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How Can Retailers Capitalize on the ‘Less Is More’ Mentality?

You’re probably lying if you say you haven’t at least considered “Marie-Kondo-ing” your home. But what about your retail operation?

Marie Kondo’s philosophy was an instant hit in the U.S., boosting her network to a cool $8 million[1]. Seemingly obvious, the idea that we have too much “stuff” has been widely adopted across demographic lines. The idea that a simplified lifestyle reduces stress is particularly appealing during a time when anxiety is at an all-time high; millennials were found to be the most anxious generation in a study conducted by the American Psychiatric Association[2].

While reactions to the “KonMari” method vary from “reduce consumption to the bare minimum to consume responsibly” to “buy only pieces that make you happy,” it’s undeniably tapped into a changing consumer landscape. Thrift shops are overwhelmed by all the donations in reaction to the #doesitsparkjoy phenomenon[3]. The realization that our consumption patterns not only make us less happy but are also contributing to climate change encourages both donating to thrift shops, and investing in previously worn pieces.

I must admit I was affected myself by the KonMari phenomenon. My husband and I tried it with our 14-month-old’s overflowing drawers, my parents tried it after their most recent move, and I’m sure you can think of at least one person in your life who has made a recent effort to live a less stressful life by literally just getting rid of things. Rather than shying away from this messaging, what insights can the retail industry glean from Marie Kondo’s success? Her instant fame proves today’s consumers are hungry for two things:

  1. A simplified shopping experience: The idea that more things (more money) lead to more stress (more problems) is not a new one, but it has become increasingly relevant to retailers whose logical goal is to sell more. How can we reconcile the pressure for revenue growth quarter over quarter, with this newfangled philosophy that purchasing is no longer seen as “retail therapy” but an anxiety-provoking phenomenon? With the increase of options and growth of online retailers and direct-to-consumer brands, shoppers are overwhelmed even when it comes to picking out a simple pair of jeans. Add to that a wealth of consumer information, advocacy groups, campaigns, labels, and often times I end up buying nothing at all.

Whether you have a brick and mortar presence, or an online-only business, consider what it’s like for your customer. Are they wading through tons of inventory to get to what they want? What is it like to walk into your store or browse your website?

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More options have been linked to higher stress at the point of sale: cognitive overload[4].  Luxury brand Cuyana, for instance has outfitted its brick-and-mortar stores to create a shopping experience where customers can pause to think about their purchase. They describe their retail presence as: “…warm, inviting and feminine, but never embellished, like the brand itself.”[5] By stocking fewer products than the average store, brands like Cuyana also reduce waste, and unsold inventory.

A huge portion of fashion items are never sold; 87 percent end up in a landfill or on fire[6]. By having a better sense of what shoppers want, and better demand forecasting, there is a massive opportunity to reduce waste while increasing profits.

  1. Better staples that last longer: While there is a segment of the population that is lusting over one-use items, the opposite end of the spectrum is going the other extreme, turning back to better-made basics that can be re-worn with pride. Influential celebrities, including members of the Royal Family, are among those repeating outfits as a statement on the impact of the fashion industry. Harper’s Bazaar notes: “…celebrities have decided to rewrite the rule book, deeming that it is, in fact, chic to repeat.[7] Cate Blanchet is among those who have made a public statement on re-wearing clothes. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter last year she said: “From couture to T-shirts, landfills are filled with garments that have been unnecessarily discarded.… Particularly in today’s climate, it seems willful and ridiculous that such beautiful garments are not cherished and re-worn for a lifetime.”[8]

To meet that demand for better staples that last longer, in come brands making shopping simple and feel-good. The likes of Everlane (radical transparency), Cuyana (fewer, better), and ThirdLove (to each, her own) all encourage consumers to invest in quality pieces that are made to last, while providing a smaller variety of SKUs aimed at a more pleasant, less paralyzing shopping experience. The fewer things you own, the less Marie Kondo-ing down the line.


Noemí Jiménez is the co-founder of qb. consulting, a purpose-driven strategy and communications firm. She helps organizations embed diversity and inclusion into every facet of the business, from the imagery in advertising, to employee engagement strategies, to talent development and training on all things equity. She has an M.A. in Corporate Responsibility with a focus on the garment industry in Bangladesh from NYU’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study.