One of the latest trends in retail flies in the face of everything we had come to understand about the merchandising assortment in our favorite stores. Less is more. This alternative retail experience is designed to place people not products at its center with a particular focus on the younger customer.
Could this signal the end of the traditional Buy! Buy! Buy! model where overstocked shelves threatened to overwhelm sales associates and customers alike as fallen items pooled on the floor underneath untidy racks. The most extreme examples call to mind landfills overflowing with our discarded fast fashion. Historically retail analysts have maintained that 20 percent of the inventory generally drives 80 percent of the sales, but only the most high end luxury retailers could get away with leaving so much gleaming square footage empty of product.
US retailers offloaded a glut of unsold post-pandemic merchandise during the last half of 2022 with markdowns occurring throughout the holiday season. But now that consumers have shown their commitment and enjoyment of the brick and mortar experience astute retailers are starting over with a clean slate to offer a more refined and elegant shopping opportunity.
“When you hear that less is more, as a retailer, it’s kind of a scary thought,” acknowledges Nikki Baird, Vice President of Strategy at Aptos Retail, the retail software provider. “But customers are looking for a simple, smoother process in store and around merchandise layout. It can also be overwhelming to be bombarded with different marketing messages and promotions. They want concise clear messaging.”
Not only do customers not want to be overloaded with options but they do not want to be guilty of overconsuming. They have a desire to become more sustainable. “The reality is that, when I looked at data, the conscious consumer is questioning whether a purchase is even necessary in the first place," Baird tells FashionUnited.
The move towards minimalism leaves more space to feature visual inspiration, brand storytelling and the culture behind the company, and to spotlight processes or craftspeople who create the product. The evolution of experiential retail means that stores can also now be music venues, games rooms, galleries, alterations centers. One brand committed to the minimal merchandise aesthetic is New Balance who opened their new concept store in Boston earlier this year. Located at 124 Newbury Street, it is designed as a space for people to gather, with a central seating area and an edited merchandise selection. The first New Balance store of this kind opened in Guangzhou, China in December 2022.
New Balance concept store focuses on less is more
“This store represents a big step forward in the way we think about our retail environment, featuring a much tighter, more focused collection built specifically for the younger consumer,” Ian Fitzpatrick, senior director of global brand strategy and operations at New Balance, said in a statement released ahead of the store opening. “The space is not built to tell all our stories, just those most relevant to our consumers.”
According to CNBC, in 2022 New Balance earned a record $5.3 billion in revenue, experiencing faster sales growth than their larger rivals Nike and Adidas. New Balance is projecting even higher sales this year, even as they remove product from shelves. “Less product equals less touches. If you’re getting less touches by the consumer, you better make sure you're putting your best foot forward in other ways," says Baird. "It’s a really intriguing concept but for many, a scary one."
It demonstrates a turning away from the Shein model of doing business which see an endless river of inexpensive product released into circulation with no regard for the environmental impact. Products now need to look like they will live longer and last longer, reflecting a brand’s commitment to quality and ethical manufacture.
Says Baird,”The reality is you can put out a sample and people can project what another size or color will look like, separating presentation from inventory. You don’t need to be able to pull it right off the rack there and then. Retailers were worried for a long time about how full the store looked, now it’s more about how representative is the sample provided.”
Sales associates can then offer customers a more calm and attentive level of service evocative of luxury shopping, and ensure the customer leaves with exactly what they want because they will be less focused on housekeeping. Brands can focus on driving more business with a more curated product range for a better brand experience.