What the Marie Kondo movement says about e-Commerce

Learn how retailers can improve how consumers decide which items to bring into their home (and how to return items that don’t spark joy), thereby solving a true consumer need and achieving a massive competitive edge.

The author(s)

  • Tamara Janoscik Client Organisation, USA
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The New Year started with Netflix’s release of "Tidying Up with Marie Kondo." In each episode Marie Kondo shares her method of holding an item and keeping only the items that “spark joy” with couples surrounded by too much stuff in their homes. The show became wildly popular and soon our social media news feeds were filled with images of drawers lined with neatly folded clothes as people began to “Marie Kondo” their own lives.

The extreme popularity of Marie Kondo comes at a time when online retail sales have doubled in the past 6 years, according to Mintel’s US Online Shopping report (May 2018); and, the consumer reaction to the show suggests there is room to improve the consumer online shopping experience. After all, how do consumers know if the items they buy online will spark joy if they've never held them in their hands?

Now, the first real moment of truth doesn't happen until the article is already in the consumer's home.

Traditionally, the first moment of truth is that 3-7 seconds when you first see the product in a physical store - you’re able to touch it, pick it up, try it on and then decide to buy it, or not. Now, that online decision-making moment has been coined by Google as the “zero moment of truth”; the first real moment of truth doesn’t happen until the article is already in the consumer’s home. Do the items that arrive at our doorstep spark joy? Are we better at anticipating whether an item will spark joy for some product categories more than others? And, how likely are consumers to return those items that don’t spark joy after they’ve already made their way into their home?

Consumers are least satisfied with clothing and home décor purchases made online

The Marie Kondo method dictates that you approach the disorder in your home, not room by room, but by product category; and, perhaps not coincidentally, Marie Kondo starts her process with clothes. Consumers buy clothes online more often than any other product category; and, they are significantly less likely to be satisfied with clothing items ordered online.

Consumers buy clothes online more often than other product categories, and are least likely to be satisfied with clothes than other types of products ordered online.

There is an opportunity for retailers to improve the evaluation process for consumers. Moving beyond sizing guides and consumer reviews, tech companies like MeTail are seeking to do just that. MeTail allows you to create an avatar of yourself based on your measurements, and your avatar tries on outfits for you in a type of virtual fitting room.

Retailers like Home Depot and Ikea have begun using augmented reality to improve the consumer experience when shopping online for home décor, another category that is more likely than others to leave consumers disappointed when the item is seen in real life.

Although consumers are usually happy with personal care and beauty purchases made online, these purchases are typically replenishment purchases. Retailers such as Sephora and Walgreens have also adopted augmented reality and introduced subscription sample boxes that offer consumers a low or no risk way to discover new personal care and beauty items even in the e-Commerce setting.

70% of consumers fail to consistently return unwanted items

What happens to items that don’t spark joy? Only 30% of consumers interviewed always return clothes they aren’t completely satisfied with; meaning that clothing that doesn’t spark joy likely stays in our closets and contributes to the clutter (explaining the dramatic piles of clothes on Day 1 of any Marie Kondo episode).

Only 30% of consumers interviewed always return clothes they aren’t completely satisfied with.

There is an opportunity to make returning unwanted items to the retailer easier, as only about half of respondents to my survey said returning items is easy. While making it easy for consumers to return items doesn’t sound like a growth opportunity for retailers, there is ample evidence that a lenient return policy leads to an increase in sales. Consumers cited being able to return items to a physical store or having returns picked up from their homes as ways to make the return process easier.

Technologies are currently being developed and tested to improve the last mile of delivery through autonomous delivery vehicles. For example, Amazon Scout is an autonomous vehicle the size of a small cooler (and as cute as the name suggests) and rolls along sidewalks at walking pace to deliver items directly to your door. Could Prime households in the future have their own Scout to return items to Amazon too?

The extreme popularity of Marie Kondo points to an underlying problem, and an opportunity for retailers.

The extreme popularity of Marie Kondo points to an underlying problem. Borrowing the “fix the process not the problem” principle from manufacturing, while consumers enthusiastically purge their homes, retailers have an opportunity to solve the root of the problem. Retailers that can improve how consumers decide which items to bring into their home and how to return items that don’t spark joy, will be solving a true consumer need and have a massive competitive advantage.

Special thanks to friends willing to share their experience through an online survey and to my Digital Marketing Strategy classmates and guest speakers for inspiration.

The author(s)

  • Tamara Janoscik Client Organisation, USA

Consumer & Shopper