Guest Column | January 25, 2019

Retail And The Marie Kondo Effect

By Jenny Reese, Infor Retail

Decals That Won’t Get Trashed

Retail is like a dinghy in the midst of a surging sea. Everything that goes on around it, from changing tides to tropical storms, can affect its movement, behavior and ability to stay afloat. And this time, Marie Kondo is the one rocking the retail boat.

If you are one of Netflix’s 118 million subscribers, you have probably seen or heard about “Tidying Up”, a new show featuring Japanese organizing extraordinaire, Marie Kondo. Based on her popular book, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing”, the show follows Mrs. Kondo as she demonstrates her now-famous KonMari Method™ for cleaning up clients’ homes, offices, and even their personal lives.

One of the main tenets of Marie Kondo’s method implores followers to “keep only those things that speak to the heart, and discard items that no longer spark joy.”

“The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” is a New York Times Best Seller and since the show’s premiere on Netflix, more people than ever are seeing the benefits of organizing their own spaces. When conducting this cleanse, many are finding that a lot of inanimate objects do not inherently spark joy. That means that a lot of items are getting tossed. But where does it all go?

One Woman’s Trash Is Another’s (Joy-Sparking) Treasure

So, what does all this lack of joy-sparking mean for the retail industry? For one, there is going to be a lot more stuff heading to consignment, donation-sites, and of course, the trash.

Fast fashion has already taken quite a bit of heat for pumping “disposable” clothing through the marketplace and the environment, with the industry at large contributing to 4 percent of the world’s waste annually.

Likewise, in recent news, Burberry infamously torched nearly $40 million worth of merchandise in an effort to preserve “product scarcity and brand exclusivity.” And global brands like Nike and H&M have been accused of the same shocking, environmentally atrocious practices. All three are now working to clean up their acts through green initiatives; in fact, Burberry has since announced it will no longer incinerate its unsold “deadstock,” with CEO Marco Gobbetti noting that “Modern luxury means being socially and environmentally responsible.”

But even as brands become more aware of sustainability’s importance, the Marie Kondo Effect means more consumers will be playing trash-or-treasure games in their closets – with discarded items piling up in landfills even quicker than before. Additionally, even if those unwanted items do end up as donations to thrift stores, only 0.1 percent of recycled fiber collected by charities is recycled into new textile fiber.

Something must change. Perhaps retailers should consider buying back lightly worn items for consignment sale within their own stores. Another idea is to accept unwanted items in exchange for a discount, to ensure that they are properly recycled (or even put back into the supply chain as scrap material). This way, everybody wins.

As part of its Garment Collection Program, H&M accepts used, unwanted clothes at any store, and in exchange, they will give participants a 15 percent off in-store discount —whether the clothes are from H&M or not. If other retailers follow their lead, they can cut down on waste, get more mileage out of the raw materials they have already paid for and improve brand sentiment through efforts to reduce, reuse, and recycle.

Thanks, But No Thanks: Getting Unwanted Inventory Back Into The Supply Chain

While many brands have been busy (or maybe distracted) trying to provide the most unique, high-tech shopping experiences of all time, reverse logistics is an area that has been largely ignored. Marie Kondo and her purging-of-things religion could change that.

What happens when the package that arrives in the mail from a major e-commerce player, a subscription retailer or even a gift delivered to someone’s home, does not spark joy? You guessed it. Returns, returns, returns. Ultimately, this means if a retailer’s supply chain is not buttoned up and ready to reroute, reuse, or reallocate inventory that does not spark joy, it could cost you. According to a study by OnePoll, return rates have risen by 40 percent compared to a year ago, and $90 billion in holiday purchases are expected to be returned by the end of February.

Furthermore, a networked, collaborative supply chain is the only way to ensure that the returns economy will not break the bank. But alas, retailers still are not off the hook when it comes to dazzling their customers.

Building A Joyful Brand

Imagine if all the handbags from one design house were consistently labeled as “non-joy-sparking,” and ended up in every thrift store across America. Now imagine those handbags were created by a luxury brand. When unwanted items are relinquished to thrift stores and e-commerce consignment shops en masse, does Marie Kondo’s army of organizers have the power to deflate or diminish even the biggest of brands—just because their merchandise did not spark joy a few months or even years after purchase?

The one sure-fire way to ensure that brand legacy continues (and does not end up a second-hand staple) is to make that joy-sparking experience part of the purchase, whether it is in-store, or online. Just when those $100 yoga pants hit the chopping block in the middle of a Marie Kondo tidying up fury, the person might remember the free yoga class she took when she bought them, the friends she made there and the daily inspiration she gets from the brand’s Instagram feed – and voila! Joy has been sparked, and the item gets to stay with its rightful owner, who now has associated joy with the item - and its brand.

As Marie Kondo and her faithful followers continue on the organization journey, the minimalist phenomenon should be a siren song to retailers, reminding them to tidy up their own businesses if they want to stay afloat. Building an efficient, sustainable supply chain is the key to providing customers with an experience that sparks joy long after the purchase is made.

About The Author

Jenny Reese is Sr. Marketing Manager at Infor Retail.