How To Marie Kondo Your Stores: A Retailer’s Guide


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“Thank you, piles of ‘90s-era sweaters that didn’t sell. But we must send you away now, at 70% off.”

OK, maybe talking to millions of dollars in overstocks before unloading them won’t make a retailer’s stores more orderly. But it could help right-size the thinking that goes behind ordering them in the first place.

And here, retailers, is where the house-cleaning approach of Marie Kondo, the Japanese woman responsible for the decluttering, keep-it-only-if-sparks-joy tsunami of donations to thrift and secondhand outlets during the pandemic, could make sense. The author just released her latest book, “Marie Kondo’s Kurashi at Home: How to Organize Your Space and Achieve Your Ideal Life” the New York Times reports. And the “life-coach” lessons she offers for living a more orderly life can apply to retail.

Especially now, as we barrel into the holidays.

Is That A Clothing Display Or A Load Of Laundry?

We know this: The old retail adage, “pile it high and watch it fly” just doesn’t fly anymore, not when each shopper has scores of physical and digital shopping choices. Adobe predicts online shopping will advance by 2.5% from Nov. 1 to Dec. 31, yet overall holiday gift spending is expected to drop by $30 billion. Uh oh, stores.

The elements that make for unwelcoming stores not only dissuade shoppers this crucial holiday seasons, they can have a Wall Street effect. In 2021, a research firm downgraded Walmart’s stock based on its store appearances, according to CNBC. And in June, Target CEO Brian Cornell acknowledged to CNBC that “stale merchandise could clutter stores and drive away customers.”

Put another way, cleanliness is next to lucrativeness. Enter Marie Kondo. Here are five takeaways from her organizational approach that can help retailers efficiently maintain a tidier presence.

  1. Think: would you want to be that sweater? Kondo likes to view the world from the perspective of the objects surrounding her, basically tapping into how their conditions make her feel. In a store, a heap of sweaters in disarray may trigger a sense of chaos instead of a treasure hunt for a huge bargain waiting to be discovered. A cereal aisle that is a mass of competing boxes gives the impression they all are the same – none is special. This is the reason small format chains like Trader Joe’s and Aldi appeal to shoppers. They offer limited selections of a satisfying range of goods and their products are almost entirely private label, and therefore, special. Walmart, despite its 2021 store appearance, notably “rationalized” its selection in 2015 in a bid to make its stores easier to navigate, as well as to cut less profitable goods, Forbes reported.
  2. Feel a connection to your stores. Kondo likes to get on her hands and knees to scrub floors, because it connects her to the foundation of the home. Some retail executives walk the floors of their stores to connect with shoppers. If they further think about how the sales floor’s condition affects the actual store, they could by extension gain a better perspective of how the environment influences shoppers. Is there a lack of natural light that makes the store feel sad? Are its overhead signs faded, out of date or hard to read, making the store difficult to interpret? (Or worse, was the merchandise moved but the old signs kept in place?) Dollar Tree tackled these tired-store issues with its Popshelf concept, an un-dollar chain that includes spacious floor plans with lots of natural light, according to WSL Strategic Retail. Two years after launch, Popshelf recently opened its 100th location.
  3. Thank belongings before disposing of them. When forced to recognize why we appreciate something we own, we learn a lot about the motivations behind our decisions to acquire them. If a food retailer’s managers review the ordering process behind the 1,000 pallets of artisan fig bars they ordered – and must now sell at a deep discount – they will more likely identify decision-making soft spots. They then can thank the fig bars for that revelation. This is essentially the premise of the SKU rationalization that Walmart and other retailers undertake: the fewer the number of SKUs, the easier it is to manage inventory, maximize cash flow and track product performance.
  4. Enroll a clean team. A store’s physical condition is as much a cultural issue as a company’s mission. It reflects – as well as affects – worker morale. For a store to be orderly, it really should have an all-hands-on deck system of maintenance, meaning actual worksheets that include everyday tasks and watch-outs (keep sweater displays at 12 per table, for example). Kondo offers something similar to her readers of her latest book – sample worksheets that track the readers’ daily activities so they can cut inefficient practices. When employees pursue the same exercise, and are encouraged to share ways to more efficiently meet daily maintenance goals, there’s a chance they will feel less toxic, as well.
  5. A little dusting makes a difference. Small accomplishments can cover a lot of ground when it comes to meeting a retailer’s dream goals, such as achieving sales of $1,000 per square foot. For more retailers right now, meeting sales and profit goals will require they de-stress their stores. Still, the path to getting there shouldn’t be stressful or rushed. Nordstrom cautiously tested its small, merchandise-free Nordstrom Local stores, where customers can pick up and drop off online items, before it expanded the concept. Nordstrom now reports that customers at its “Local” stores spend 2.5 times more on average. At the same time, Nordstrom continues to run organized, systematically easy-to-shop department stores, based on smart, small decisions.

Cleaning Doesn’t Have To Be Costly

Kondo spent decades cleaning obsessively, and has experimented with many cleaners. She’s learned that when it comes to removing dirt, plain water does the trick.

The same truth can apply to retail customers. Their needs are not that hard to understand. Use shopper insights from loyalty programs, collect volunteer surveys, mystery shop your own stores instead of the dreaded “swoop and poop” visits, and seek employee feedback to nurture a sensitivity to the preferences and demands that bring customers into the store.

In the long run, as Kondo explains, the rewards of such an effort will be far greater than mere order.

Jenn McMillen
Incendio Founder Jenn McMillen has been building and sharing expertise in the retail industry for 20+ years. Her expertise includes customer relationship management, shopper experience, retail marketing, loyalty programs and data analytics. She's a retail contributor for Forbes.


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