More or Less

As an obsession with organization sweeps the nation, the concept is ripe for retail.


For some retailers, clearing clutter isn’t just for closets.

If you’ve yet to clean out your closet according to the KonMari method of organization, you’ve likely heard all about it from someone who has. In her bestselling book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, which has sold over 2 million copies worldwide, Japanese cleaning expert Marie Kondo details her de-cluttering philosophy: Go through every single item in your home and get rid of anything that doesn’t “spark joy.” Store everything that’s left using Kondo’s specific techniques and you’re left with a peaceful, orderly space—not to mention room to spare.

Credit a post-recession penchant for frugality or increasing awareness of the environmental impact of consumption. Whatever the reason, the concept of streamlining has struck a chord with Americans. And if people are interested in paring down the possessions they already own, it’s bound to affect the way they shop.

Nadia Shouraboura knows a thing or two about streamlined selection—the former Amazon exec’s revolutionary retail concept, Hointer, marries the uncomplicated ease of e-commerce with the tactile experience of brick-and-mortar to create a minimal, Kondo-like effect. “Good curation makes or breaks a store,” she asserts. Shouraboura first put her technology to the test at her Seattle-based men’s store, where shoppers peruse denim, shirts and accessories from stark displays of single items. There’s no digging through piles to find a size or lugging loads of clothing through the store—with a few taps of a smartphone, shoppers’ sizes are sent to their fitting rooms from “mini-warehouses” in the back. Selection doesn’t take a hit with this strategy—by eliminating inventory on the floor, Shouraboura says she can actually offer customers twice as much variety. Extra real estate in the store can be used creatively for customer-luring displays and events.

It’s all about creating a one-of-a-kind in-store experience, says Lula Aldunate, co-owner of Allegria, a children’s boutique in Brooklyn, NY. “My approach to merchandising has always been very curated,” she says of the shop, where whimsical décor and vintage furniture set the stage for clothing from global and local brands. Aldunate, a former magazine stylist and interior designer, says she always has the customer in mind when she visually composes the store. She wants shoppers to be able to find what they’re looking for easily, especially since she believes the recession left consumers more conscious of how much they spend—and that a more curated retail selection helps them determine whether or not they identify with a purchase. “I believe there is a growing niche that appreciates a sense of uniqueness,” she notes.

Of course, not all retailers are hopping on the curation bandwagon. Trang Lio, co-owner of Marcia’s Attic for Kids, a children’s store in Englewood, NJ, says her customers expect a wide range of merchandise. “What makes shopping at our store a fantastic experience is the breadth of assortment, not the depth,” she states. Further, offering a large selection “creates a shopping experience that requires good sales help,” which Lio cites as one of her store’s strengths, as well as a key reason shoppers choose Marcia’s Attic over department stores. Plus, their plentiful merchandise often results in what Lio calls “layered” purchases, wherein a customer will come in for a swimsuit and end up buying sunglasses, goggles and swim shoes to go with it. “Stores that have streamlined may not have all of those adorable extras to offer the customer,” she adds.

Shouraboura believes more retailers will eventually move in the direction of streamlined merchandising, since it provides shoppers with a superior customer service experience. That’s the idea at Wild Was Mama, a Brooklyn, NY-based maternity and children’s boutique, where owner Adriane Stare plans to pare down the merchandise this year. “It’s just more navigable when it’s cleaner. It makes people feel a little bit more calm. If our goal is to keep people happy and here for a while, it needs to feel like there’s more breathing room. The last thing we want is to be another overwhelming baby store where you can’t wait to get out the door.”

But a shift toward this futuristic retail model doesn’t mean the death of brick-and-mortar, Shouraboura reassures. She believes shopping for kids’ apparel is best done in person, so you can feel fabrics for softness and experience product features. In fact, Kondo herself recently revealed that when she shops, she insists on touching every garment. It’s all part of her strategy to only purchase those items that—you guessed it—spark joy.

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