What Marie Kondo can teach bricks & mortar retailers

Marie Kondo is the undisputed queen of decluttering. Through her award-winning book ‘The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing’ and her recent Netflix show ‘Tidying Up with Marie Kondo’, she has shown how people can ‘spark joy’ by re-organising their lives. However, decluttering isn’t just about having a cleaner home. As Marie outlines in her book and television show, her organisational method (or, as she calls it, the ‘KonMari’ method) also provides a basis for a clean mind and healthier life.

KonMari does this by encouraging people to tidy up through a process, beginning with clothes, then books, papers, and, finally, sentimental items. It stresses that people should only keep things that speak to the heart, and discard items that no longer ‘spark joy.’ In a tumultuous time for retailers, and global economic uncertainty, there are a few teachings that brands could tune into to ensure that they are ‘sparking joy’ with their consumers.

Taking inspiration from Kondo’s KonMari method, I have outlined key areas for retail brands to tidy up and refine in 2019, and hopefully ‘spark joy’ for its customers. 

From digital to physical

While companies are quite rightly investing in their digital experiences – upgrading legacy infrastructure and focusing on UX and UI design to remove complex user journeys and “sparking joy” for their consumers online, and hopefully their bottom line – this effort is not filtering through to the physical retail space. Retailers are struggling with change, ignoring the opportunities technology can bring and thus failing to address the change in customer expectations.

Updating and evolving bricks & mortar stores at speed is easier said than done, yet we live in a world where expectations change fast and people expect brand experiences to adapt to them. Therefore, retailers need to take note of innovation opportunities and incorporating technology into their physical stores.

Whilst personalisation online is helping retailers to create loyal customers, when it comes to in store, the last real innovation to hit the UK was probably IKEA – back in 1987! The only way we can drive change is to move ourselves away from what used to work in the retail space and instead concentrate on the experience that people need and rebuild accordingly.

We are already seeing the digital giants lead the way. Apple’s approach to its retail stores would put Marie Kondo to shame, whilst Amazon’s frictionless Amazon Go stores are set to expand exponentially this year.

Innovations in AI, such as voice are increasingly getting closer to human parity and it is the companies that are investing in these areas (and in turn, investing in experiences) that continue to be the biggest threat to traditional retailers. Technology like visual search (which Amazon is using to drive shoppers to Amazon for items they don’t know the names of, such as nuts and bolts for DIY) could equally be used by a physical retailer to help confused shoppers. With visual search, in particular, the tech sparks joy as people process visual data better than any other type of data – 90% of information transmitted to the brain is visual.

Other physical stores need to adopt a similar approach as customers expect more from their retail experience. This means bringing digital behaviours such as adopting a data-led approach into their stores. Some of the bigger brands are investing. Macy’s has invested in using beacons to send discounts to shoppers walking near their stores, while Walmart has filed a patent to listen to sounds in its stores. The sound sensors can capture audio of conversations between guests and an employee stationed at the terminal to determine whether the employee stationed at the terminal is greeting guests and providing a positive customer experience.

Marie Kondo is a bit like Marmite: you either love her, or hate her... or find her incredibly annoying. Yet the haters are going to have to get used to her. Although retailers have begun to spark joy through clean, fast and effective shopping online, the in-person experience more often than not continues to be a bit of mess. Unless of course, Marie Kondo has her way.