of the rest of us. In another practical terms? Well, let's top with the giraffe bottom?
of the typing systems, start with what's called the I'm sure every guy is like 'I
developed by the California- shopping gender gap. In the wish I could get those, too.'
based SRI International, retail-store study that Paco You'd want to stick with the
Mavens are considered to be showed me, for example, male basics. Making sure most of
a subcategory of the buyers stayed an average of the color story goes
consumer type known as nine minutes and thirty-nine together. That is a big deal
Fulfilled, and Fulfilleds, one seconds in the store and with guys, because they are
SRI official told me, are "the female buyers stayed twelve always screwing the colors
consumers from Hell-they minutes and fifty-seven up." When I asked Carrie
are very feature oriented." seconds. This is not atypical. Gennuso, the Gap's regional
He explained, "They are not Women always shop longer vice-president for New York,
pushed by promotions. You than men, which is one of the what she would do in an all-
can reach them, but it's an major reasons that in the male store, she laughed and
intellectual argument." As standard regional mall women said, "I might do fewer
the complexity of the account for seventy per cent of displays and more signage.
marketplace grows, in other the dollar value of all Big signs. Men! Smalls!
words, we have responded purchases. "Women have Here!" As a rule, though,
by appointing the most more patience than men," you wouldn't want to cater
skeptical and the most savvy Paco says. "Men are more to male customers at the
in our midst to mediate distractible. Their tolerance expense of female ones. It's
between us and sellers. The level for confusion or time no accident that many
harder stores and spent in a store is much clothing stores have a single
manufacturers work to shorter than women's." If you look in both men's and
sharpen and refine their wanted, then, you could build women's sections, and that
marketing strategies, and a store designed for men, to the quintessential nineties
the harder they try to read try to raise that thirty-per- look-light woods, white
the minds of shoppers, the cent sales figure to forty or walls-is more feminine than
more we hide behind forty-five per cent. You could masculine. Women are still
Mavens. make the look more the shoppers in America,
masculine-more metal, darker and the real money is to be
5. woods. You could turn up the made by making retailing
music. You could simplify the styles more female-friendly,
Imagine that you want to store, put less product on the not less. Recently, for
open a clothing store, men's floor. "I'd go narrow and example, NBBJ did a project
to try to increase sales of the Republic would never match denim, which is a classic
Armstrong flooring chain. scarves with women's blouses destination item for them,
Its researchers found that or jackets. "You don't have to on the back wall. Many
the sales staff was selling the be that direct with women," clothing stores also situate
flooring based on its Jeanne Jackson, the president the cash/wrap and the
functional virtues-the fact of Banana Republic, told me. fitting rooms in the rear of
that it didn't scuff, that it "In fact, the Banana woman is the store, to compel
was long-lasting, that it proud of her sense of style. shoppers to walk back into
didn't stain, that it was easy She puts her own looks Zone 3 or 4. In the store's
to clean. It was being sold by together." Jackson said she prime real estate-which,
men to men, as if it were a liked the Fifth Avenue store given Paco's theory of the
car or a stereo. And that was because it's on two floors, so Decompression Zone and
the problem. "It's a wonder she can separate men's and the Invariant Right, is to the
product technologically," women's sections and give right of the front entrance
Adams says. "But the men what she calls "clarity of and five to fifteen paces in-
woman is the decision- offer," which is the peace of you always put your hottest
maker on flooring, and mind that they won't and newest merchandise,
that's not what's she's inadvertently end up in, say, because that's where the
looking for. This product is women's undergarments. In a maximum number of people
about fashion, about color one-floor store, most retailers will see it. Right now, in
and design. You don't want would rather put the virtually every Gap in the
to get too caught up in the menswear up front and the country, the front of the
man's way of thinking." women's wear at the back store is devoted to the Gap
(that is, if they weren't going fall look-casual
To appeal to men, then, to split the sexes left and combinations in black and
retailers do subtler things. right), because women don't gray, plaid shirts and
At the Banana Republic get spooked navigating jackets, sweaters, black wool
store on Fifth Avenue in through apparel of the and brushed-twill pants. At
midtown, the men's socks opposite sex, whereas men the Gap at Fifth Avenue and
are displayed near the shoes most assuredly do. (Of course, Seventeenth Street, for
and between men's pants in a store like the Gap at example, there is a fall
and the cash register (or Thirty- ninth and Fifth, ensemble of plaid jacket,
