Japanese decluttering guru Marie Kondo thrust minimalism into mainstream consumer culture with the release of her book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up in 2011, but many retailers could also use a sprinkle of magic.
Lizzi Whaley, chief executive and creative director of commercial design and fit-outs company Spaceworks, says minimalism in retail is all about stripping back the old “rack’em and stack ‘em” philosophy by reducing how much product is on the floor at any one time. This cuts down on visual clutter and combats “choice fatigue”, where shoppers are presented with so many options that they simply can’t decide what to buy.
“One of the things we find in retail is that if you offer people too many choices, they see nothing,” Whaley says. “Everyone is saturated with messaging and choice.”
Minimalism is a relatively new approach in New Zealand – overseas, it can be seen in Nike boutiques and Foot Locker stores, both of which offer limited-edition product in-store and wider ranges online.
Closer to home, Sass & Bide stocks each item on the shopfloor in only a couple of sizes, keeping the rest out the back of the shop. Whaley points out that retailers can store excess stock on the shopfloor at the bottom of display units, as customers don’t tend to shop below a certain level. This also maximizes sales staff time on the floor.
Finding the right balance between stocking too much product and not enough can be tricky. Whaley warns that if there’s too little on the shelves, it will feel like you’ve not got a good range.
“If you look bare, people are going to think you’re in financial trouble.”
Curation is the key to getting minimalism right. Retailers should carefully consider their customer, focus on selecting the exact right product for those shoppers, and create visual merchandising which uses that product to tell a compelling story.
Whaley says retailers seeking a minimalist approach should also cast a critical eye over their in-store messaging with the aim of removing visual clutter. Only the most necessary messaging should stay, and remember: “Do not shout.”
She suggests that those with a smaller store consider removing wayfinding signage. A customer who follows clear signage to the mobile phone section in an electronics store misses out on seeing products that might catch their eye if they had to find the phones themselves. Customers who find their own way to their items also spend more time in-store.
“They’ll come across things they won’t have seen before if you let them navigate,” Whaley says.
She also recommends retailers cut down on items that are displayed at the counter to give the customer’s eye a break. Lighter, brighter colours and simple finishes are called for.
A minimalist shop makes product feel slightly more exclusive, says Whaley. Best of all, however, it breaks the “race to the bottom” of sale cycles and discount arms races. Instead of getting customers through the door with a sale, it entices them with something new – a quiet environment that lets them focus on shopping.
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