Years ago, retailing expert Paco Underhill explained how shoppers, particularly females, did not like to be brushed or touched by others in the store. When they did get brushed up against in crowded areas of the store, they tended to move on from the items they were examining. The store often lost a potential sale. Underhill developed this conclusion based on years of anthropological observation of customers in retailers around the world.
Now, researchers have conducted a field experiment and confirmed Underhill's conclusions. According to the Wall Street Journal, Brett Martin has published a new study that shows, "Getting touched by a fellow shopper—even an apparently accidental brush—makes consumers less likely to buy the product they're considering." The effect proves more significant if a male shopper brushes up against a female consumer, just as Underhill suggested. The study confirms that retailers need to think about the tradeoffs between utilizing floor space efficiently versus losing potential sales due to the "brush" effect.
The thing that I find fascinating about this study is that researchers felt compelled to conduct an experiment to prove Underhill's point. It demonstrates a continued under-appreciation for qualitative observational field research... just one more thing that is maddening about academia!