cash/wrap, as it is known in where, Carrie Gennuso says, plaid shirt, and black pants
the trade), so that the man "I don't know if I've ever seen in the first prime spot,
can grab them easily as he a man," the issue is moot. followed, three paces later,
rushes to pay. Women's There, it's safe to put the by an ensemble of gray
accessories are by the fitting women's wear out front.) sweater, plaid shirt, T-shirt,
rooms, because women are and black pants, followed,
much more likely to try on The next thing retailers want three paces after that, by an
pants first, and then choose to do is to encourage the ensemble of plaid jacket,
an item like a belt or a bag. shopper to walk deep into the gray sweater, white T-shirt,
At the men's shirt table, the store. The trick there is to put and black pants. In all, three
display shirts have matching "destination items"-basics, variations on the same
ties on them-the tie table is staples, things that people theme, each placed so that
next to it-in a grownup know you have and buy a lot the eye bounces naturally
version of the Garanimals of-at the rear of the store. Gap from the first to the second
system. But Banana stores, invariably, will have to the third, and then,
inexorably, to a table deep always a scream for quality." Lauren's Polo collection, for
inside Zone 1 where At her two new stores in example, is in the restored
merchandise is arrayed and London, Donna Karan told Rhinelander mansion, on
folded for petting. Every me, she never wants Madison Avenue and
week or ten days, the "customers to think that they Seventy-second Street. The
combinations will change, are walking into a clothing Polo Mansion, as it is
the "look" highlighted at the store." She said, "I want them known, is alive with color
front will be different, and to think that they are walking and artifacts that suggest a
the entryway will be into an environment, that I notional prewar English
transformed. am transforming them out of gentility. There are
their lives and into an fireplaces and comfortable
Through all of this, the store experience, that it's not about leather chairs and deep-red
environment-the lighting, clothes, it's about who they Oriental carpets and soft,
the colors, the fixtures-and are as people." The first thing thick drapes and vintage
the clothes have to work the shopper sees in her stark, photographs and paintings
together. The point is not so all-white DKNY store is a of country squires and a
much beauty as coherence. video monitor and café: "It's color palette of warm
The clothes have to match about energy," Karan said, crimsons and browns and
the environment. "In the "and nourishment." In her greens-to the point that after
nineteen-seventies, you more sophisticated, you've picked out a double-
didn't have to have a "collection" store, where the breasted blazer or a
complete wardrobe all the walls are black and ivory and cashmere sweater set or an
time," Gabriella Forte, the gold, the first thing that the antique silver snuffbox you
president and chief customer notices is the scent feel as though you ought to
operating officer of Calvin of a candle: "I wanted a venture over to Central Park
Klein, says. "I think now the nurturing environment where for a vigorous morning of
store has to have a complete you feel that you will be taken foxhunting. The Calvin Klein
point of view. It has to have care of." And why, at a Giorgio flagship store, twelve blocks
all the options offered, so Armani store, is there often down Madison Avenue, on
people have choices. It's the only a single suit in each style the other hand, is a vast,
famous one-stop shopping. on display? Not because the achingly beautiful
People want to come in, be store has only the one suit in minimalist temple, with
serviced, and go out. They stock but because the way the white walls, muted lighting,
want to understand the clear merchandise is displayed has soaring ceilings, gray stone
statement the designer is to be consistent with the flooring, and, so it seems,
making." message of the designers: that less merchandise in the
Armani suits are exclusive, entire store than Lauren
At the new Versace store on that the Armani customer isn't puts in a single room. The
Fifth Avenue, in the restored going to run into another man store's architect, John
neoclassical Vanderbilt wearing his suit every time he Pawson, says, "People who
mansion, Gianni Versace goes to an art opening at enter are given a sense of
says that the "statement" he Gagosian. release. They are getting
is making with the elaborate away from the hustle and
mosaic and parquet floors, The best stores all have an bustle of the street and New
the marble façade and the image-or what retailers like to York. They are in a calm
Corinthian columns is call a "point of view." The space. It's a modern idea of
"quality-my message is flagship store for Ralph
luxury, to give people people and having his freshly successful underwear line,
space." cut red hair tousled by the the sales of which have
sales assistants in each grown nearly fivefold in the
The first thing you see when section. At the Calvin Klein past two and a half years,
you enter the Polo Mansion store, the idea that the staff- making it one of the
is a display of two hundred tall, austere, sombre-suited- country's dominant brands.
