Not surprisingly for a business named after an academic discipline (and then translated into French!), a visit to Anthropologie’s home office in Philadelphia can feel like a graduate seminar in the semiotics of trade. But it’s precisely the combination of intellectual rigor with an intuitive ear for the customer that makes for such compelling selling. What follows is a cheat sheet of Anthropologie’s central disciplines.

Your Fieldwork Never Ends
If you really want to understand your customer, you have to spend a portion of your time excavating the creative edge of the culture that defines her. For Anthropologie president Glen Senk, that means lurking around upscale neighborhoods, looking for blue plastic New York Times delivery bags and calculating the ratio of Starbucks to convenience stores. For found-objects buyer Keith Johnson, that can mean four-to-eight-week treks across multiple continents in search of new sources of inspiration. “It’s important,” he says, “to go to the source: great museums, antique stores, cultural events, and farther afield. I will absolutely go down any alleyway that looks like it might lead to a discovery.”

Name Everything
The Anthropologie merchandising mix is so dynamic, richly layered, and dense with references that it’s hard to keep it straight. In the buying department, each season’s collection is organized into three companywide categories (feminine, ethnic, and modern) that are then refined and named at the department level. The feminine line of bedding for Fall 2003 is called Estella. In the visual department, visual director Kristin Norris concocts names for every vignette — Angels & Insects, The Collectors — for internal use.

Don’t Forget Feedback
The Anthro Dig is a weekly newsletter published on the intranet that features success stories, product highlights, $1,000-plus sales, PR of the week, and celebrity shopping. Good Idea Sheets are one-sheet forms that any person can send to the home office. Sales associates send ideas about customer service, store experience, and product fit to the home office; Norris attaches a picture of the best execution of a merchandising concept or visual “story” and sends it around to every store’s visual team.