Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Why We Buy Software

Book review of Why We Buy - The Science of Shopping by Paco Underhill (published 1999 by Simon & Schuster).

Paco Underhill's book is about how people buy items in retail brick-and-mortar stores. But the merchandising lessons that he teaches us also apply to buying software on the web.

Small changes to a store's layout can make very large differences in the store's sales. Changing signs, for example, can increase or decrease sales. Lots! These same principles apply to software developers' web site layouts.

Here's an example - Underhill was hired by a dog food company to develop ways to increase sales. Underhill learned that mom buys most of the dog food. But dog treats are bought by children and grandparents.

Dog food of all sorts is often stored on high shelves, where most adults can readily access it. But seniors and children have problems with high shelves in supermarkets. By moving treats to the lower shelves, where kids and grandmothers can reach them, the dog food company instantly increased sales.

Good software marketing demands that software developers learn to observe how people buy online, and make it easier and more attractive for people to buy more software.

Brand names are no longer the powerful force they used to be, Underhill tells us. Branding and traditional advertising continue to have some influence over people's buying choices. But branding simply doesn't sway people's buying decisions the way it has in the past.

This observation about branding is great news for independent software vendors. It means that microISVs can compete with the well-known, well-capitalized software companies. And win!

Taking away from the influence of branding are things like signage, shelf position, display space, and fixtures. And each of these items has its Internet-based equivalent that software developers have to understand and use effectively in their marketing efforts.

Underhill's clients include Saks Fifth Avenue, The Gap, Hallmark, The US Postal Service, Wal-Mart, and Starbucks. But you don't have to pay his company tens of thousands of dollars to learn how to sell more software. Instead, you can spend a few fun hours reading his book. I highly recommend "Why We Buy." Here's the write-up on

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