and eight sweaters, in might laugh and hug and Calvin Klein underwear is
twenty- eight colors, stacked tousle each other's hair is partly a design triumph:
in a haberdasher's wooden unthinkable. Lean over and lowering the waistband just
fixture, behind an antique whisper, perhaps. At the most, a tad in order to elongate,
glass counter; the first thing murmur discreetly into tiny and flatter, the torso. But it
you see at the Klein store is a black cellular phones. Visiting is also a triumph of image-
white wall, and then, if you the Polo Mansion and the transforming, as Gabriella
turn to the right, four clear- Calvin Klein flagship in quick Forte says, a "commodity
glass shelves, each adorned succession is rather like seeing good into something
with three solitary- looking a "Howards End"-"The desirable," turning a
black handbags. The Polo Seventh Seal" double feature. forgotten necessity into
Mansion is an English club. fashion. In the case of
The Klein store, Pawson Despite their differences, women's underwear, Bob
says, is the equivalent of an though, these stores are both Mazzoli, president of Calvin
art gallery, a place where about the same thing- Klein Underwear, told me
"neutral space and light communicating the point of that the company "obsessed
make a work of art look the view that shoppers are now about the box being a
most potent." When I visited thought to demand. At Polo, perfect square, about the
the Polo Mansion, the stereo the "life style" message is so symmetry of it all, how it
was playing Bobby Short. At coherent and all- would feel in a woman's
Klein, the stereo was playing encompassing that the store hand." He added, "When
what sounded like Brian never has the 1.33 items-per- you look at the boxes they
Eno. At the Polo Mansion, I purchase problem that Paco are little works of art." And
was taken around by Charles saw in the retailer he studied. the underwear itself is
Fagan, a vice-president at "We have multiple purchases without any of the usual
Polo Ralph Lauren. He wore in excess-it's the cap, it's the busyness-without, in
pale-yellow socks, black tie, it's the sweater, it's the Mazzoli's words, "the
loafers, tight jeans, a pale- jacket, it's the pants," Fagan excessive detail" of most
purple polo shirt, blue old- told me, plucking each item women's undergarments.
school tie, and a brown plaid from its shelf and tossing it It's a clean look, selling
jacket-which sounds less onto a tartan-covered bench primarily in white, heather
attractive on paper than it seat. "People say, 'I have to gray, and black. It's a look,
was in reality. He looked, in have the belt.' It's a life-style in other words, not unlike
a very Ralph Lauren way, decision." that of the Calvin Klein
fabulous. He was funny and flagship store, and it
engaging and bounded As for the Klein store, it's exemplifies the brilliance of
through the store, keeping really concerned with setting the merchandising of the
up a constant patter ("This the tone for the Calvin Klein Calvin Klein image:
room is sort of sportswear, clothes and products sold preposterous as it may
Telluride-y, vintage"), all the outside the store-including seem, once you've seen the
while laughing and hugging the designer's phenomenally store and worn the
underwear, it's difficult not items at the back and fashion Park Avenue, were almost
to make a connection at the front, to treat male empty. He concluded that all
between the two. shoppers like small children, the things used by designers
to respect the female derrière, to attempt to lure people
All this imagemaking seeks and to put the socks between into their spaces made little
to put the shopping the cash/wrap and the men's or no difference. It wasn't
experience in a different pants. But this is grammar; the size of the space, or its
context, to give it a story it's not prose. It is enough. But beauty, or the presence of
line. "I wish that the it is not much. waterfalls, or the amount of
customers who come to my sun, or whether a park was a
stores feel the same comfort 6. narrow strip along the
they would entering a sidewalk or a pleasing open
friend's house-that is to say, One of the best ways to space. What mattered,
that they feel at ease, understand the new humility overwhelmingly, was that
without the impression of in shopping theory is to go there were plenty of places
having to deal with the back to the work of William to sit, that the space was in
'sanctum sanctorum' of a Whyte. Whyte put his cameras some way connected to the
designer," Giorgio Armani in parks and in the plazas in street, and-the mystical
told me. Armani has a front of office buildings circularity-that it was
house. Donna Karan has a because he believed in the already well frequented.
