The Science of Shopping

Small businesses and family owned retail stores are very common across America, and despite the ever massive presence of large chains and companies, continue to thrive. In the business of retail video game stores, stores like GameStop tend to have quite a hold over the physical game market. However, small stores continue to exist, and sometimes with better selection. A small used video game store, Fallout Games, sits unassumingly next to a Papa John’s Pizza and what appears to be a medical marijuana dispensary. They buy and sell old retro games, so people can either come to find games they played in their childhood or find something they may have missed years ago. But as a small franchise with only three locations, do they have the science of shopping down?

In his essay, “The Science of Shopping”, Malcom Gladwell discusses theories presented by Paco Underhill, who studies shoppers for a living, and tells companies how to lay out their stores so that the customer has the best experience. When you first walk into Fallout, you enter what Paco calls the Decompression Zone. He describes this as “when potential shoppers enter a store it’s going to take them from five to fifteen paces to adjust to the light and refocus and gear down from walking speed to shopping speed” (Gladwell). In this area, everything is in view. In front of you is a long open space, allowing you to see all the way to the back wall of the store, covered in retro peripherals. To the left are walls of Xbox, Wii and PlayStation games, followed by several glass display cases of games all the way from NES to 3DS. On the right are tables of Legos with shelves filled with board games behind them. The layout of the store naturally draws to the left, towards the tall shelves of the newer Xbox One and PlayStation 4 games.

Because all of these games are out on the shelves, they’re easy to pick up and hold, read about, open up. This plays into something that Paco Underhill discusses, about touch. As Gladwell says “It would never have occurred to me to wonder about the increasingly critical role played by touching-or, as Paco calls it, petting- clothes in the course of making the decision to buy them.” (Gladwell) The ability to touch something is crucial. If you’ve never heard of a game, you can’t just learn everything about it by looking at the cover from a distance. You want to touch, feel, and look at it. Looking at something from a distance may invite curiosity that would lead towards a purchase, but it’s rare to buy something without wanting to pick it up and touch it. This is part of what Fallout relies on. Being able to pick up and touch all these classic games, bringing back memories of what you used to play back in the day. Nostalgia is a powerful tool.

As you walk down the aisle, the games go from Xbox One and PS4 down to NES and Genesis. The store draws you through decades of gaming history, enticing you to venture further into the back. In his essay, Gladwell speaks with Paco about how supermarkets function. They spread the desirable items throughout the store so people have to look everywhere to get everything they need. He believes it’s “so that the typical shopper can’t just do a drive-by but has to make an entire circuit of the store, and be tempted by everything the supermarket has to offer.” (Gladwell) The store’s layout does exactly that, taking you further back as your interest continues seeing all these different things. Once you reach the far back, the back wall behind the counter is covered in controllers and other assorted peripherals. If you used to use those controllers, it once again brings back that nostalgia factor. As you then look to the right side of the store, there are several tables covered in Legos for people to play with, enticing you to extend your stay at the store, to have fun.

Fallout Games isn’t a perfect store. For example, Paco believes that customers tend to start by looking to the right side of the store, while most of Fallout’s real items are located on the left side. That said, the store does seem to follow many of what Paco theorizes to be good ways to lay out a store and get a customer to purchase their items. The store draws you around throughout the floor, enticing you to look at each and every thing, as well as giving you the option to touch and feel most of the games, allowing people to get a really good look at what they may purchase. The store has an amazing atmosphere that fills you with nostalgia and lets you feel like you’re at home, among people just like you.



Gladwell, M. (1996, November 4). The Science of Shopping. Retrieved from Gladwell:




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