By Mary Hunt

Don’t look now, but that man who just walked into the store behind you is not here to shop. He’s a shopping anthropologist.
The store hired his employer to find out what makes you tick. Once they have this data, they’ll use it to improve their profit margins.
He’s watching your every move, taking notes, timing each of your behaviors.
You lingered for 7.37 seconds at the eye-level display strategically positioned 15 feet from the front door. Check.
You reached out to touch the bath towels on Aisle 7 but put them back. Check. Then eyed another set of towels on Aisle 8 but couldn’t reach them. Copy.
You pick up the sale towels of fine Egyptian cotton, put them in your cart and then picked up a second set. Duly noted.
On your way to checkout, a friendly employee offered to show you the matching bath mat and shower curtain. How lovely.
At checkout, coordinating candles and strategically placed bathroom accessories called your name. Bingo.
By the time you get to the cashier, you have unintentionally redecorated your bathroom. You came with cash to towels. Now you’re reaching for your debit card. Success recorded.
So, you think I’m kidding? Not at all. Chances are you’ve encountered an employee of Envirosell Inc., owned by Paco Underhill, author of “Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping.” Envirosell has offices around the world. Their employees bring back valuable data used to advise retailer clients on how to boost profits. Tracking shoppers shows them what works and what doesn’t.
In an amazing twist, we can use what they learn to turn the tables right back on them. Here’s how:
Plan. Data shows that 70 percent of all purchases are unplanned. Counterpunch: Do not browse. Make a list. Stick to it.
Time. The longer you spend in a store, the greater your personal “conversion rate”- turning a looker into a er. Counterpunch: Take care of your business and then get out of there.
Touch. Retailers know that if they can get you to touch something, chances skyrocket that you will it. Counterpunch: If it’s not on your list, do not touch it.
Sound. Retailers are advised to identify their target audience demographic and play the music that was popular when that group was in high school and college. That music makes you feel happy, which makes you want to linger — which makes you more. Counterpunch: Listen to your favorite music in the car ride home.
Contact. Most people are kind and do not want to be rude. When a store employee reaches out to help us, we feel the need to that item. Counterpunch: Do not speak or make eye contact with store employees unless you initiate the contact for a specific reason. Just say, “No, thank you,” when approached.
Remember the five shopping triggers whenever you are in a store- plan, time, touch, sound and contact. Enjoy the retailer’s attempts to improve its conversion rate, but remember why you’re there, get the job done and then get out.
Mary Hunt is the founder of, a personal finance member website. You can email her at, or write to Everyday Cheapskate, P.O. Box 2099, Cypress, CA 90630.