Basket Case

Look at the picture below. Recognise it?

Yes that’s right it’s the M&S in Bangor, now what’s wrong with it?

The second question is a lot harder to answer. In fact, to you and I there is nothing wrong with this image. The sign is where it should be, the stock looks fine and the baskets are in their usual place. And BINGO, you’ve accidentally stumbled upon the problem – the baskets are in their usual place.

What you are looking at is known as the ‘transition zone’ or ‘landing zone’ (Underhill, 2000). This is the area where the shopper first enters the store and then adjusts to their surroundings – if it’s raining outside, this is the area where they remove their coat or if it’s sunny outside, this is the area where they remove their sunglasses. This is also the area where people tend not to pay much attention. BUT despite this, it is the area where stores always put their baskets.

In 2000, a book was written by Paco Underhill looking specifically at the science of shopping. In his research for the book Underhill found that fewer than 10 percent of customers used baskets when they were positioned by the door of a store. Other research has shown that people‘s purchases increase if they have a basket (Desai and Talukdar, 2003). Therefore, if less that 10 percent of shoppers are using them, this is a large problem for shops.

So how do you solve the problem?

Simple – move the baskets!

Let’s use the example of a book shop.

People who go to book shops rarely take a large shopping list with them. They usually go with just one book they want to buy in mind. But bookshops are attractive places, you can browse and flick through fascinating books on all sorts of subjects and nowadays you can even enjoy a coffee while you do it.

Quite often people will find more books that they want to buy and they will stack them up in their arms. But books are often big and uncomfortable so even if they find another book they really want to buy (perhaps a consumer psychology one!) they won’t pick it up because they physically don’t have room in their crowded arms.

What do they need? That’s right, they need a basket. Paco Underhill argues that baskets should be positioned right through the store encouraging people to make impulse purchases. He also found that at a store in America a member of staff went round the shop offering baskets to the customers who didn’t already have one. Because of this simple act, basket use rose instantly and unsurprisingly so did the size of the average sale.

Paco also argues that in stores like bookshops where the products for sale are heavy, a different basket should be used.

The big plastic ones you are given can really make your arm ache if you pile them up with a few textbooks so Underhill suggests that over-shoulder canvas bags should be used instead. This stops people not buying more things they want, because they physically can’t carry them anymore.


This idea shows that it just takes a little creative thinking to make a huge difference to  a company’s profits. This idea is also great because it is totally accessible for small and medium sized enterprises as the whole concept is inexpensive – in fact canvas bags are cheaper for a store to get hold of than the plastic ones. So if you ever get the chance to run a store, think twice about where your baskets are located.

Thanks for reading.


About Think Outside The Cliché

I write blogs that try to encourage people to think differently about their purchasing behaviour. I also write blogs that attempt to show companies that there are often other unconventional ways to conduct business. Whether you are a consumer or a business person there will be definitely be something interesting in my blogs for you. I hope you enjoy them and please remember I always, always appreciate constructive feedback.

5 responses to “Basket Case”

  1. abp177 says :

    Hey, great blog – and the use of bags and baskets is effectively adapted in many stores I have seen. In H&M for example they have specific tailored smaller baskets in the acesspries section so you are not trying to put small delicate prpducts into a huge naskets with everything else. This is effective because they are less likely to get damaged and it kinda restarts the shopping experience into a new chapter – a new empty basket to fill. Both of these aspects should have a postive effect on sales.

    It must be noted however that because of the recent economic climate we as consumers walk differently throughout the store – not going down aisles aimlessly but to the specific places in the store that you want to go to (Lubin, 2012). When thinking about this it must be ensured that baskets are put in central places that every consumer will pass through, not excluding any consumers and therefore being optimally effective.

    • thinkoutsidethecliche says :

      Thanks for your comment.

      The H&M example you gave is very interesting – it sounds like it really adds to the experience. In a clothes store in America, an employee gives customers very attractive and decorative shopping bags when they enter the store. When the person gets to the till, to pay, they are asked if they want to purchase the bag that they have been shopping with. This is another way of making the shopping bag or basket part of the shopping experience and is again very simple for companies to implement. In case you’re interested – people usually say yes to buying the bag!

      Thanks again for your post.

  2. theunlockedconsumer says :

    Its true that customers most of the times leave the store with empty hands, just because the baskets are located in the wrong place. Usually, when I go to a supermarket and I know that I will buy just one item, I prefer not to grab a basket. But when I grab it for only one or two items, I end up buying more products that the ones I have planned to buy at the beginning. Perhaps, if trolleys or baskets are hound out, I will have more probability to buy several products, and not just one.
    On the other hand, the topics that Paco Underhill tackles are really interesting. I had the opportunity to read about his findings before, and I was attracted to the concept of Chevroning, where according to Underhill (2010) it has an impact on customers, when sellers set shelves at a certain angle. Thus, if shelves are located at 45 degrees, is more likely that customers notice the product and purchase it. Even though, these thoughts sound basic, Dr Underhill have establishes two points that could have a significant value in further researchers.

  3. crystal1014 says :

    Great blog! In my experience, most baskets are put in the entrance of the shop, while some stores also put shopping bags just beside some kind of products. I think it is a good idea, just like you have mentioned the example of book shop, offering baskets when customers need it may increase sales. I have such experiences, once I take a bag or basket, and it is undoubted that I will buy more things than expected. Baskets are considered to give customers some kind of psychological hint that they should buy something to fill this basket. It is usual that some stores provide bags for customers as soon as they enter the store, which aims to give them such kind of hint. It is wise for sellers to do so, isn’t it? But as consumers, sometimes we need to remind ourselves of what we should buy in case of impulse buying.

  4. theconsumerinthewindow says :

    Interesting blog, and something which I touched on a few weeks ago in my blog. I agree that the lack of baskets placed around the store is something which shops should address, as often people find half way round the shop that they want more than they can carry but aren’t prepared to go and get a basket and then come back for the product they want. However I do feel that M&S’s placement of the basket aids the ‘Transition Zone’ suggested by Underhill (2000). This is because consumers can see the baskets through the window as they walk towards the shop so will be reminded to get one, and then by having to go around the corner to get one you are effectively slowed right down so you won’t miss any of the shop. I feel M&S has done this due to the limited space in their shop and a need to get people to transition into a state which can facilitate shopping as quickly as possible.

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