kitchen and a womb. Ralph then radical notion that the "What attracts people most,
Lauren has a men's club. design of public spaces had it would appear, is other
Calvin Klein has an art been turned inside out- that people," Whyte noted:
gallery. These are all very planners were thinking of
different points of view. their designs first and of If I labor the point, it is
What they have in common people second, when they because many urban
is that they have nothing to should have been thinking of spaces still are being
do with the actual act of people first and of design designed as though the
shopping. (No one buys second. In his 1980 classic, opposite were true-as
anything at a friend's house "The Social Life of Small though what people
or a men's club.) Urban Spaces," for example, liked best were the
Presumably, by engaging in Whyte trained his cameras on places they stay away
this kind of misdirection a dozen or so of the public from. People often do
designers aim to put us at spaces and small parks talk along such lines,
ease, to create a kind of around Manhattan, like the and therefore their
oasis. But perhaps they plaza in front of the General responses to
change the subject because Motors Building, on Fifth questionnaires can be
they must, because they Avenue, and the small park at entirely misleading.
cannot offer an ultimate 77 Water Street, downtown, How many people
account of the shopping and Paley Park, on Fifty-third would say they like to
experience itself. After all, Street, in order to determine sit in the middle of a
what do we really know, in why some, like the tiny Water crowd? Instead, they
the end, about why people Street park, averaged well speak of "getting away
buy? We know about the over a hundred and fifty from it all," and use
Invariant Right and the people during a typical sunny words like "escape,"
Decompression Zone. We lunch hour and others, like "oasis," "retreat." What
know to put destination the much bigger plaza at 280 people do, however,
reveals a different by the infinite complexity and
priority. the ultimate mystery of
human behavior. He took
Whyte's conclusions people too seriously to think
demystified the question of that he could control them.
how to make public space Here is Whyte, in "The Social
work. Places to sit, streets to Life of Small Urban Spaces,"
enjoy, and people to watch analyzing hours of videotape
turned out to be the simple and describing what he has
and powerful rules for park observed about the way men
designers to follow, and stand in public. He's talking
these rules demolished the about feet. He could just as
orthodoxies and theoretical easily be talking about
principles of conventional shopping:
urban design. But in a more
important sense-and it is Foot movements . . .
here that Whyte's seem to be a silent
connection with Paco language. Often, in a
Underhill and retail schmoozing group, no
anthropology and the stores one will be saying
that line Fifth and Madison anything. Men stand
is most striking-what Whyte bound in amiable
did was to remystify the art silence, surveying the
of urban planning. He said, passing scene. Then,
emphatically, that people slowly, rhythmically, one
could not be manipulated, of the men rocks up and
that they would enter a down; first on the ball of
public space only on their the foot, then back on
own terms, that the goal of the heel. He stops.
observers like him was to Another man starts the
find out what people same movement.
wanted, not why they Sometimes there are
wanted it. Whyte, like Paco, reciprocal gestures. One
was armed with all kinds of man makes a half turn to
facts and observations about the right. Then, after a
what it took to build a rhythmic interval,
successful public space. He another responds with a
had strict views on how wide half turn to the left.
ledges had to be to lure Some kind of
passersby (at least thirty communication seems to
inches, or two backsides be taking place here, but
deep), and what the carrying I've never broken the
capacity of prime outdoor code.
sitting space is (total
number of square feet © 1997 Malcolm Gladwell
divided by three). But,
fundamentally, he was awed